Ryerson’s 4th year CYC student with a minor in psychology, Trisha Rolfe, spoke out about contemporary social justice and it’s productivity. Rolfe, who founded the Non-Profit Organization “The Storyteller” that acts as an outlet to anything from “personal anecdotal experiences or Social Justice rants”, believes in Social Justice every day of the week, despite credibility.
“Social Justice is definitely trending,” explained Rolfe, “but only certain kinds. Social Justice is trendy if you’re posting about it on social media or sporting some sort of clothing label that ‘gives back’. People don’t want to participate in a Social Justice event if they don’t get the credit for it – pics or it didn’t happen.”
Is this type of advocacy productive? Rolfe delved into the importance of not just advocacy or activism, but thinking critically about the situations.
“I find there are a lot of people on social media that will post articles or videos without really looking too far in depth to them, or just re-post it because it’s trending on their timeline. Usually, I try to engage in a discussion with them regarding the subject matter. I think it’s important to question people in terms of what they are sharing in regards of social movements. Once you start a discussion about the issue, sometimes you can spark someone to think about an issue in a way they hadn’t thought of before… Maybe it will create some empathy and passion.”
There is a definite line between advocacy and activism, that is worthy of outlining. Rolfe explained that “Advocacy includes talking about issues and making changes through discussion and awareness. Activism is more about the act of making a difference through actions… hence, ACT-ivism. I feel as though activists are often viewed as crazy or radical compared to advocates because they participate in physical manifestations, including protests.”
This was visible at the sexual assault protests, where some people considered the physical actions unnecessary or too radical. The trick however, proves to be finding the balance between radicalness and productive action, but also acknowledging that you can’t have action without discussion, and vice versa.
“My biggest pet peeve is that people don’t question what they’re posting or really reflect on it. If you’re advocating without thinking critically and really understanding the topic at hand, it’s not helpful,” explained Rolfe.
The accent on having social credit for their Social Justice proves to drive people to do so for a certain level of approval.
“My ultimate pet peeve is when people post videos about helping the homeless by either sleeping outside in a tent or giving them McDonalds. These videos are so degrading and really create a sense of other-ness towards people struggling with homelessness, which really does not help in anyway. People will write comments saying how the video “brought a tear to their eye” or how the person doing the ‘act of kindness’ was “a true angel”… People struggling with homelessness are not animals, they are humans and they should be treated with respect and dignity. But most people don’t look at the videos in that way, they just solely think that the directors are being sweet by giving them a Big Mac and showing how grateful these individuals are in return. I think people need to get into the uncomfortable parts of advocating and pose these questions and raise these concerns, because that is when progress is made.”
Another big problem with current trends around Social Justice is that it has a stopping point. A goal, as Rolfe explained, is to continue that same level of passion everyday and turn one day of activism into a lifetime of advocacy.
“I try to contribute to social justice in an everyday basis,” said Rolfe. “Whether its a conversation between myself and someone else, listening to someone’s experiences, being that annoying girl on Facebook who challenges your post, or something larger like starting The Storyteller to give everyone and anyone a voice and a platform to share it on, I try to engage with multiple social justice issues daily. I think it’s also important to not measure social justice acts based on the size of the audience.”
Despite the reasons for Social Justice or the incentive of doing well by others, little or temporary Social Justice proves to be more than no Social Justice.
“Minimal social justice is better than no social justice if it is genuine”, she explained. “Having social justice be a trend is definitely better than having something more harmful being a trend, but if people are involved with social justice issues for a personal gain or without thinking critically, they aren’t really engaging in social justice actions. I don’t think it is fair to call someone an advocate or an activist if they are only doing it to make themselves look good – that is not social justice, that is a PR move.”
The goal proves to be to do no harm, not just on Facebook, not just once a week, not just when an event occurs, but every single day.
“The words “do no harm” are so important to me. My professor, Jennifer Martin, introduced that motto to me two years ago and it has stuck with me ever since. She introduced it to me in a CYC setting, but it is definitely transferable to many aspects of my life… Keep good intentions in mind and try to help while reflecting on what your role could is and how it could do harm to someone.”
In the end, Social Justice, activism, and advocacy have become trends. Along with that, they have become taboo words and have many negative connotations. This is because Social Justice involves combating serious issues and changing lives. People who care about Social Justice constantly have to be conscious about everything at all times. They must ask questions, larger than situational ones, or, as Rolfe said, “Don’t sit back and do the bare minimum, get your hands dirty and really understand what is going on.”