Last year there were plenty of movements that made some serious ground. As usual there were trends in art and music and all sorts of new internet memes, but what is astonishing to me is the variety of interesting social, economic, and political movements that garnered attention. You've heard me go on about Occupy at length, but there have been others that were pretty significant.
This first to look at is the movements taking place in the Middle East and North Africa this year. Collectively, they have been termed the Arab Spring (in homage to the much less successful Prague Spring of 1968), but these movements became autonomous and locally focused, much in the same grain as Occupy has.
Another movement that was popular last year was of course the Tea Party Movement. Although it started in 2009, the Tea Party really was a force in the last year, particularly with so much attention given to American politics in the run-up to the 2012 election.
There have been plenty others, in fact, which took place all over the world. My list so far is rather western-centric, but populist movements are expanding and, with the power of the internet as an organising tool, becoming far more effective.
The movement which I wanted to focus on in this post is something to which I have given passing mention already: People for Good. This campaign started last year and, thanks to some brilliant advertising, has become quite well-known, at least here in Canada. In principle, the movement is about doing small things to help others. The philosophy is that it not only helps others, but in doing so we make ourselves feel good. I agree. We should be nicer to other people, but I feel that this movement runs pretty shallow.
While I certainly applaud people for doing random acts of kindness, I am weary of this as a revolutionary idea. Moreover, being nice to each other is a pretty effective distraction for dealing with some of our more serious problems in society. Rather than just putting on a face of being nice to others, why shouldn't we actually care about them by rebuilding our society? I find it quite exciting that Occupy and People for Good came out at roughly the same time and that they have been so differently received. It's certainly not astonishing that these movements have sparked opposite reactions. People for Good is a movement that doesn't require us to really change our lives - Occupy actually challenges the status quo. I'm all for high fives and giving up my seat on the bus, but what would be far more effective in my opinion is having a healthcare system that works for everyone and investing in sustainable energy.
Just to provide an example - let's look at some of these recommendations provided by the official website. The one that stuck out most to me was number 21 - "buy a sandwhich for a homeless person". While I fully agree that we should help people who are in difficult places, I think it is ridiculous and unsustainable for homeless people to rely on the niceness of some passersby. Would it not make more sense to invest in better shelters? Why don't we find ways to give them better mental health support? Why not help them if they are struggling with addiction? Why can't we take the time to help them build skills and find employment?
Short term solutions may sound warm and fuzzy, but in the end, People for Good is just a pipe dream for a better future. It's unfortunate that attention that could go toward actually solving some of the rampant social and economic problems in our society often gets easily diverted.