Oct 102011
Authors: Allison Sylte

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked to support women’s rights, gay rights, marijuana rights, Ron Paul, the Earth, children’s rights and dolphins while walking through the Plaza, I’d be really rich, and I still probably wouldn’t give my money to any of the people who asked me to.

It’s not that I don’t support these ideas; actually, I think that a global-warming-free world full of happy women, children, Ron Paul and gay people smoking marijuana alongside a large dolphin population would be pretty sweet.

But creating this world is not really what these organizations are about. For them, it’s more about the act of holding the clipboard and soliciting credit card information than changing the world, more about standing on the street and holding signs than actually making a difference.

A lot of charitable organizations –– while they do have noble intentions, at least to some extent –– exist to make volunteers and donors feel good more so than they do to help anybody.

Take Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, who have made U.S. sex trafficking their pet cause.

According to Kutcher, between 100,000 and 300,000 children are lost to prostitution every year, which at first glance, is a startling number. It certainly makes me want to write a few checks.

But an article that ran in Westword this summer entirely refuted this claim, proving that there are maybe a thousand child prostitutes in the United States at most (which is still tragic), and that Kutcher and Moore’s pet cause was motivated by nothing more than false data and smart media tactics by those who perpetuated that data.

Millions of dollars, and PSAs by Kutcher, Moore, Sean Penn and Jason Mraz, went into an over-exaggerated cause based on false numbers. And, as small as the problem is in comparison to what Kutcher and Moore perpetuated, their crusade has hardly made a difference.

But, my guess is that Kutcher and Moore feel like they’ve done something to benefit society, and in turn, feel good about themselves.

I agree with the argument that something is better than nothing, that helping out even a little bit and raising awareness is better than being complacent. But what would be better than any of that is actually making a difference –– and doing it for the right reasons.

The Occupy Wall Street protests are another example of this misplaced activism. It’s a movement that’s garnered quite a bit of media attention, but more or less just involves people holding signs and picketing. Call me cynical, but I don’t think they’re going to manage to shut down Wall Street any sooner than people are going to start taking them seriously.

Meaning never.

This is partly because Occupy Wall Street exists to “raise awareness,” a ubiquitous term that a lot of organizations – including quite a few on campus – use to justify charity that at the end of the day isn’t necessarily making the world a better place for anyone other than the charity’s volunteers.

The Spread the Word to End the Word campaign, for me, is one closer to home example. While I commend Pi Kappa Phi (the fraternity that puts it on) for trying to support a really noble cause, I still don’t think that this campaign really does anything to help those with special needs.

After all, not saying “the R-word” might prevent some hurt feelings, but it’s not like it’s helping special needs kids access better medical care, have a better place in society or live tangibly better lives. And, judging from the response I saw on campus and in the Collegian following the campaign, because of that, people just don’t take it that seriously.

So what can the Plaza people do, to make me start taking them seriously and buying into their causes?

The answer is simple. To actually sign their petitions and hand over my debit card, I want them to actually prove that they’re going to make a difference.

The Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure and the Red Cross are organizations that I think do it right. They don’t try to raise awareness or have their volunteers trumpet the cause simply for the sake of trumpeting their cause.

Instead, they actually change lives. The Race for the Cure pays for breast cancer research and has seriously made a difference in the lives of many women. And the Red Cross is the perfect example of helping people in need when they need it the most.

So Plaza people, next time you ask me if I want to support women, gays, marijuana legalization, Ron Paul, the Earth, children and dolphins, prove to me that it’s actually going to do something, and then, my answer will be a resounding “yes.”

Content Managing Editor Allison Sylte is a junior journalism major. Her column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. She can be reached at letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 4:29 pm

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