Non-Profits love people like me. People with initiative and influence, people who already care, who don’t need to be sold on why the mission is important. They love to give me flyers, they love to link me to Facebook pages, they love to sell me T-Shirts, and accept donations. But I have a hard time finding agencies that will let me or my college students do anything else.
"Raising Awareness," it’s called. Although in any other context we would just call it "marketing." Letting people know that there is a problem and there is an organization which has something to do with the problem. Some of these organizations actually do something about said problem, but they only want awareness from me. A lot of them exist solely to raise awareness.
The result of all this is that I sit here knowing lots of stuff. There are more slaves today than at any time in human history; diamond miners and cocoa farmers are not paid; coffee and tea growers are paid unfair and unlivable wages. Apple is using sweatshops; Abercrombie hates fat people; Bank of America hates the poor. There are genocides going on in at least 6 different places globally; Syria is using Sarin Gas; Sudan has an issue with refugees; Uganda has an issue with child soldiers; every country in the world has an issue with sex trafficking; North Korea just has issues. Cancer is a thing and so is autism and so are our troops. We are destroying the environment. The NSA is spying on the internet; Habeas Corpus is dead; Gitmo is still open; Monsanto is growing mutant corn; and McDonalds sells food that’s bad for you!
I haven’t done much to solve any of those problems. But I’m happy to know that I am, nonetheless, the 99%.
I think awareness has gotten away from us a little bit. It’s an important first step, but if that first step isn’t followed by more steps (and it almost never is) it’s pretty useless, and can actually be detrimental to the cause.
You’ve probably heard of the Susan G. Koman foundation. They have raised over 1.5 billion dollars. Less than 15% of that goes to actually curing breast cancer. The money goes to letting people know breast cancer is a thing and getting them to give more money to the Susan G. Koman foundation so they can tell more people. But the problem with breast cancer isn’t actually lack of awareness. The problem is rapidly multiplying cells that kill people. By raising awareness you don’t actually solve the problem and you take money away from researchers that do. (Here’s a link to the ACS).
This profitable Awareness market becomes especially problematic when it entails the poorest of the poor. Suddenly there are kids in Haiti that live on 3 cents a day and literally eat dirt cookies but I need $200,000 to make the documentary starring me. Next week I’m staging a fun run for amputees. The winner gets a golden pair of Nikes.
With the best of intentions, we end up perpetuating the same cycle of exploitation that we are raising awareness about. Money is being made off the misery of people who will never see a portion of the profits. Women who were sold into sex slavery now have their testimonies sold to enable companies to go out selling more sex testimonies. Images of child soldiers lead armies of white privileged hippies through the quad. “Stop Child Labor Now” is written on T-Shirts, but the kids don’t cash the checks.
I’m interested in hearing your ideas for alternatives. Rather than offer a pithy solution to this problem I’d like us to think about real things that can be done by people with full time jobs. Sound off in the comments.