I don’t have the chuffing time!

1hr 45mins

Most phones have the ability to check your screen time. Some break it down into how you’ve used that time, including the difference between ‘productive’ time and the other sort of time. The black hole of the internet that is social media. Today I spent 1hour and 45 minutes of the 24 hours that I was gifted with today, retweeting cat memes and considering whether I should decorate my bathroom. 

None of those minutes led to a decision. None of them changed the world for the better (apart from raising the profile of cats who frankly don’t need it) and when faced with the numbers, only filled me with a sense of shame. I spent 1 hour and 45 mins doing nothing. And this is not unusual on a day when I’m not at work. Which is probably even more scandalous as it’s a day when I have options, choices, and a whole world outside my doorstep. It also frequently ties into those days that end with me ranting that I have too much to do and not enough time…

Stuck on the sofa

Activism has harnessed the power of the internet to promote causes, share important information and mobilise people to get up off of their sofa and do something. It’s a tool that we used to great effect at weareresidents.org and Residents for Uttlesford when presenting our campaigns to our local community and sharing the research we had completed into the issues that matter most. We primarily relied upon Facebook with cross-posting on Twitter and more recently celebrating our ‘Love Where You Live’ message on Instagram. It’s free, quick and as my awful daily stats show, people are watching. 

But there is a flip side to online activism that is increasingly shouty and incredibly lazy. I think we’ve all been guilty of expressing our outrage at something awful or controversial that we have read online. It might be a thumbs up, down or if it’s really bad an angry face. It might be a comment on an already enraged thread or a repost with our own ‘Cross of Cambridge*’ spin. But does it actually achieve anything?

I would suggest (in a highly unscientific way) that the majority of online protest results in little actual action. There are well documented examples of the incredible organising potential via Twitter during the Arab Spring that were truly phenomenal. I wouldn’t dream of arguing against the brilliant fundraising efforts for scientific research that wouldn’t be as effective if they couldn’t be shared by thousands of people online. But they are often the exception rather than the rule. Furthermore, our cumulative angry online ranting (of which I am as guilty as the rest of you) has sucked up the time that we don’t realise we have to actually make a clear difference to our communities. 

Found on Facebook

Five years ago, a brilliant councillor was found on Facebook. An active member on a local mums community group, she was approached by the R4U team and crucially, made the time to meet in person. Turns out there were many projects that she cared passionately about locally, and after several chats and meeting the team, she agreed to stand at the next District Council Election. Let’s be really clear, this is a busy mum of three, who on the face of it, had no time to spare. But, she made time, responded to a message and decided to do something. After a brilliant term in office, she made the decision to stand down as she’d also managed to change career, on top of having a busy family life. She proved that it was possible (and her total time online was probably quite low as a result!). 

There are resident’s groups and independently-minded local parties up and down the country that are changing the face of community politics. Look closely at those groups and you will find a wide-range of people that are ultimately smashing the stereotype of local government being inhabited by retirees who ‘have the time’ (and who in my experience, are often phenomenally busy). Our team have people who work full-time and part-time. Some are self-employed, and others work for a range of companies both locally and in Cambridge and London. Our professions include law, surveying, marketing, technology, investment, teaching, sales. There are school governors, Scout leaders, environmental volunteers, musicians, keen cyclists, and not-so-keen gym attendees. The point being, is that if something matters that much to you, the time can be found.

It’s easy to dismiss community activism as something that other people can do. We can all look at our lives at the end of the day and, feeling absolutely knackered, conclude that there simply isn’t the time to do something more. How many times do we come to that conclusion with our phone in our hands?

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