April 5 witnessed the first anti-participation project we can recall, Good Intentions Blog’s A Day Without Dignity:
A Day Without Dignity is a counter-campaign to TOMS Shoes A Day Without Shoes “awareness raising campaign” (commerial). On or around April 5th – the same date as A Day Without Shoes – we’re asking aid workers, the diaspora, and people from areas that receive shoe drops and other forms of charity to speak up in blogs, on twitter, or at school. Full details of this counter-campaign can be found here.
The page lists dozens of blog postings protesting “A Day Without Shoes,” each of which tends to blast the Tom’s campaign before concluding with the refrain (my paraphrase here), “…and that’s why the only sane, sensible, humane thing to do is to give money to professional aid workers.”
(Never one to shy away from a good controversy, Holden at GiveWell goes so far as to attempt a case for giving money directly to people in need, pointing to a program in London that produced “strong results” by buying homeless people whatever the homeless felt like they needed. Might want to keep digging into the results of that and similar campaigns, Big H.)
Modest counterproposal, anyone?
The Tom’s project is clearly intended to be a Signature Participation Project, not a comprehensive social policy. As such, rather than maligning the project and the motivations, intentions, or intelligence of those who participate in it, why not piggyback on top of it with a P to E move?
Contact Tom’s and work with them to create a campaign called “The Next Step,” in which the vast database of shoeless Participation-level do-gooders they’ve (hopefully) amassed is contacted and challenged to go beyond sending a pair of shoes to address the problem more systemically?
My message to Saundra Schimmelpfennig at the Good Intentions blog, who organized A Day Without Dignity:
Saundra, the shoeless ones who participated in the Tom’s event are not your enemies but your students. Don’t shame them; instead, encourage and challenge them (and Tom’s Shoes) to take the next step to grow to full maturity in the cause in which you both labor. If we ever come to the point where three quarters of the American public is going shoeless in lieu of other more productive forms of aid, then organize an event like “A Day Without Dignity.”
Until then, the greater enemy will always be inactivity, not individuals who by their actions have shown that they care and who probably can be encouraged and challenged to continue to care while continuing to grow in their ability to make a difference.