By Siphokazi Ndondo
I have heard all sorts of variants of the word “Activist” being slung around lately, from hacktivism to slactivism so I sought to find out what activism has come to in the digital age and what an activist even does. I had the opportunity to speak to Delwyn Pillay, an Environmental Activist for GreenPeace in Durban – who also happens to be a Facebook marketer – who helped clear up the confusion.
Delwyn Pillay was born and raised in Pietermaritzburg and moved to Durban in 1999. He is a well known, full-time volunteer activist for the GreenPeace Durban branch. In his role Delwyn effects real change by tackling issues of environmental sustainability, both on the streets by being active in local communities as well as online via social media. He is a true hero and it’s no wonder he is considered the next Kumi Naidoo, the courageous Executive Director of Greenpeace International who has done ground-breaking stuff, which has gotten him arrested several times while fighting for the causes he cares about.
What exactly do you do as an activist at Greenpeace?
Delwyn: I am a full time volunteer, so I organise campaigns and localise environmental advocacy.I am the eyes, ears, and mouth of Greenpeace. We provide creative solutions to environmental concerns.
What’s the coolest thing about being an activist?
Delwyn: Meeting a diverse array of people! Meeting people from all over the world that you might even not speak the same language but you have so much in common. The person could be from the other side of the planet but they still share my views. Before activism, I felt quite isolated in my views until I took action.
What do you think makes one an activist?
Delwyn: Anyone who takes action to create social and political change. Just DO activism. An activist is anyone that notices a problem and take steps to address it by creating public awareness and mobilise other people to join them, while the opposite of an activist is, someone who notices a problem and does nothing.
How did you become an activist at Greenpeace and why?
Delwyn: I am passionate about nature and the environment. I’m not one who likes the greyness of city . I love open buildings and natural surroundings that stop natural degradation.
Which other causes do you feel strongly about and are most involved in?
Delwyn: Conservation of nature. I care about food sustainability, helping people and the environment not big multinational companies that profit at their expense. Seed Freedom which is about fighting the creation of genetically altered seeds. These are a major problem for South African farmers,one even committed suicide. Multinationals are genetically modifying seeds so that farmers can not use the seeds that they harvest from, instead they are forced to go back to multinationals and buy more seeds. We are combating that by facilitating a community seed bank where we store the natural seed and help the farmer.
Permaculture is also a cause that I care about. Which is actually how I joined Greenpeace. I was doing my own research and found out about a permaculture workshop by Citizen Gardens. I met whole lot of Greenpeace folks and I fell in love with the people. I wanted to make a contribution so I joined Greenpeace.
What do you think of the term slackivist? Do you think there is such?
Delwyn: I think the term slacktivist is a little judgemental. It is more about people taking cheap shots at online petitions. It may also be unfair judgement from fellow activists but this is not so prevalent. I say unfair because not all people can commit full time to the causes they care about.
Clicktivism is a different game. This is when one just clicks, reblogs, retweets or share without really addressing the issue. How ever it does benefit the cause because more people become aware of it.
How do you use the internet and social media as tools for change?
Delwyn: I use it to network mostly. I also use it to rally and draw in support for events ,campaigns and marches. I use Facebook for mobilisation. I use social media to gather current info because people can take pictures of an environmental problem like someone dumping toxic waste into a river, I can do real-time research on the issue. Usually by the time the media covers it the story isn’t as authentic because it has changed to appease the advertisers.
Hacking for activism, some consider it cyber-terrorism, what is your take on that?
Hacktivism is a tool used to gain info by activists to address issues of public concern. It has even used to expose multinationals and interesting stories like tax evasion scandals. Being an activist sometimes is like being an investigative journalist. The cause is noble but the tactics are questionable(still illegal in SA according to Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, 2002 (ECT Act)). I think that is why it has gotten such a bad reputation and labelled as cyberterrorism. Hactivism is used to bring about social change and take away a corrupt system.
I feel the term cyber-terrorism is used loosely against activist. As soon as you are a threat to the status quo and government systems, that is used to pass laws that track you and try keep you quiet. I feel that the government and multinationals that behave unethically towards people and the environment thus are the terrorists.
There is the hashtag Anonymous. Anonymous is used by people as a mass noun which is associated international network of activist and hacktivists. Their approach is different but they also want to break apart certain corrupt systems.
Do you know any stories of people taking part in hacktivism?
Delwyn: Yes, Julian Assange, who is the editor in-chief of WikiLeaks. in he 1989 he formed an ethical hacking group they called the International Subversives. During this time he hacked into the Pentagon and other U.S. Department of Defense facilities, the U.S. Navy, NASA.
How does one go about becoming an activist?
Delwyn: Anyone can be an activist. If you are passionate about issues just be pro-active and build the future that you want to see.
What direction do you think activism is taking in the digital age?
Delwyn: It’s progressing, whereby activists are beginning to use more digital online tools and cross-platforms to collaborative on projects and campaigns. These digital online tools and cross-platforms are often free open source software that provide it’s authors/users with their own URL(uniform resource locator). A good example of such an online tool is Pirate Pad a web based work processor designed for working collaboratively in real time, which allows authors to simultaneously edit a text document, and see all of the participants’ edits in real-time, with the ability to display each author’s text in their own color. Each pad has its own URL, and anyone who knows this URL can edit the pad and participate in the associated chats.
Are there any other way one can connect to other activists?
Delwyn: In your community, it’s more than likely that there’s activists that are actively engage with the current environmental and social problems that the community are faced with. You will find these activist at any of the community forum meetings. So if you want to connect with them, attend the community forum meetings. Usually notices of such meetings are placed on the notice broads of the public libraries and or in the community newspaper.
Can one join Greenpeace?
Follow Greenpeace on social media for a regional context, I’ll give you Greenpeace Africa’s social media handles instead of the Greenpeace int.
As for me, I consider myself more of the slacktivist and a proud one at that. I am subscribed to Avaaz which has innumerable causes one could help out in at the click of a button. Donating funds and signing petitions is how I roll. The internet has really changed the way the world connects. We can definitely use it for the good of all mankind. Or humankind if gender equality is your thing. Or the world in general.
Photo by Jenny Duvenage.