Lately I’ve been pondering what it means to be politically and socially active. I’ve never thought of myself as particularly politically engaged; I vote, when I feel I have sufficiently researched the candidates on the ballot, and I hold a set of beliefs on what I feel is socially, economically, and environmentally responsible, but I do not align myself with a political party (or follow one on Facebook). In the wake of what could easily be considered one of the most controversial elections in recent memory, protests, riots, social media campaigns and new groups have formed on both sides of the party fence to take a next step, whatever that step may be. While it is a little tempting to dive into advocacy and activism head first, I wanted to take a step back and consider how I might make the most of my actions.

I recently read an essay which claimed that if you want to give back to the world, “participating in activist politics is one of the worst possible ways to do it.” I won’t attempt to summarize or justify the article itself, but I do think the author has an interesting point. If you are passionate about a cause, it is often immensely more effective to make a direct contribution to that cause, whether you give time or money, than to try to change the minds of others via a riot, protest, or social media hashtag campaign.

What if for every tag used, though, a dollar was donated to the cause instead? Would not millions of dollars be more useful to those affected than millions of social media posts?

I’m positive that this is not true in all scenarios – but as a concept, I think it’s worth considering. Hashtag campaigns have become a popular way to share concern for a cause, with tags being shared millions of times on social media, and there’s a reason for that. With a few clicks of the keyboard, you can share, like, and tag any cause you are compelled to support. What if for every tag used, though, a dollar was donated to the cause instead? Would not millions of dollars be more useful to those affected than millions of social media posts? Social media is certainly a useful tool, but not an answer to meeting the vast needs our communities face. These solutions require more tangible resources – feet on the ground and money in the bank.

Did you know that if every person gave 10% of their income to charity, seven trillion dollars would go to charity a year? If charity got seven trillion dollars a year, the first year would give us enough to solve global poverty, eliminate all treatable diseases, fund research into the untreatable ones indefinitely, educate anybody who needs educating, feed anybody who needs feeding, fund an unparalleled renaissance in the arts, permanently save every rainforest in the world, and have enough left over to launch five or six different manned missions to Mars – in the first year.

I recently posted a call-to-action link on my Facebook page encouraging people to donate to a local non-profit with which I am heavily involved; Although the post received 133 likes, and 26 of my friends commented with sentiments of support, no donations were made that week. It is clear that the non-profit’s mission is supported by the community, and I am not alone in being passionate for this cause – however, that post proves that social media can only take it so far.

Social media has made it easy for us to be “passive activists,” sharing hashtags and links to stories without actually making an effort to create change.

Chances are, for every cause you are passionate about, there is an organization working diligently to create change and make a real difference. I share my thoughts on this subject not to criticize political and social engagement, but to encourage us all to get a little more invested this year. If you share a post for a cause you believe in, follow through with the next step and make a tangible contribution. If you aren’t happy with the way our country, your state, or your community is being run, get involved instead of posting another political meme. If stories of war and drought and famine abroad break your heart, make a donation to one of the many organizations providing relief. If you are tired of seeing trash line the banks of a river, rally a group of friends and spend a Saturday picking it up – or make a donation to one of your local service groups who make community clean up part of their mission.

Social media has made it easy for us to be “passive activists”, sharing hashtags and links to stories without actually making an effort to create change. This year, I challenge us all to get our hands dirty and put our money where our mouths are – the world could use more active-activists.

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