2007 According to Dominic Muren: Put the PRO back in Protest

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The other posts in this series can be found here. The first one with an explanation of what this is about is here.
Dominic Muren, Phildelphia, PA, USA

My Hope for 2007 :: Put the PRO back in Protest

Treehugger was founded under the belief that environmentalism didn't have to be about purely politics, protesting, and going without. We work hard to maintain as non-partisan a message as possible. And, we try not to get too involved in the protest culture because just the mention of it tends to turn people off. Environmentalism should be about helping each other (plants and animals included) to live fuller, happier, healthier lives in a world that is in balance (or at least as far from complete chaos as possible)That's why I hope, in 2007, to see a move from protest that simply rattles the cages, to protest which makes valid suggestions to the cage builders, in order to do away with cages altogether. You might call it Additive Activism versus Subtractive Activism.

Here's a prime example. Over the holiday, Greenpeace orchestrated a massive gathering around Apple's flagship store on 5th Avenue in NYC to shine green lights on the store and "raise awareness" about the very real toxic chemicals and wastes produced by the electronics industry.

Result? Apple gets a free greening of their store, and customers are just more frustrated and confused. As Greenpeace states on their website "We've been telling Apple to go green for years", but despite these efforts, Apple (and all other electronics companies) have done little to change. Greenpeace states "If you want a green Apple, all you have to do is ask for it." but consumer desire for green electronics is a tough thing to bring about. Why? Because it virtually guarantees suffering performance. This is what makes Subtractive Activism hard to love -- you have to give something up. So, you have to match that loss in performance with a gain in something else.

Let's take another example, this time, of an Additive Activism product. No one would argue that Whole Foods markets are the most cost-effective places to buy food. Nor are they often the most easily available (it's not like there's one in every small town). But, they are a beautiful example of how education about a product, and linking of that product with something appealing can make it more popular everywhere. In the late 1980s, no one would have expected the organic foods market to be where it is today. In fact, the only people really rallying around organic food were either on the fringe, growing it themselves, or protesting the sale of BGH beef, or pesticide laced vegetables. These efforts were met with dismissal. At the time, organic food was only available in very select, often impossible to find locations, staffed by people perceived as ex-hippies, at exorbitant prices. No one wanted to pay more to feel like an outcast.

What Whole Foods discovered was that by raising their prices even more, and using the money to make shopping for groceries the most decadent experience available (and if you've been in a Whole Foods, you know what I mean), they could make organic food linked with that lifestyle. Now, only a few years after this realization, organic food has become a gigantic industry, available in all sorts of stores, and eaten mostly by people who have never set foot on a commune.

The key here was that somebody found a way to make giving something up (low priced food) worth it (by elevating the experience). So, Greenpeace, hear this. Apple's customers absolutely want "organic computers". They can't wait. You just have to help Apple see the added benefits that a computer can offer which costs more, and is probably larger, but is sturdier, keeps data safer, costs less in the long run, and lets you pass on something to your grand kids.

Heck, sounds good to me, but I'm just a writer (alright, I'm an industrial designer in real life). What will your protest add to my experience, at the same time that it helps people who I will never meet in a country that I will probably never visit? Activism should be a force of encouragement. Rather than outlining what you are against, why not tell Apple the Pros of your protest.

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