The Rev. Carol Howard Merritt: Exploring the Activist's Toolbox

I was taking a friend on a tour of Miriam's Kitchen, the feeding and social services program housed in our church. Along with an amazing breakfast and dinner, Miriam's provides a full array of services for our homeless guests. When we walked into one of the offices, I introduced her to the Development Associate by saying, "This is the woman behind the Tweets."

My friend said, "I tried Twitter. I was on it for about an hour. And that was it. I just don't have the time. How do you find the time?"

The Associate responded, "Miriam's makes sure that I have the time."

I smiled at the exchange. The question of time is important when it comes to social media. But as Miriam's raises funds and awareness around the issue of homelessness, they know that Twitter is an important part of their strategy.

Miriam's Twitter feed is fun and insightful. They tweet the menu of the day, statistics on homelessness, needs of the guests, and appreciation for volunteers. They retweet what people say about them, and they quote funny things that the chefs say. They let people know about fundraising events, and the tweets have spurned other organizations to hold events for them. One day, our guests received a box of socks from California, because someone on Twitter read that they needed them. Twitter, as silly as it seems for those who are not active with social media, is an important tool in social justice work.

When a church or nonprofit group engages in advocacy, when we need to get the message out about an issue like homelessness in our city, there are many things we can use when we put together a strategy. There are the traditional avenues to get the word out about an issue, like direct mailings, press conferences, and press releases. We can assemble print, radio, or television ads. Each of these is important. But they can also take a great deal of money, time, or power to pull them off. If an organization has those things, then using traditional media can be extremely effective.

But what if our church or organization doesn't have these things, but they still want to speak out on an issue? Then there are many other tools in our box now, and even though they take time, they are often easy and cheap to utilize them.

Blogs allow us to generate news and information, without having to worry about the layout of a regular newsletter. Furthermore, they allow people to respond in comments, and many are set up so that the article can be shared over Facebook and Twitter. While a direct mailing only targets the person to whom it's addressed, the impact of a well-written blog, one that tells personal stories and relates important information, can allow for interaction, involvement, and sharing. Through blogs, we can become aware of other people who are working on the same issues, and begin to form important constellations of thought. Facebook can be a place where people share causes with their friends and Twitter is an effective means of getting the word out, recruiting a young volunteer base, and raising money around an important cause. The tools are changing all the time. There are on-line petition sites and advocacy networks that gather similar organizations around particular causes. There are sites where we can post Power Point presentations, YouTube videos, podcasts, or Livestream events.

While traditional media allowed a person to consume information, new media lets a person interact, respond, and share. It's also important to note that younger generations are putting down print media and turning off the television more and more. So as church leaders seek to engage young activists, then they will need to use the same tools that a new generation is using. This is an exciting time, when so much of how we consume and share information is changing. In the midst of all of this, we will need to use as many tools in our box. When the tools are used well, it will worth the time to keep up with it all.

[Taken with permission from Carol Howard Merritt's blog, Tribal Church. Originally posted 9/15/2010.]