“Lazy” Activism

It’s time we stopped referring to certain types of activism as “lazy.”

This morning, I saw the UN tweet out

Referring to a  document entitled “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World” and was again struck at how activism is so often ableist. 

Ableism is a term to describe the inherent discrimination against those with disabilities.  It’s pervasive in a society set up for those without disabilities and furthered by individuals who refuse to listen to disability advocates who point it out.  Ableism can be found in language and accessibility on a daily basis but can come in many forms.  Mic provides a decent recap of some of the more prevalant types of ableism encountered every day here.

More and more though, as our society becomes more politically and socially active and particularly in this last year and a half, I see ablesim come the forefront with activism. Most notably, as individuals call certain types of activism or efforts to make change in society “lazy.”  A year ago, I called Indivisible out for a link in a tweet suggesting that tweeting was not real activism.  The rhetoric being, that if you are “only” tweeting you are not really adding to efforts to make change.  That “only” tweeting is not “real” advocacy.  My response then was, as it is to this post, that this thinking is ableist because it lessens the work done by individuals who may not be able to do much more than share resources and speak up online.  I challenge this notion and emphatically believe that sharing resources and speaking up online, connecting with others and supporting ideas and causes through the tools available to us, including technology, is in fact invaluable.  This kind of activism is not lazy and we need to stop looking at it that way and defining efforts to make change as “lazy.”

I felt the need to point out that using the word lazy in this document may be ableist and reached out to the UN, submitting this comment through their website and posting it on twitter.  I thought I would share it here as I think it might resonate with others and provide a new perspective:

I saw the UN tweet out (https://twitter.com/UN/status/967309119274205184) this document entitled “They Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World” (http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/takeaction/) and would like to encourage you to change the title. The implication that these items are things one does if they are “lazy” is quite ableist. The thing is, for many of us with disabilities, the items listed are the only things we can do and yet the document implies that if these are all we are doing, then we are being “lazy.”

This mindset is pervasive in activism culture and truly detrimental to those with disabilities. In America, those with disabilities are often made to feel as if their activism efforts matter less if they are doing things that abled individuals can do. For instance, tweeting and sharing important information online is not seen as valuable as showing up to a congressperson’s office or making calls to a congressperson is not seen as valuable as going to a march. This carries into all areas of activism. Disabled individuals who use wheelchairs or mobility aids and thus cannot go to a beach to clean trash – is their activism in sharing resources about why we need to be mindful of our waste less valuable because they are doing it virtually? Is it really lazy when they are using the resources they have to make a difference? Or consider disabled individuals who face pain issues, who can barely cook for themselves, are their actions to reduce waste (many listed here – such as not printing) simply lazy? Or can we not value those contributions that people are making regardless of disability as worthy? Can we stop characterizing these actions as “lazy”? Because lazy suggests that many of us could do more but we choose not to. Lazy implies that we aren’t trying hard enough to make a difference. Lazy devalues what we are actively working to achieve and dehumanizes those of us with disabilities. I cannot tell you the guilt associated with not being able to do more. Personally and in hearing from other disabled activists, it comes across as shaming – shaming us for not being able to show up to the beach or to the Capitol or be more physically or mentally active.

Perhaps you could consider something like “Simple Ways to Save The World.” While simple may still be a bit ableist, it is not in itself a judgment to the same degree. It is not characterizing individuals as “lazy” when they cannot do more.

I would take to task a lot of this document for being ableist and not truly respectful of individuals with disabilities on many levels. I know you are aware of disability issues and part of the SDGs is precisely to help every individual regardless of ability or socioeconomic status. But I think you could do better in publishing a document like this.

However, for now, I will simply ask that you change the name. It may seem a small thing but words do matter and the rhetoric of activism matters a lot. Many of us are doing the best we can to make a difference. It may seem “lazy” to others who could possibly do more, but it is the antithesis of lazy to make contributions to society when every day is a struggle.

Thank you for your time and understanding.


Follow up: Another individual made a good point on twitter about another way in which this document is fundamentally ableist.  Janelle Wiley wrote: “Also it rates level of ability like it’s somehow ‘winning’ to be more physically capable.” I think this is an important point. We shouldn’t rate activism, particularly rate activism in terms of how much they are doing physically or mentally. We should appreciate the capacity each individual has.


A couple asides: I could go on here to discuss more ableist issues in advocacy but I will add these last 2 thoughts.  First, recognizing the way the word “lazy” has been used against individuals with disabilities as part of systematic discrimination. And second, perhaps more importantly, the fact that disabled individuals have in fact led the way in advocacy time and again.  For a fun recap of disabled advocacy, Drunk History highlighted the 504 sit-in which you can watch here (but do realize that not all disabled people can attend in-person events like this).

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: