An Accountant in Adland: ‘Showing up’ in a new era [S2 E2]
by Siwe Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) The days of marches have taken an exponential turn. From the streets to the ether, the toyi-toying is now the sounds of ping notifications flooding in from hashtags in tweets and posts. Imagine if Helen Joseph and Lillian Ngoyi had tweeted; imagine if that walk to the Union Buildings had had the soundtrack of manicured nails against a touchscreen. These are ramblings of my mind… but what it does is put into perspective the context of movements and protests today.
September 2019 was an extremely heavy month in South Africa. National conversations on gender-based violence (GBV), xenophobia and other things were the digital protests that we found ourselves involved in.
In the paper, “The Social Organisation of Non-Violence” by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, he notes: “This defence of nonviolent resistance appeared in Liberation as a response to an essay by North Carolina NAACP leader Robert F. Williams that challenged the strategy of ‘turn-the-other-cheekism’ in the face of racist terror. In his September article, Williams had argued that “nonviolence is a very potent weapon when the opponent is civilized, but nonviolence is no match or repellent for a sadist.”
Though King points out that the principle of self-defence “has never been condemned, even by Gandhi,” he rejects Williams’ suggestion that black people take up arms: “There is more power in socially organized masses on the march than there is in guns in the hands of a few desperate men.”
The above statement is pretty intense, even for me. But what the esteemed civil activist was getting at was this notion that protests don’t need to be loud and armed. This sentiment in the ’60s has somehow found its way into the digital age, as socially organised masses, behind touchscreens.
And I thought that was quite interesting.
The hashtag protests
Our involvement and contribution to conversations don’t come as a surprise. In this day and age, it definitely feels like “hashtag protests” find us, depending on who we follow and the content whirlpools created by those who surround us.
It was so easy to be caught in the cross currents of #AmINext, #ClimateStrike, #XenophobiaInSA and #IAmStaying protests in September. But rightfully so. They afforded me the opportunity to learn more about what other people were saying and to get into the closest proximity to their thoughts. And that is the best information privilege that may ever be enjoyed — a protest that also serves as a search engine is what is so incredible about the age in which we live.
The closest to global thoughts, and the most-brilliant placard copy that I’d personally seen in the longest time, was during the #ClimateStrike protest. All from the mouths of babes. Millions and millions of kids as young as 12, marching online and offline for our planet.
“This isn’t a fringe movement. This isn’t a greenie issue. This isn’t a leftie issue. This is a human issue,” is a profound statement that was made by one of the physical protestors in Australia. A human issue. And a large part of our human experience that now plays out online.
The #ClimateStrike was started by 16-year-old trailblazer, Greta Thunberg. This is a clear demonstration that hashtag protests are not defined by ageism but by the pure intention to #MakeTheWorldGretaAgain. But also, geez, what in the world was I doing when I was 16?!
But not all hashtag protests are about a fight; some are just a declaration of positive stance or, at least, that’s what the intention is. #ImStaying is one such. It’s a bid by South Africans across the skin-colour thresholds to convince other South Africans to stay here, at home, and fix things. (Look, there’s overwhelmingly a LOT of work to do, but then ‘how do you eat an elephant’ again?)
I was scrolling through my Facebook when the #ImStaying hashtag sauntered onto my timeline. The video I saw was of a young South African woman who was called down to the factory floor at her work under the guise of “it’s an emergency, Mem”, only to find that the factory workers had a “bride-to-be” sash waiting for her to adorn among her tears, their ululations and traditional wedding songs of the likes of “tswang tswang tswang” to their makoti. Chedder cheese to some but oh so beautiful to many. I was really touched by this move(ment) to remind South Africans of their “why”,
And even more reason to show up for a country so broken.
The return in protest investment
In advertising, we often say “a graveyard where good ideas go to die”, meaning just that: really good ideas that are bombed or thrown out because they are too bold or the client is too conservative/too scared to put marketing budget behind them to bring them to life. So, sadly, no returns.
In the same light I would looooove to see a shift: that, as we willingly join these hashtag protests, our return in protest investment comes in the form of our small, personal, changed behaviours towards any other human being; an unwavering stand in personal truths; and a convincing approach and plea to industry bosses to be more greener and influential in realms where they have access to government officials — where influence turns into choice and an unquestionable stride to change policies in our law, education and service-delivery fraternities. We can’t just hashtag protest for likes and a week-long relevance; we need true and tangible returns showing up.
#FeesMustFall galvanised a movement in real life for doing something in tertiary institutions with regards to funding. I’ve long passed the need for that in my life but a hashtag protest like this one has shifted a funding dial and paved a way for my unborn kids.
And isn’t that the point?
Siwelile Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) is a qualified South African chartered-accountant-turned-creative-strategist who’s just joined M&C Saatchi Abel from FCB Joburg. She is also a working photographer and writer. Since mid-2015, she been in strategic planning, working on some of South Africa’s big brands in different categories and industries in the ATL and digital spaces. She contributes the monthly column “An Accountant in Adland” — exploring where, when and how the two ‘disciplines’ overlap… and why they should! — to MarkLives.com.