I didn’t have to look far to find a case of activism done “alone together”, since Vegan January (Vegaanihaaste) has kept me busy this month.
There are several ‘lifestyle’ challenges on Facebook, where people are trying to make the world a better place by small experiments, such as trying out a vegan diet for 30 days. It’s activism-made-easy, it’s just a trial, not demanding lifetime commitment. It’s more than just clicking ‘like’ on a Facebook page; in this case Facebook is used as a tool to gather people to make a practical change in their ‘real’ lives.
Vegan January has no ‘leader’, it is initiated by a collective of vegans who’ve created a home page for the challenge with recipes and contact information of volunteers that offer (free) consultations for newbies over the internet. You can sign up for a daily newsletter written by the volunteers, containing daily recipes, weekly shopping lists and reflections on a vegan lifestyle. The Facebook group is an important part of this challenge: it functions as a peer support group, where people share recipes, food pictures and discuss problems that they’ve faced. The challenge has been accepted by people of different ages and backgrounds. As the group is ‘closed’ (i.e. you need to be part of the group in order to see what is posted), people are even sharing very personal experiences. So there we are, a bunch of people who don’t know each other, doing our own thing, but sharing thoughts and tips and having our own little community, that will disperse at the end of this month.
Last October, the first Finnish social media challenge made headlines, as two well-known Gonzo-journalists initiated ‘Lihaton lokakuu’ (No-meat November) as a part of their documentary series about global problems and civic society. The No-meat challenge was very successful, its Facebook event gathered 30 000 participants and the recipes that people shared on social media were made into a cook book.
Of course people partly join these challenges to get admiration. Nobody knows what is happening on the other side of the screen and certainly there were people among 30 000 participants of No-meat November that kept on eating meat every day. But there were also loads of people who were actually challenging themselves, actually trying out a new kind of diet and defying their prejudices towards veggies. After the challenge month, people parted in different directions and many continued their previous lifestyle. But all participants had fun for a month, sharing an interesting experience, and that in itself is valuable.