Panel Recap: The Leslie Knope Guide to Geek Activism
“I’m going to address the elephant in the room,” Carolyn Noe said. “I do not have binders for you all.”
So began the Leslie Knope Guide to Geek Activism panel.
Carolyn, the founder and executive director of Super Heroines, Etc.—a nonprofit designed to encourage women to embrace their inner nerds—was joined on the panel by Fox Smith, the president of Super Heroines, Etc. The women designed the panel as a way to help socially conscious people learn how to go about making a difference in their communities.
Despite the lack of binders, Carolyn pressed on, sharing how Parks and Recreation was originally based on a news article about a community that took years to build a park. She explained that friendship and civic engagement are completely entwined. Like Leslie, people who have enthusiasm and passion for their community draw people in and become catalysts of change.
Carolyn added that working with your friends is what makes change in your environment, and that there is benefit to working with both people you agree with and people you don’t. You are able to better promote change as a result, because hearing different perspectives helps you construct more well-rounded views. Likewise, like Leslie, there is benefit in playing fair, finding compromise, and maintaining resilience, even when things get tough.
Fox noted that compassion fatigue, or feeling overwhelmed by all of the problems that exist, is easy to fall into. Like Leslie, you need to find specific things to focus your energy on in order to be effective. As Ron Swanson put it, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” Focusing on one problem at a time doesn’t mean you can’t focus on other issues later, it just keeps you on track and moving forward.
When it comes to trying to get people around you to join your cause, Carolyn said that people aren’t moved by facts. Fox said sharing your perspective about what the issue is and why it matters helps. People can’t argue against your feelings.
Carolyn added that asking people questions about their views can help them see the the possible flaws in their core values and nudge them around to your side.
During the Q&A, an audience member asked what forms of online engagement can be effective. Carolyn said that online activism is tricky and encouraged listeners to pick their battles carefully and to share their personal commentary to humanize their views rather than just post article links. Fox added that it’s important to engage with people of different viewpoints with an encouraging tone, not an angry one.
Another audience member asked what to do if you want to support something but are worried about someone finding out. Carolyn said that she is an atheist from a religious family, and that her family outed her to her grandmother against Carolyn’s wishes. She said their actions hurt and that she’s not sure the extent of the impact her being outed has had on her relationship with her grandma, but she noted that building friendships with like-minded people has really helped her feel unalone.
Fox said it can also help to start preparing yourself now for when the time comes for people to find out about your views.
The panel concluded with audience members splitting into small groups and filling out questionnaires meant to guide brainstorming what the local issues are that we care about, what the changes are that we want to see, and how we take the first steps to promote that change.
As someone who is often overwhelmed by the immensity of problems in my community, I loved how Carolyn and Fox encouraged us to target one issue at a time and to focus on finding solutions rather than just pointing out problems. I also appreciated the breakout session, where we got to both focus on how we could work toward change and see that we’re not alone in our desire to make a difference. The panel was a great opportunity to begin putting our thoughts into action and, like Leslie, become the good we want to see in our communities.