Sunday, 2 August 2015

Lions and Migrants and Charities, Oh My!



There has been much talk over the last few days about these issues, and indeed about how they relate to one another in terms of priorities, bandwagons, and so on.

There have, for example, been accusations such as 'you care more about lions than migrants', and it is true that some people seem to be making far more fuss about one issue, and the welfare of one 'group', than the other. That issue was quite succinctly summed up by one person referring to a Daily Mail front page talking of both issues, "Britain: Angry that a Lion is shot, Angry that immigrants aren't being shot.". These accusations do, of course, have a point in some cases.

For some people, though, the two things are by no means mutually exclusive - you can care about the issues of lions, trophy-hunting and so on, and also care about the desperate human beings just across the sea trying to get to the UK. Indeed, you can comment and campaign on both issues, and many people are. What the Daily Mail and its ilk are up to is another issue, of course, but if I worried too much about the kind of rubbish that the Daily Mail writes I would soon lose my marbles! They have their own nasty little agenda, and everyone really should know about it by now.

There are those, however, who are even saying that we should basically shut up about the bloomin' lion while people are dying - I think those people have got it very badly wrong. We should take every opportunity to raise public awareness about issues that need to be addressed, even if there are still other issues that need to be addressed, and arguably need to be addressed more urgently. It is true to say that, despite years of dedicated campaigning by some people, groups and charities, the issues of big game hunting and trophy export have barely raised a ripple on the public awareness chart. The awful demise of Cecil has given what might be a unique opportunity to get the public to wake up to the problem - of course, that doesn't mean that there aren't other problems in the world, and more urgent ones, but this kind of 'jumping on the bandwagon' might actually bring at least one problem closer to a solution. That, in my opinion, has to be a good thing, even if it leaves other problems unsolved for another few days, when they were never likely to be solved in those few days anyway!

That brings me on to the issue of charities, and their marketing approaches - this is something, although I guess it's barely registered with many people among the lions and migrants, that David Cameron has been talking about recently. Now I certainly don't dispute that there can be problems with charity marketing - I don't have figures to call on, but I do know people who have signed up for their 'just £3 per month' donation towards a particular issue, only to be bombarded constantly with a flood of materials from other charities demanding (in urgent terms) that they must do the same for them. Large charities understand marketing, and they understand that the 'urgency' of an appeal can be a key element to getting a good response. They do have to be careful, though - in addition to the issue of some people feeling 'harassed' (which is never acceptable), I also know people who have cancelled their original monthly donation just to try to escape from the flood of new requests for cash. If they push too hard for short term gain, they potentially could do long term damage to the whole sector by putting people off from donating at all. I'm certainly not convinced that extra legal regulation is the best approach, though.

I'm sure lion-based, and similar, charities and campaigners will do everything that they can to capitalise on the current media spotlight and public attention on the issue of big game hunting and associated trophy export, and so they should. It doesn't actually harm other issues significantly to get one issue some real public momentum for a few days or weeks - it will inevitably gradually sink down the list of priorities over time. They do have to be a little careful when it comes to appeals for money, though, not to make their appeals so 'urgent' and 'hard-hitting' and ongoing after the immediate that they end up doing long term damage to their own, and other charity, prospects. Take the opportunity and exploit it, but don't push too hard for too long or people will push back, and that wouldn't be good at all.

To turn to the issue of 'migrants', much has been said about the dehumanisation and demonisation of these desperate people searching for a better life, and the fact that many should, in terms of relative numbers taken by different EU countries and of their status as genuine 'refugees', be allowed in to the UK (many would be likely to be allowed to stay if they got here and got caught). That should, I suspect, be pretty obvious now to anyone who is not sucked in by the nasty propaganda of the likes of the Daily Mail, and Farage's UKIP crowd (and other even worse right wing loons). I won't go over that same ground in detail - suffice to say that it is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently.

I think the current public profile on the issue, as much as it may seem to be an excuse for right-wing tabloid excess of the worst kind at the moment, might actually be a good thing in the long term. It is shining a light on the issue, and the more the more extreme right wing elements in this country bay for blood, I suspect the more people will begin to see though the rhetoric and start to think more carefully about the whole problem and what is really going on. As I said, 'don't push too hard for too long or people will push back'! This problem needs light to be shined on it. It needs people to look and listen and think. It needs people to raise their awareness, because that will ultimately, I believe, begin to raise their understanding. Of course, those of us who believe that the 'swarm' is actually a group of individual desperate human beings should continue to raise that point, but by prolonging and enhancing the exposure our opponents are actually making it easier for us to continue to do so. It will inevitably slip down the list of public priorities eventually, though.

Issues come and go in the public conciousness. That is natural, and inevitable. As human beings ourselves, we cannot concentrate on everything at the same time. We cannot make everyone aware of every problem and injustice in the world simultaneously - it just isn't possible. Most people 'pick and choose' their main issues of focus for campaigning and charitable contribution according to their own personal feelings, and there's nothing wrong with that at all. Personally, for example, I've never really campaigned about lions before - I know others do, and indeed it can relatively be quite a popular issue compared with some other equally virtuous charitable causes - lions are actually a relatively high-profile animal in general. When it comes to 'animal welfare' and 'wildlife'-type issues, I've tended to concentrate more on the issues of dogs and wolves, but that's just a personal choice (I support various wolf and dog rescue charities with donations/purchases of merchandise, sponsor a dog with the Dogs Trust, campaign against Breed Specific Legislation, and so on). I will, however, certainly take the opportunity presented to help spread the news about the issues surrounding the hunting of lions, and other animals in Africa. Now is the time to do that - while the public are watching.

As much as we can't raise awareness of every animal issue at once, we can't do the same for human problems either. We all choose our own priorities, and work on that. Some choose cancer charities, some choose homeless issues, etc. - personally I tend to choose equality and diversity issues (and especially surrounding 'alternative subcultures', because that is something personal to me that I have personal experience of). It doesn't mean that we don't support the aims of other charities, of course, and don't support them when they are raised in the public conciousness by particular events. It's just that, in general, we all choose our own priorities, and that is a good thing - if we didn't do that, the less popular issues could just be ignored completely.

Not actively being dedicated supporters of lion-based charities and campaigns until a 'big thing' comes along doesn't make us bad people. It doesn't even mean that we don't care about lions and are just 'jumping on the bandwagon' for our own ends, or because it is popular. We can't all do everything for everyone all of the time. The same is true of the specific issues surrounding refugees and 'migrants'. Showing that we care about an issue that does come along in a big way doesn't mean that we no longer care, or that we care somehow less, about other issues either. We need to remember that in our discourse about such issues, because making such accusations doesn't help anyone or any issue. when it comes to seeking charitable donations, charities (particularly large ones with large marketing budgets) also need to remember that - few people could afford to support every charity on an ongoing basis, and it's better that they support one or two personal 'favourites' than support none at all in case they suffer a deluge of demands for money (or because they bankrupt themselves!).

I guess what I'm saying overall is that we should take opportunities to help on particular issues as they come along as well as concentrating on our own 'favourite' topics. There's nothing wrong with that. Just because an issue is 'popular' and in the news for a short time doesn't mean that those who aren't constantly talking about it don't care, and we should resist any temptation to dismiss or belittle their contribution on that kind of basis. It doesn't mean that those who are talking about it for that time are 'jumping on the bandwagon' for any reason other than wanting to help while it is in their mind. People aren't unlimited vessels, able to think about every issue all the time - we need to use opportunities to highlight issues as they are presented to us, but not assume that people who 'suddenly' seem to care about the issue are somehow just 'opportunists', or in any way lesser because they tend to concentrate on thinking about other things at other times.

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