“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” — Eric Hoffer
Hoffer retired from public life in 1970 before the internet became as important to sharing information as the printing press. Internet communication is less expensive for communicators than print, broadcast, or cable TV and speaking venues. Anyone can find attention for their thoughts. His words have more gravity in today’s run-away media culture.
What I hope are thought-provoking examples follow. Sadly, corrections run into our right to free speech, but I invite you to ponder them and share the discussion with others.
I have been a supporter of measures to conserve natural resources, protect the ecological web of life, and fight the pollution caused by toxic substances for decades. I can testify to the fact that organizations dedicated to those efforts have metastasized. Unfortunately, far too many of the newer organizations and even established ones spend more money on advocacy than paying for solutions to the problem. They have, at best, become an advocacy business. In other cases, they are a racket that gathers money in the name of a cause and enriches the organization’s staff while claiming tax benefits as a form of a non-profit.
A person who habitually cares about issues outside of their immediate influence (like me) must be careful. Writing a check of support is less time-consuming than volunteering. Investigating the organization’s financials takes additional time. Issue rackets know that. Think of the number of foundations that sprang up to help wounded veterans and the Wounded Warrior scandal.
Black Lives Matter could be headed in the same direction. Extreme activism has become a problem for society. Peaceful protest is legal. The civil rights movement and Gandhi’s independence movement provoked violence from law enforcement, who, it turned out, were supporting the losing side. When protestors cause harm to persons or property, they are rioting. Unfortunately, starting riots has become a gig of its own. Whether for the adrenaline high or the profit from looting, rioting has become a racket taking over peaceful public protest.
After the Supreme Court said that women could legally request an abortion, the medical procedure became a cause. Organizations opposed to ending a pregnancy before birth or supporting the law became another cause. Money collected often seems to go for lobbying rather than providing services to the women making a difficult decision.
Political funding has become entangled with these causes. My husband never received a fundraising letter from the NRA to finance gun safety training or hunter education. Until he dropped his membership, letters and phone calls frequently arrived requesting funds to prevent gun confiscation, protect the Second Amendment, or just for gun rights. Recent civil action indicates that NRA leaders received undue benefits from the fundraising while paying for political power.
The crowd of causes is so large that exaggerating dire need and stunts to gain headlines has overcome the need to weigh the merits. Depositing poop in front of the White House whose occupant is already a champion of the earth? The action, and similar stunts, is just ill-considered at best. It may even be a false flag.
I fear that all the anger, all the hype, all the false exaggeration expended to gain adherents to a cause only tires us out and depresses us. It fills our mailboxes and computer screens. It clutters our TV screens and crowds out time and attention for learning new things or enjoying the creativity of performers who entertain us.
Promoters profit, but the cost of the corruption will cancel the benefits. We want to help, but we don’t want to waste our time and money. Words and pictures can illustrate truth or fantasy. Competition for our attention has meant that it’s harder to tell one from another. Anxious media harms our civil discourse and our health. Can we get a grip on this without our cause becoming a racket?
Linda Brugger, retired from the Air Force, leaning Democrat and community activist can be reached at IdahoAuthor@outlook.com. She welcomes feedback.