Police are now blasting protesters with water cannons despite the freezing temperatures. Extreme hypothermia and death under such conditions is a real threat. The conduct of our government -- from local law enforcement on the scene to a President who refuses to speak out against the the DAPL or the treatment of the protesters -- has been appalling.
But that's not what this post is about.
A few weeks ago, a hoax went around Facebook claiming that by using Facebook to "check in" to Standing Rock, people could show solidarity and confuse local police who were using social media to track down and persecute the people who were attending. This didn't make sense for a number of reasons which Snopes is better equipped to explain than I am. However, the Sacred Stone Camp did thank everyone who had participated for showing solidarity and creating enough of a media shitstorm to finally get them more of the national attention that these protests desperately need. With mounting pressure from journalists, it's possible that the President may finally step in to condemn the pipeline.
Unfortunately, it's not enough. People are out there freezing their asses off while we wait for the government to act, and sharing a Facebook check-in from the comfort of your own home is not enough.
A while ago, I posted about the Ice Bucket Challenge that was super popular to hate on social media -- but, surprise surprise, it actually worked. Getting people to participate in a viral game is a much better way of raising money than simply asking for donations. I worked in a call center asking for donations in college, and I can attest that people are shitty, and people are never shittier than when you are asking them for money. People need to feel personally invested in a charitable cause in order to care enough to give their money to it.
The Standing Rock site has posted a list of their needs, a link to their legal defense fund, and an Amazon wish list. They have had to request that people stop sending clothes due to a surplus -- unless it is warm winter wear, specifically made for freezing conditions, they do not need it.
This is where "charity that makes sense with reality" and "charity that makes people feel good" starts to break down. Sending your old clothes to Standing Rock is easy -- there's always shit you can't wear anymore -- and lends that little personal touch. It's also free. You don't have to spend $50+ on a low-temperature, military-grade sleeping bag or jacket. You feel like a little piece of you is going to Standing Rock: one of the protesters might be wearing one of your old pairs of jeans, and that's practically like you're there yourself.
It makes you feel a part of things, while doing the least work and committing the least personal expense possible.
Well, that's nice, but they don't need your damn castoffs. They need your money.
When I worked calling prospective donors, people always wanted to give to causes that felt good. We gave them the option to designate their gifts, which many people took -- giving to the library, or to programs and scholarships they remembered liking, or occasionally to something that they wanted to put their name on.
Which, theoretically, is fine. I'll even admit to using the designated gift offer in order to get people more invested. People like to know where their money is going. People are more willing to give to a cause if it's for something that makes them feel happy inside, rather than a general fund which might go to an unromantic if necessary cause like fixing the freshman dormitory elevator.
But what you need to understand is that when you do that, the organization cannot touch that money for anything else. Likewise, when you send your old clothes or knitted hats to Standing Rock, they can't magically convert them into money that they can use to buy the things they actually need.
As of the time I left that job, we had over $1,000 sitting in a fund for the swimming pool. A swimming pool which my alma mater no longer has. Now there's a sum of money sitting in a designated account that we can never touch, because we don't have a swimming pool, and we can't use it for anything else but the nonexistent swimming pool.
I'm sure whoever donated to that cause thought they were helping. But, again, intent is not enough.
Likewise, over the holidays, homeless shelters are often inundated with castoffs when what they really need are things like toothpaste and feminine products and deodorant. But the menstruation and body odor of homeless people are icky to think about -- and more importantly, going out and buying tampons and toothpaste costs money. Money that people aren't motivated enough to spend.
Which brings me back to Standing Rock. Sending your clothes might help when they need to burn the extra donations to keep warm, but it's a largely useless gesture. So if you want to donate to the Standing Rock cause this winter -- to any charity, for that matter -- don't donate in a way that makes you feel good. Ask what they need, and give them that.
And, I promise, what they need is money.
There's a stigma surrounding money in our society. Asking for money either means you're weak or you're greedy and grasping. During my stint asking for donations, I talked with some very nice, generous people. I also had people hurl verbal abuse at me and threaten my family. Again, people are never shittier than when you ask them for money -- as if the very idea of giving out cash cheapens them somehow. There's also this idea that giving money means you can't be bothered take the time to make a personalized gift like a hand-knitted hat.
But this is not the fucking family holiday party, and this is not about your fucking ego. Is your hat going to hold up in subzero temperatures? No? Then put the money you were about to use on yarn into an Amazon gift card and mail it to Standing Rock.
If you can't give a ton of money, that's fine. It's a cliche, but even a little bit helps. Imagine if everyone who had shared that Facebook check-in had donated $5 to the legal defense fund, for instance.
If you want to help, the absolute best thing you can do is give to their legal defense fund or send them a check or cash or gift card -- and let the people who are on the ground, doing the work, and seeing the needs of their fellow protesters spend your money in the way that will best help them and their cause.
Tl;dr: This is not about you. Your gift doesn't need to feel good. It needs to be effective.