Views / Opinion

For-profit activism? Now that’s awkward

Activists spend a lot of time giving away their work for free, but why should they give it to a company to sell?

The Make It Awkward Summit has been criticized for billing itself as inclusive, despite passes costing $445.

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The Make It Awkward Summit has been criticized for billing itself as inclusive, despite passes costing $445.

From Dairy Queen’s miracle treat day—where the money goes towards children’s hospitals — to Dove’s feel good “Real Beauty” campaign, or driving a Prius to fight global warming, we’re increasingly taught to fight for causes by buying things.

Beautifully packaged things that make us feel good about our choices.

But when companies profit off of good intentions, does it help the people who are affected by discrimination most?

Jesse Lipscombe’s Make It Awkward Summit ignited that debate locally this week, with it’s $445 price tag for participants to attend. Lipscombe told Metro he does not expect to profit off the event, and will be lucky if he breaks even.

Make It Awkward is not a movement, it is a company that lists Jesse Lipscombe as the sole director. It’s an important distinction because a movement is about the collective, not the individual. 

Lipscombe gained prominence as an activist after a horrifically racist incident last year where he was called the N-word while filming a video for the City of Edmonton.

He created a hashtag, #MakeItAwkward, to challenge people when they make racist comments.

But now, I worry the effort seems to have been turned towards making a buck, rather than combatting racism.

The summit is a three-day conference about inclusion, according to the website, it’s designed to give people tools and education “to become ambassadors of change”. 

When asked how Make It Awkward helps combat racism, Lipscombe clarified that is was an anti-discrimination initiative and not focused solely on racism.

“How do YOU think #MakeItAwkward combats discrimination?” Lipscombe replied when I asked the same question.

My response?

You can’t have a conversation about discrimination while excluding those who are affected or want to learn, but can’t afford to attend. 

Community activist Raekesh Walters says she was asked to speak at the conference but declined the invitation due to concerns of inclusion. 

“Anti-oppression and community building are a cause close to my heart so it is a big deal for me to speak out about stuff like this” says Walters. She adds that she wants the event to be successful, but also inclusive.

Another of the issues Walters mentions is one of payment. The tickets are over $400, but are the speakers paid? 

A part of inclusion is compensating people for their work — especially activists of colour who are already out there working for free. She says the conference offered to reimburse her flight costs.

Lipscombe says that all speakers are compensated. 

But local speaker Chevi Rabbit says she’s not being paid at all. 

We don’t need another event that speaks about vulnerable populations and exploits the labour of their activists. 

Activists spend a lot of time giving away their work for free, but why should they give it to a company to sell?

Right now, Make It Awkward packages anti-discrimination and sells it back as a conference for people who can afford the cost of entry. 

That’s not anti-oppression — it’s taking a cause and using it for personal profit.

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