In non-profit communications-speak, “collateral” is “stuff you give people with your brand on it.” It is everything from t-shirts to magnets to pamphlets. Thinking about how Polaris could change how it uses collateral to work to end human trafficking, I’ve started by analyzing how I, as an activist and informed issue consumer, use collateral.
In DC, I own about 15 t-shirts, 5 work shirts, 2 pairs of jeans, 2 suit jackets, 2 pairs of work pants, and 1 skirt. Of those 15 t-shirts, 14* of them have survived my regular stuff-culling because they let me declare my allegiance to a tribe.
My t-shirts are tribal shibboleths.
The idea that the internet enables tribes is not new, but I’ve been thinking of it more and more to understand behavior in online/offline communities. Playing indoor anthropologist, humans functioned in groups of mostly the same size for most of history. Increased living standards in the developed world allowed most people to have their own bedrooms and made it more economical for many to break off into the smallest common denominator that felt comfortable–nuclear families or life solo with a small family of choice.
With movement to the cities, we were suddenly surrounded by so many more people, but fewer forced relationships. To some, this freed them from the sometimes really messed-up ways families behave towards each other. To others, it made them feel lonely and isolated. Being a part of a tribe meant having a fall-back identity, and being without one put the onus for self-explanation on the individual or small-family unit.
Until the internet. With the internet, I can build a family of choice, but I can also fill that need for a certain number of people who can be sure of me, who can start a conversation with me and know we have a shared allegiance and I am safe to get to know.
Online, it is easy to display those tribal allegiances. Look at my category list on the right–it lets you know that if you want to talk about human trafficking, reproductive justice, Shito-Ryu Karate Do or women in STEM, you can start an email in the middle of the social conversation with me.
Offline, it’s harder. As I mentioned, most of my clothing in DC is of the professional type that declares no allegiance to anything except cleanliness and a certain tomboy aesthetic.
Except for my t-shirts, my collateral.
If you haven’t already, go back up and hover over each of the photos. The alt-text explains the shibboleth in the t-shirt and what tribe I’m expressing allegiance to when I wear that shirt.
This all gets back to non-profit communications because part of the way I think we will build a world without slavery is if people take that goal into themselves as part of their identity. Think of the causes you grew up with: when I say I am a pro-choice, digital native, Arabist, I am telling you core pieces of myself. I express those pieces by owning and displaying collateral which expresses those things:
- A Planned Parenthood t-shirt,
- And Electronic Frontier Foundation bumper sticker,
- A Khanjar, curved knife, pendant from Oman,
I own these things because I have a personal connection to promoting these causes; I display them publicly because I want to meet other people who do so as well. When a cause is personal, people work for it. Real change happens on it. Think of people for whom NRA, or ASPCA, or alumnae/i assoication membership is a core piece of their identity.
Causes that live within people flourish; collateral helps people express what causes they care about and want to build community in.
Now I just have to figure out how to get ending human trafficking to grow inside people’s hearts.
*The remaining 1 is a plain black number, for when I want to wear a babydoll t but in a professional setting. A good definition of East Coast professional clothing might be: clothing that declares allegiance to no one but your that of your employer–not a brand, not a particular fashion affectation, just the look and feel of your workplace. West Coast, anything goes.
“[T]hey would tell him to say ‘Shibboleth.’ If he was from Ephraim, he would say ‘Sibboleth,’ because people from Ephraim cannot pronounce the word correctly. Then they would take him and kill him at the shallow crossings of the Jordan. In all, 42,000 Ephraimites were killed at that time.”–The Bible, New Living Translation, Judges 12:6