[ Question ]

Should local EA groups support political causes?

by lukasberglund1 min read21st Jul 202011 comments


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Movement Strategy

Members of our university group occasionally suggest that we, as a group, should support certain causes that are gaining momentum at our school (these include Black Lives Matter, a solidarity movement for the Hong Kong protests, and a movement to abolish Greek Life at our school).

My reservation is that members or potential members could feel alienated from our club and even EA in general if they disagree with the movements that our university group supports. Also, these movements aren't conventional EA causes.

On the other hand, refusing to support these movements feels like we are implying EA is somehow above these movements, which seems elitist. Supporting these movements could also give our group valuable publicity and sympathy from those who support them. Additionally, there is a strong case to be made that movements like Black Lives Matter and the Hong-Kong protests have a positive impact, so it's weird that we would refuse to support them.

How should university groups and other local groups deal with such dilemmas?

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3 Answers

Others may disagree, but here's my take:

University is a great time to learn about politics and political activism. You can make a difference and learn useful skills by getting involved in campus activism. One of those skills is deciding which causes to get involved with.

If I ran a campus EA group, I'd probably encourage members to get involved in other campus activities (including political activism) but remain neutral* as a group. This not only makes the group more welcoming to a wide variety of people, but it also encourages people to think through different political causes for themselves rather than deferring their decision to what "EA leaders" think.

*To some extent everything is political. I would not be neutral about preventing bullying and harassment at EA meetups or things like that - I'm talking about remaining neural about controversial party political topics here.

One question I'd ask myself is how well this holds up over time. If EA had existed in other times, what might left-leaning student types have been supporting? My guesses in the US, based on what was popular with progressive types at the time:
- 1970s: opposing the Vietnam War (this one holds up fine)
- 1920s: supporting communism
- 1890s: supporting women's suffrage, and also eugenics?

You could discuss promotional messaging for your group that has emphasis on your group's solidarity with those fighting for these causes, rather than endorsement per se, and link it to other things that you want to promote that are more traditionally EA if you feel that's helpful.

For example, you might talk about having solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement, and say that while it's not something that EAs have a lot of research on, that EAs have looked into various areas in criminal justice reform that align with some of their goals.

Or you could link Hong Kong democracy protests to political stability and reducing great power conflict, etc.