Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Fill in the Blank Awareness Month

It's easy to raise public "awareness" about some things.

First, you pick a disease. Arthritis? Autism? Okay I know autism isn’t a disease but humor me for now.

How about scurvy? Let’s go with that. Suppose you want to raise scurvy awareness. First, you declare Scurvy Awareness Month/Week/Day. If you stake your claim to a whole month, you have more time to carry out your scurvy awareness campaign. But the odds are great that dozens of other people who are bent on raising awareness about something else have also claimed that same month so you’ll have to hustle hard to raise more awareness than they do and not be squelched. If you settle for an awareness day, you’ll have to cram your awareness activities into a 24-hour period. But since there are many more days in a year than there are months, there’s probably a lot less competition.

Next, you pick a color to symbolize scurvy awareness. But again, chances are that the most popular and beloved colors are already spoken for by countless other awareness campaigns. So you might be stuck with an obscure color with less instant name recognition, like burnt umber.

Once you have a color, then you get a bunch of ribbons or armbands or stuff like that made up in that color and then you get famous people to wear them in public, preferably athletes. So if you can get all the football players to wear burnt umber shoes during their games on Scurvy Awareness Day, you’ve got it made!

But like I said, raising awareness isn’t so easy for some things. I'm thinking about the days back in the 1980s when there was no cripple accessible public transit in Chicago. Cripples who were pissed off about it were trying to raise awareness about the fact that the board of directors of the Chicago Transit Authority was fucking us over. I suppose we could have designated a CTA Board is Fucking Over Cripples Awareness Day. We could have picked a color to symbolize the CTA board fucking over cripples and had a bunch of ribbons made. But getting famous people to wear those ribbons in public would have been the hard part. It’s a lot easier to get people on board when it’s a disease. Everybody hates diseases.

But once you’ve made everybody aware, so what? Big deal. What you’re really trying to do is get people off their asses to do something. Like if somebody is trying to saw your head off and you scream, what you’re doing when you scream is you’re trying to make others aware that someone is trying to saw your head off. But unless it results in a passerby taking action that prevents you from having your head sawed off, what good is it?

Some people, when they hear a call to action, don’t have to be asked twice. They’ll be right there with the homemade, all-purpose, emergency protest sign they keep in the trunk of their car. For others, your awareness campaign will bring out the “in-kind” generosity in them. They’ll ship dead grandma’s old wheelchair that’s cluttering up the basement off to the earthquake victims. Others only act when the threat posed by inaction is clear and present. They’ll give to the Sierra Club when the flood waters are up to their windowsill and a polar bear floats by on a runaway hunk of glacier.

You’re also more inclined to get citizens to act when what you’re asking them to do isn’t burdensome. Like with scurvy awareness, you’re just trying to get people to eat more citrus fruit and vegetables. It’s easy to persuade people to do that. Actually, maybe not.

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