Last week, on a stage in front of a room filled with reporters, Matt Damon announced that he was going on a toilet strike. According to Time magazine, the actor claimed he would not use a toilet until changes are made that ensure that the 780 million people around the world who lack access to clean water, and 2.5 billion to sanitation, are given that right.
While the strike is comedic, it is meant to create a movement in support of raising awareness for the issue of clean water. In countries such as the U.S., where the entire population is only half the number of people around the world who do not have clean water, toilets can be taken for granted. Poor sanitation can lead to life-threatening illnesses, and lack of clean water leads to disease, according to water.org.
Damon, as co-founder of the charity Water.org, hopes to shed light on this issue. It caught the attention of many, as his announcement and accompanying videos are shared by many major news sources as the calendar moves closer to March 22, World Water Day.
The issue that Damon brings up is incredibly important, and the way in which he did it, and simply the fact that this story has spread, sheds a light of its own.
As some may recall, another actor, George Clooney, was arrested last spring for protesting in Washington D.C. The arrest took the news by storm, as one of the most well-known and admired actors was taken into custody in front of the Sudanese embassy, protesting against the Sudanese govt. for acts that violated human rights.
Angelina Jolie is travels to war-torn regions for the UN regularly, Bono continually works to promote AIDS research and prevention and Selena Gomez, who can easily reach young people, works closely with UNICEF.
Damon is teaming up with some of the biggest YouTube “vloggers,” such as ShayCarl, to create a series of videos that will reach a wider audience.
It seems one of the biggest criticisms of activism is that people do it for superficial reasons, and that actors or musicians should not have a place in influencing people to move to action.
Some even consider this type of activism, in any form, to be counterproductive in its encouragement of the “white savior complex,” or perhaps the “Western savior” complex.
This idea argues that those who are privileged are helping others who are less so, while disregarding their historical role in various less-developed societies, which in fact led to some of the issues those nations currently face.
However, Damon has shown through this “strike” that the power of celebrity is conducive to good. As criticized as he may be for being outspoken on many issues, this is a perfect example of what celebrity status should be used for. The problems with water and sanitation is not one that can be debated, nor is it political in nature. No one can simply become famous by wishing it, and to use it in this case, for such an important cause, is respectable.
This is advocacy done right. Photographed celebrity humanitarianism might be unfortunate only in its indication of our society’s tendencies to give so much scrutiny to the actions of the famous. However, if this has the capacity to educate many on important issues, surely it is something positive.
It is easy to criticize, but harder to act – I don’t see why anyone would not want to act in this case, or would want to criticize for that matter. The easiest thing you can do is donate to one of many organizations that help bring wells and sanitation and filtration systems to affected communities around the globe.
We can also make many steps in our own daily lives to help reduce water waste and usage. Another thing to consider is that the water that comes out of our faucets is cleaner than the water much of the world has access to, so don’t take it for granted, and don’t be afraid to drink from the tap. With this great example of celebrity status used to raise awareness, we should do exactly what the strike intended for us to do: continue to raise awareness for issues and to act to help solve them.