Citlaly Escobar, Opinions Editor
Social media has become a hotspot for people to share, tweet and post about social issues around the world. It has given people access to conversations of social change and connected organizers across the world, promoted international platforms and exchanged dialogues of justice and liberation.
However, a serious issue needs to be addressed with online activism. While social media gives many individuals access to these conversations, it seems that many individuals use social media as a crutch for their own complacency. Their activism relies on sharing posts that are comfortably in resistance to the status quo and posting the occasional picture of them at a march with quirky signs like, “I wish I was at brunch!”. They often are the first to disagree with the tactics of resistance and the last to show up, but yet somehow they are still praised with being “brave” and “inspiring” for their two posts on social media.
Do not get me wrong, I am glad that activism is something people are interested in, and I’m grateful that social media is a platform to spread change. It is a very important tool to spread awareness and a critical component for disability justice. However, these new conversations of activism do not seem centered around liberation; instead, they seem to have taken an individualistic role to make yourself “unique,” and “inspiring” and to boost your resume. Conversations have switched from being community-centered to becoming a place to understand how people and corporations can hustle profit.
Social media celebrities like Shaun King, Chrissy Teigan and Taylor Swift are often hallmarked as “inspiring activists”, but community records show that they are not giving back to the communities they are “helping”. Shaun King has repeatedly been under fire by community leaders for pocketing funds and abusing the Black women in his circles. Chrissy Teigan has often overshadowed women in the #MeToo Movement. Taylor Swift only supported the gay liberation movement after it was profitable by corporations
This new solo-spotlight has resulted in many activist communities being alienated from public platforms. In the discussion of climate change, activists have been furiously posting about Greta Thunberg’s amazing mission but they ignore the indigenous communities that were organizing against pipelines, the deforestation of the Amazon and the destruction of freshwater sources. Young voices like Artemisa Xakriabá, Allen Salway and Mari Copeny are still being ignored by popular media because their messages are not a comfortable topic as they call for accountability and decolonization.
So while social media is a great tool for activism, it must be known that it can stutter movements too. Movements’ missions can get watered down, co-opted, or misunderstood throughout time. It makes activism look like it is an individual act, something that can be checked off after a cute little march to the capitol when the legislature is not even in session. It ignores the unsexy parts of activism, like the loss of health, the loss of personal safety as you confront authority and the feelings of hopelessness after long-strings of loss.
Because of this I ask you do you call yourself an activist? If so, what kind of activist are you? Are you a social media activist, posting about change? Or do you also actively attend and support movements in the capacity that you are able to?
I ask this not because I deny the power of social media, but because I challenge the complacency of certain social media activism. As I reflect upon last year’s events, many people who promote themselves as activists on social media and who occupy privileged positions at Augsburg did not attend our protests that confronted authority last year. Often, these people were the first ones to scold us for “not understanding the context” of the problem or reprimanded our tactics of resistance because they were “not appropriate.” Few offered assistance until the Day of Action, an event that ultimately co-opted our movement on campus.
So I ask again: What kind of activist are you?
This article was originally published in the September 27, 2019 issue.