Jaime Perez ’23
In the wake of the recent racial reckoning that has rocked the United States there has been an impressive spike in the number of individuals participating and contributing to political and social movements across the country.
The Black Lives Matter movement is one of the many movements that have swept across the country, inspiring the average American to come face to face with the reality of Black oppression and injustice in our society. Many turn to supporting the Black Lives Matter movement as a statement as sorts, putting out to the world that they believe in the movement’s pursuit for racial justice, equality, and respect for Black lives in the United States.
The activism is, of course, welcomed by all movements fighting for what they believe in. Activism for these movements is like a megaphone, it projects the core values of the movement while simultaneously educating dissenters on why the movement is crucial within our society.
The way that people have advocated on behalf of their adopted movements varies significantly. Some people have taken a boots on the ground approach, joining their fellow activists on the streets and marching in solidarity with the movement. Other activists have taken to advocating by canvassing for local elected officials they believe are the solution that their adopted movement is looking for, knocking on doors and participating in literature drops to spread support for the candidate in their local communities. One of the more tangible forms of activism that has been making the rounds is the use of social media to share posts, personal stories, and articles in support of larger movements across the country. Considering that we are in a pandemic, many tend to make social media their preferred platform for activism to avoid exposing themselves to the risk of contracting COVID-19 in public spaces.
With the sharp rise in activism there has of course been an equally large rise in how people are demonstrating and advocating for what they believe in. People have gotten creative with their activism, and this creativity has only served as kindle to the flame that helps to fuel nationwide, statewide, and local movements.
However, there has been a new trend among activists in today’s age, a new trend that has become even more apparent in our new age of social media and communication. As the amounts of activists rise, there has been a comparatively large rise in complacency within these movements. People are becoming comfortable living within the status quo again; they are increasingly moving away from their brief spurt as activists and returning to being bystanders to the movements that have enthralled our society. Although this complacency is not necessarily seen among those who demonstrate in person, it sticks out like a sore thumb in the sphere of social media. You can tell that people have become complacent by not posting about social movements as often, or even going as far as stopping their posts altogether. Some may continue to post, but their content lacks any legitimate substance that truly contributes to the movement they were actively supporting. As the Black Lives Matter movement continued to gain traction in July of this year, many social media activists used the hashtag “#blackouttuesday” alongside an image of a black square to imply that they will be taking a moment of “silence” to memorialize the lives of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd in the wake of their death at the hands of police brutality. The action, while noble in nature, only served as another excuse for activists on social media to remain complacent within the movements they supported. The black square, which was meant to memorialize, only served as an excuse for many to claim that they were still active in their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, when in reality they were simply looking for an easy way to remain complacent. To some social media users, the act of posting the black square and using the hashtag may have been their first step towards being more active in demonstrating in favor of the movement they believe in, but unfortunately this first step also became the last step, enabling a new wave of complacency to take place over true, active demonstration.
I usually see the #blackouttuesday example as the turning point in the age of activist complacency that we find ourselves in today. After that stunt, many users began to pursue the bare minimum in activism for the sake of continuing their virtue signaling online. People stopped having passion about the movement, and instead made desperate attempts to save face by conforming to minimal forms of demonstration that did anything but help the movement they claimed to support.
Now, while I do believe that complacency is damaging for movements across the United States, I do not believe that the age of complacency we find ourselves in is permanent. I believe that people have given up on trying to demonstrate because there is a general lack of morale and support within their given spheres of influence. Some online activists faced backlash from friends, followers and even family members online, being told to keep politics of the platform for the sake of not making the complacent folks uncomfortable. Other online activists may feel that their post was not getting the attention they sought; they perhaps did not receive messages supporting their stance on the movement, or perhaps were not celebrated in their online community for being so vocal in what they believed in. While these reasons to stray away from activism are perfectly valid, they also fuel an unrealistic status quo in online activism about how people should respond to demonstrations online.
One cannot expect their social media following to be on the same page as themselves, people need to expect that at times there will be no response or bad responses to what they say online. There needs to be a more courageous and active approach to how people advocate online. Online advocacy and activism are not about sharing a post and expecting to be hailed as a social justice hero, its about using your platform to share information about a movement to your followers that may otherwise be unknown. Online advocacy and activism are not about taking up the platform but serving as the platform itself for movements and marginalized people to share their message to groups that may otherwise not hear it. These are the expectations that online activists must have when it comes to advocating for their movement, these are the expectations that will help end this rut of complacency that has only blocked movements from accomplishing their goals.
I ask you to evaluate how you have been advocating for what you believe in. How have you been using your platform? How have you been reaching out to your audience online? How can you, as an activist, make better use of the medium of social media to promote the message of movements fighting for a better quality of life in our country? To bring an end to complacency, we must be capable of asking ourselves whether we are fighting the status quo or only serving as catalysts for the obstructiveness of inaction and comfort.