Activism: Have we forgotten what it’s all about?
Fifty five years ago, one of the key events of activism in the American civil rights movement occurred. Four young African American freshmen from nearby North Carolina A & T College gathered up great courage and sat down in the whites only area of the Woolworths segregated lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, thereby standing up for what they and thousands of other African American citizens believed they were entitled to, racial equality. In doing so, these students’ actions had an immediate and lasting impact and helped to forever change the landscape of civil rights in the troubled southern United States.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, and this all occurred without so much as a tweet or a like.
Please read the attached article and learn more about the Greensboro 4: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greensboro_sit-ins
These events that were shared in Malcolm Gladwell’s article “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted”, gives us much to reflect upon regarding today’s use of social media for the practise of social and political action. Does it make deep, lasting and revolutionary change as did the activities of the Greensboro Four in 1960? I don’t believe so.
Gladwell’s composition was an attempt to bring a sense of reality to the over-inflated sense of importance that we bestow on the likes of Facebook and Twitter. To say that social media is not valuable and doesn’t have its place in society is foolish. It does have its place to help facilitate and contribute to activism and social change in a low risk, low commitment, low engagement sort of way, not drive it.
Contemplate such stunning events as the pro democracy uprising in Tiananmen Square Beijing China on June 4th, 1989. Despite the expulsion of foreign journalists and the strictly controlled coverage of the events in the domestic press, photos of the heavy military presence were broadcast around the world. A 140 word tweet on social media would not have helped the Chinese citizens persevere in the face of unprecedented danger the way the support and face to face physical bond of 1000’s of protestors did in Tiananmen Square. Armchair activism is inefficient in regards to challenging the status quo.
It’s the offline, face-to-face relationships that are the most significant.
Please read the attached article and learn more about the Tiananmen Square protests: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square_protests_of_1989
On the other hand, in US President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, he was the first president to use social media to reach out to the American public during his run for election. Obama’s use of Twitter and Facebook enabled his campaign organizers and supporters to reach out to a rapidly growing user base across all demographics thereby strengthening and complimenting his face to face campaigning.
If we look at the meaning of activism it is defined as: a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue. These historic events noted above are clear examples of two distinct types of activism and plainly show how social media would not have helped in the case of Tiananmen Square in its “direct and vigorous action” and how it had a powerful effect in bringing about dramatic change for the 44th president of the United States.
I don’t believe that social media activism furnishes the physical human association that provides the necessary supportive bond when faced with adversity. Sitting behind your computer is a safe means of activism with the appearance of action. It doesn’t require any personal sacrifice or commitment and is not the key to searching for an explanation or solution to a significant deeply rooted problem. In Greensboro and Beijing it was all or nothing, on Facebook and Twitter you have nothing to lose.
Thanks to the involvement and bravery of not only my ancestors and many other courageous people in many G7 countries, the high risk activism of the past is uncommon now, but still very recognizable and unfortunately necessary in other parts of the world.
Regardless of how you feel about social media, thanks to the ingenuity, creativity and imagination of individuals we have an invaluable tool that has limitless possibilities. So what does the future hold?
Please take a moment to read another prospective - Pros & Cons of Digital Activism
ReferencesIndependent Lens, Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/februaryone/
Widner, Jeff, Associated Press, Monroe Gallery of Photography, Retrieved from - http://monroegallery.blogspot.ca/2012/06/this-day-in-history-june-4-1989.html
New York Times, November 5, 2008, Retrieved from http://www.kwanzaaguide.com/history/history_nia.htm
Hesse, Monika, The Washington Post, July 4, 2009, Retrieved from: http://www.boston.com/ae/media/articles/2009/07/04/pros_and_cons_of_digital_activism/
Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, Retrieved from: http://myjewishdetroit.org/2012/05/what-it-means-to-be-a-social-activist/