Abril Hunter –
A buzzword for Gen Z. However, a word that has been recently at the forefront of my mind. From the Hacktivist group Anonymous, exposing Jeffrey Epstein’s little black book, to your best friend posting a #BlackLivesMatter, anti-racist Instagram story, activism is moving online. Whether I’m scrolling through social media or watching the news, I find myself looking at or listening to things that I would consider activism.
Recently, hundreds of thousands of young people reserved tickets to Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, having no intention of attending. Trump projected his rally to have hundreds of thousands of people based on his ticket reservations, however less than 6500 people were actually in attendance. Can the buzzword activism be used to categorize the online acts that led to a less than desired turnout in Tulsa? I would argue yes, and here’s why.
Activism is simply defined as the “policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change”. Let’s apply this definition to the work done to create the lack of people at Trump’s rally in Tulsa. First, we ask, was there the “action of vigorous campaigning”? Simply put, yes. My social media spaces were flooded with information, pictures, and videos that encouraged me, a liberal, black, teenager in Illinois, to reserve a ticket to Trump’s rally in Tulsa. The intent being that his administration would think there were more people planning to come than would actually attend.
This absolutely meets the criteria of “vigorous campaigning.” Looking at the next part, “to bring about social change,” is where many people start to doubt if what was done for the Tulsa rally to increase empty seats counts as activism.
However, again I would argue, yes. You may be wondering what “social or political change” did this campaign work to bring out, but the answer may be simpler than it seems. This campaign’s purpose was to leave Trump’s rally with a low turnout in order to portray the image that he is not supported by as many people as the media shows. We all know correlation does not equate to causation, so there is no way to say that the lack of turnout equates to a decrease in support, but the media definitely portrayed it as such. Therefore, this social media campaign enacted a change in the news media, which is inherently social change.
In a global pandemic that has limited the amount of contact and interactions that people can physically have with each other, activism has shifted in similar ways. People may not feel comfortable tying themselves to trees, going out in large groups to protest, or marching to bring out change because it can be dangerous for your health, but also the health of others. Gen Z specifically has started using social media platforms to move physical activism to the internet. This is in no way unprecedented. People have been able to participate in activism online for decades, whether through signing online petitions, or digital rights campaigns. The difference now, is that many people are considering online activism the only responsible choice during a pandemic. A very valid consideration.
Many times in this pandemic, I have felt pressured to leave my house to participate in protests, marches, and rallies that are happening in my city. However, that’s not something I feel comfortable doing. Realistically, COVID-19 disproportionately affects people of color, and those with medical conditions. Considering I fall into both those categorizes I have decided I am better suited for activism through an online space. Sometimes, I have felt like I am not doing enough, because I am not out in the streets working to enact change in a physical sense. But I have recently come to the realization that all contributions to social change are valid and meaningful. I fully support those who choose to participate in activism physically, but I am here to tell those of you who don’t feel safe doing such, what you are doing online is enough. It is a way to enact change. Although the media covers physical activism more than online activism, it does not mean that your preferred method of bringing about change is null. What’s most important is that you and I both do all we can to bring about social and political change in the best way we know how. Whether you are signing up for marches or signing petitions, you are ensuring that activism is not just a buzzword, but an action word.