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Activism matters, even on Twitter

Negative reactions to Ferguson-related protests unwarranted

When the grand jury decision to not indict Ferguson, Missouri, Officer Darren Wilson over the death of Michael Brown was released, everyone had something to say. Late that night and into the early morning, a relatively small group of Rutgers students gathered in the quad circle on Livingston campus. As they were chanting “hands up, don’t shoot” and “black lives matter,” a larger group of students began to assemble around them. For half an hour, the protestors were called racial slurs, harkening back to the Jim Crow South. According to social posts, they received threats and were recorded and photographed. Students who disagreed with the protests initially complained about the late hour. They were angry that students were chanting and being “disruptive” at midnight on a Monday heading into Tuesday, but still they stood around to watch. 

At Rutgers, a school that prides itself on diversity, where nearly half the 40 thousand-plus student body members belongs to minority groups, what happened last week should never have happened. But all the students out on the quad that night had one thing in common: They wanted their voices heard. Protestors were angered by the grand jury decision, and those who stood around them were upset that people were gathering and chanting at all. The college environment typically fosters the type of activism where people get out of their residence halls and into public spaces where they can be seen and heard. Trying to shut protestors down or ignore their opinions is a temporary reaction to a permanent phenomenon. The protests born out of the grand jury decision are concerned with the larger issue of police brutality and racial injustice, as opposed to the isolated situation. 

The protest that took place at the University last Tuesday was exactly the way a protest is supposed to happen — it was the proper channeling of emotion and activism. Students marched from the Douglass Student Center to Brower Commons, holding signs while chanting the familiar slogans of “hands up, don’t shoot” and “no justice, no peace.” Critics assert that protests accomplish nothing, but the sheer magnitude of the protests on University campuses and across the nation demonstrate that people will no longer stand for mistreatment. The Michael Brown case and ruling were a final straw for many, the tipping point in a longwinded history of police brutality against black people. On the heels of the ruling, tensions are running high and more people are taking to the streets and the web to work for a change.

The night the grand jury decision was released, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YikYak came alive. Whether it was to support or condemn the decision, everyone had the opportunity to get involved in the movement. Many more felt compelled to offer their two cents, refusing to sit idly by and watch the situation play out on their timelines and newsfeeds. The singular use of social media outlets to create a change encourages “slacktivism.” There is only so much that can be said in a 140-character Tweet and only so many articles and quotes that can be posted to Facebook. Social media creates a virtual dialogue, but it is not a panacea. The physical part of a protest movement cannot be replaced, but the continued use of social media to supplement a movement is necessary. If nothing else, it continues the debate. Individuals feel the need to respond to anything and everything they see — even a week after the decision was released, the discussion of the grand jury decision is alive and well on all social media platforms. Voicing opinions, whether complementary or oppositional to the ruling, is valuable, but the action stemming from those voiced opinions will be more telling of societal trajectory.

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