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EDITORIAL: Activism takes many forms, but it must extend past social media

For those protesting the sale of the Lincoln Annex School, activism meant taking charge and fighting for justice, not merely parroting a trend.
Photo by Photo by Hayley Slusser | The Daily TargumFor those protesting the sale of the Lincoln Annex School, activism meant taking charge and fighting for justice, not merely parroting a trend.

The past months of turmoil and distress, of novel challenges and mounting violence have shown us all the importance of standing up for what you believe in. It has shown us that if we do not step up and fight for the world we want to live in, nobody will do so for us.

But change cannot be achieved solely through good intentions and catchy slogans. Change cannot come to fruition without actionable, concrete and practical attempts to do so. In order to build the society you wish to see, you must construct it with an achievable blueprint.

Since the advent of social media, and more particularly social media activism, many involved with mass movements have conflated the spread of awareness with actual transformation. While publicizing hashtags and raising public perceptiveness of niche issues has its place in overarching movements, they cannot drive change on their own.

Many nowadays have misguided aims. They believe that posting trendy content or popular hashtags will somehow lead to structural change — yet, this is false. For instance, in early June, immediately following the death of George Floyd, a trend swept over popular social media platform Instagram: posting black boxes in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Those posts alone did nothing. In fact, they drowned out resources for Black Lives Matter activists to achieve amid the then-ongoing protests. This does not mean that those who posted the black box are acting with malice, but it does show that their actions were ill-researched and misguided.

Hashtags and other similar online mechanisms serve to spread awareness — not just in regards to protests or activism, but for anything. In that sense, they do have their place in activism: informing those ignorant of the issue at hand. 

But that is where their functionality ceases. Parroting a trend will not provoke your Congressman to vote for reform, it will not spur local organizations to sanction for change and it will not create tangible change in your community. Not unless a concrete plan of action follows.

So what exactly are those practical, legitimate steps to take? How can you incite a lasting change and achieve what your cause sets out to do?

Politics in America have decayed, and rightfully many people, particularly young people, are cynical about the utility of voting (especially when services such as the United States Postal Service are obstructed for anti-Democratic aims). 

But that cynicism gets us nowhere. It is cliche, but you have to vote for whichever candidate allies themself closer to your movement’s view.

Luckily, voting is not the only way to create change. 

Calling in to your local representative, or other local politicians, and lobbying your informed viewpoint will aid your cause, as will organizing others in your movement to do the same. Applying pressure on politicians is an excellent way to sway their stance and enact change — their end goal is to get re-elected, after all, and widespread public pressure will force them to comply or face defeat at the polls.

That may seem out of touch, but look no further than the current Democratic Senate primary in Massachusetts. Incumbent Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) faces a primary challenge from Congressman Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass). In 2019, Politico released an article detailing the pressure Markey faced from Progressives in the state. A year later and he has moved further to the political Left.

That example goes to show how politicians are malleable in the face of public pressure — pressure that can be applied by calling their office, publicizing their shortcomings and rallying activist organizations to call them out on their faults. But it was not achieved merely through hashtags.

In addition, sincerely educating friends about the issues your cause fights for will creates allies, allies necessary to spread your movement and enact change. Social media awareness is generally performative, but spreading awareness through education informs people and generates members of your movement able to defend the cause's ideals and advocate for them more effectively.

While it is admirable to educate yourself in the issues of the world at large, real change stems from partaking in local government or fighting from the ground up. By joining local organizations that fight for your cause, you can, step-by-step, enact change through actionable steps.

While many think smug cynicism and detached sneers put them above local activism, it simply proves that they are too cowardly to legitimize their aims. Vote, join an organization which advances your cause and understand that there are real ways to transform society.

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The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 152nd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.