As more and more social issues are being brought to the nation’s attention, new forms of activism are being popularized. Especially during the global pandemic that restricts large groups of people from assembling to protest, people have had to get creative with how to stand up for their beliefs.
The advancement of technology has created great ways to get politically involved, but technological activism is a slippery slope. What may feel like a strong cry for reform might not actually lead to any tangible change. This is called performative activism or “slacktivism.”
Defined as “the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving little effort or commitment” (Oxford), it is often a way for privileged people to feel better about their lack of suffering without putting any effort towards supporting the movements.
One example of this is the “#BlackoutTuesday” challenge that took over everyone’s Instagram feed a few days after the murder of George Floyd. This was an effort by non-Black allies to amplify Black voices on the app by posting a black square, but it actually did the opposite and clogged the whole app with plain boxes. For most people, this was purely a way to jump on the bandwagon and not appear racist to their friends and followers.
If people really wanted to amplify Black voices on the app, they would’ve just restrained from posting anything at all so that the only posts on the app that day were from Black users. Instead, everyone from middle school students to professional sports teams posted a black square to show everyone that they’re not racist.
While you could say that the blackout challenge on Instagram spread awareness of police brutality, and although educating the public on social issue is essential, sharing a black square on social media won’t change your government representatives’ minds when they are voting on potential legislation that would actually make societal change.
The best ways to make tangible change are to contact your state and federal representatives urging them to support anti-racist legislation, volunteer with organizations that register new voters or help fundraise for political movements and candidates. These actions usually take a good amount of time and effort though, something that discourages most people from being politically active.
Luckily, there are many easier ways that you can make a difference from the comfort of your own home. Signing online petitions is a great way to contribute to social causes because it spreads awareness of the issue at hand while also increasing public support for the issue and grabbing the attention of news sources and political leaders.
The more support something seems to have, the more important it looks to government officials. These petitions often are incremental to the passing of new legislation because they pressure representatives into voting for them in hopes to please their voters.
Signing petitions alone though can sometimes slip into the slacktivism category, especially if the issue is already national news. Donating money is also a great way to support a movement without physically protesting. Most local and national movements have general funds that go towards keeping the movement alive, and there are a number of bail funds for low-income protesters who have been arrested while protesting.
Donating money is a much needed way to support movements for justice, and it requires practically no effort or time.
I understand that most college students are running on low funds already, but if every student at the University of Tennessee donated $10, we could pay for the complete bail of around 300 detained protesters, allowing them to continue contributing to the movement.
Any amount of money can go a long way and there are little excuses for not donating to these funds. Imagine if instead of those black squares and empty words of support shared on social media daily, those people all donated five dollars to their local movements.
We are capable of large, lasting change to better our nation for generations to come, but blindly sharing videos on Facebook isn’t going to do the job. We have to donate our time and money to raise awareness and support movements for justice. We have to educate ourselves and our family members and have those uncomfortable conversations about social issues. We have to show up in November and vote for representatives that recognize that we need to change some aspects of society and legislation to better our community and create a truly free and equal nation.
Ben Goldberger is a freshman at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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