A few years ago whilst perusing Adrienne Rich texts on Amazon.com, I came across a pamphlet she wrote titled “The Meaning of Our Love for Women Is What We Have Constantly to Expand.” It was for the New York Lesbian Pride Rally dated June 26, 1977. I immediately purchased it, excited that at least one of these pamphlets still existed so I could read it–– and even more excited that it wouldn’t kill my bank account’s soul. When I received it in the mail about two weeks later, I marveled at the paper upon which it was written— yellowed with age, thick-stock cardish with bold print— an ironically simple design with not-so-simple text.
Bonus: It still had a faded, hand-written address on the front cover.
I couldn’t help thinking that this pamphlet should be in one of Buzzfeed’s myriad “35 Things You Will Never See Again in Your Life” articles that either make one feel nostalgic or old. Pamphlets like this are extinct now, replaced with calls-to-action via Facebook and Twitter that take less time and energy to create and disseminate information, less time and energy, it seems, to “rally the troops.”
The expediency with which activists have embraced technology is astounding, and now, one would be hard-pressed to not see posts about various issues on one’s Facebook page or Twitter account for “Save the Whales,” “Rally for Veteran’s Rights,” “Keep G-d in Schools,” “Planned Parenthood Rally at X time,” “Second Amendment Rally at the Capitol,” and “Sign this Petition to Get Rid of Student Loan Debt” (this is one I would happily sign–– mad props to Senator Warren). While the inundation of these petitions and invites may be annoying to many social media users, they are integral for advocacy groups to get messages out quickly to a wide audience. As an added reward, social media platforms also provide a free(ish) alternative to printing and mailing hundreds of postcards, fliers, and pamphlets for activists pressed for time and money to make things happen that will advance their cause. Social media has also been a way for like-minded folks to keep in touch, to share ideas, and to plan national rallies and campaigns that would be virtually impossible otherwise.
Last year when the Little Rock School District Board of Directors was ousted by the Arkansas State Board of Education (ASBE), many educators, myself included, felt it necessary to voice our opinions— both for and against— the takeover. Those of us who felt the ASBE’s decision was wrong also felt powerless to fight the same people who dictate educational policy and practices (along with the Arkansas House of Representatives and Arkansas Senate). Many students who spoke out against the takeover planned a vigil for the District at the state capitol in downtown Little Rock in an attempt to show support for the ousted Board. I assumed that would be the only thing planned, but several of my students approached me about starting a student association so they could ensure every student had a chance to voice their opinions about his/her own education, and we worked with another advocacy group called “Our Community, Our Schools” in order make this happen.
I had been a spectator at a few rallies here and there for education issues and LGBTQIA rights in the state, but I’d never been involved in helping a group organize, and I had definitely never worked with students organizing around a protest. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram became integral avenues for the students to get messages out to the 25,000+ students around the District about events and actions that needed to be taken in order to have their voices heard by the higher-ups.
I’ll be the first person to admit that quite a bit of my education policy reading comes from twitterverse and blogs, namely education historian Diane Ravitch (@DianeRavitch) and education journalist and blogger “Edushyster” (@edushyster). All one has to do is click “Follow” on Twitter or “Like” on Facebook, and 💣💥🔥 ,instant updates fill the screen in real time. Most of these messages are links to blog posts with links to other articles and pages and blogs and when you finally look up, three hours have passed and you’re ready to take on the world. “Sharing” on the Facebook and “retweeting” on Twitter for advocacy issues are at an all-time high––and so is trolling those people or pages opposing viewpoints who are working to circumvent these issues, as we’ve seen in many cases recently with American presidential campaigns, local political and education issues, and hashtag movements concerning rampant police brutality that have been reappropriated by various communities and circumvented by political opposition.
That said, what social media is really good at is giving a voice to youth desperate for change in a world that silences them by relegating their advocacy, assuming it is merely the exuberance of youth that compels them, without taking a deeper, more objective look at the issues or movements. Recently, university students across the nation have come together in order to show solidarity with black Mizzou (University of Missouri) students who have been targeted on campus because of their race and the protest was in direct response to what the protesters felt was a lackluster response to such racism.
The football team, with full support of the Mizzou coaching staff, refused to play a game until racism on campus was addressed by police and administration, with one student even using taking part in a hunger strike to bring attention and understanding to the issue. Many of the Mizzou students, and even the head football coach, Gary Pinkel, took to Twitter and used hashtag activism to plan protests and give information to the community and world at large, and it worked.
Many of the protesters called for the resignation of Mizzou President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowden Loftin, who both resigned under the pressure of the student movement (CNN). President Obama got in the mix, stating, “I want an activist student body just like I want an activist citizenry. I’d rather see them err on the side of activism than being passive” (Youtube via ABC News). President Obama does, however, remind us that we should seek to understand the views of those with whom we disagree in order to enact change, and he gives a history lesson and discusses argumentation without shutting the opposing side down. Along with standing up, listening is key.
And speaking of POTUS…
Hope. Change. Really awesome poster. Young folks canvassing and using MoveOn.org, the National Education Association, and “grassroots movements.” All of these were prevalent in 2008’s “hashtag candidacy,” as voters worked hard to get their candidate elected.
Hip, cool, and charismatic, Senator Barack Obama took advantage of his young voter base, and they responded in droves–– retweeting his message in videos, Hope posters, Rachel Maddow’s undying love and sheer giddiness that he could, in fact, be the next President of the United States–– creating what Integrated Brands aptly noted about Obama’s meteoric rise from junior Senator to Arsenio Hall- guest-saxophone playin’-badass Bill Clinton status.
Obama’s 2008 campaign will likely go down in history as the first wide-scale politically integrated branding campaign. From sending out voting reminders via Twitter to interacting with people on his official Facebook page, the soon-to-be world leader earned the digital hearts of the previously untapped social media-engaged millennial electorate. Not bad considering Twitter had just started picking up momentum in 2007 and the iPhone hadn’t even been released yet. (Integrated Brands)
Similarly, President Obama and Vice-President Biden have helped create buzz through their “bromance,” which has been documented widely on social media and news sites, creating positive press for various policies, such as healthcare.
Hashtag activism definitely works, and although it can create spaces in which people on the opposing side can voice their opinion, it will, hopefully, create meaningful dialogue for the betterment of the world.