The Women’s and Gender Studies department hosted three well-known activists for their Social Media for Social Justice event on Thursday, Feb. 1. The event focused on hashtag activism and the conversation surrounding it.
The three activists speaking were Monica Ramirez, founder of Justice for Migrant Women, Myrla Baldonado, organizer of household workers for Latino Union of Chicago and Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. The event was moderated by Dr. Sarah Jackson, associate professor of communication studies at Northeastern University and expert on how communication influences social change in the United States.
Ramirez spoke about her experience as the daughter and granddaughter of migrant farm workers. She was inspired to begin her activism after her local newspaper had a section welcoming back the fishermen, but “didn’t have a 'welcome back, farmers’ section," she said. She later began to write for her local paper in an effort to report on the migrant farm workers.
Baldonado came to the U.S. from the Philippines as a domestic worker. She spoke of her sexual harassment stories and her fight to make the voices of domestic workers heard.
Cullors spoke of her upbringing at a “social justice" high school. Cullors witnessed over-policing and a lack of infrastructure in her community, which led her to activism.
The role of social media within activism was widely discussed. “When I started writing for the paper, it was because I realized if we weren’t being written about, we were invisible,” said Ramirez.
During her talk, Baldonado emphasized how important it is to stay up to date on technology. “Catch up. It’s the only way,” said Baldonado.
Jackson asked the speakers how powerful they believed social media was for activism. Cullors responded by discussing how instrumental social media has been for Black Lives Matter.
“Social media has been able to amplify the voices of the most marginalized … [It] has become a bullhorn for us,” said Cullors.
Students in attendance reacted to the notion that social media could be unsafe for young activists.
"I could be in a bubble...when I post online I'm in a large group of supporting people," said Bird Cooley, freshmen management major. "[It helps to be in] a group that believes in the same thing as you."
Baldonado emphasized how important social media movements have been for domestic workers. “What Time’s Up created was a momentum for us to be visible,” said Baldonado.
The power of politics in social media was not lost on Ramirez. She believes that it is social media that has moved many politicians to action.
All three women agreed that social media cannot be fully credited with creating many of these movements. “It’s critical for people to remember that so much organizing happens before that hashtag,” said Cullors.
Jackson asked about people who are solely activists online, asking if that was “real activism.” She also brought up the issue of surveillance of activists and what safety measures each of them takes.
“I think that if people are engaging in any way … we should be appreciative,” said Ramirez.
Cullors spoke of two raids she experienced by the LAPD after she began her work with Black Lives Matter. She explained how her fellow activists understood they would be surveilled, but not to the extent that they experienced.
“We have done a lot of things to be more protective … specifically through technology,” said Cullors. Young activists on social media who neglect to protect themselves worry Cullors.
For Baldonado, who lived in the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship, the issue of safety is serious. “I was tortured and I was [made to] disappear,” said Baldonado.
“I have a 5-year-old child and I don’t think the work I do … should put his life at risk,” said Ramirez.