As college students we have the flexibility and drive to protest, and protests are essential to securing the future we want. However, in recent years protesting has moved from the streets onto cellphones. When protests form solely over social media networks, they lack a strong foundation to be built upon. We need to use our passion and savvy to ignite movements both on and offline.
Zeynep Tufekci, professor at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and author of Twitter and Tear Gas, wrote in her book, “The ease with which current social movements form often fails to signal an organizing capacity powerful enough to threaten those in authority.” Tufekci’s book unpacks and analyzes the strength and challenges of social media-fueled movements. Tufekci’s analysis about current social movements is correct.
Due to the immense power of social media, protests and social concernsare picked up and spread throughout the internet with incredible speed. There is no longer a need to form local groups and start small when movements can get national attention with a few well-formatted posts.
There is incredible power with social media campaigns: #BlackLivesMatter and #NeverAgain raised awareness of their respective issues and framed national conversation. The use of social media played a foundational role in the uprisings known as the Arab Spring. However, all these movements have proved to be fragile, and lacking the foundational organization has led them to continue to struggle to build powerful coalitions for change. Although these organizations have strong online presences, their in-person turnout has dwindled since the founding of their movements.
One example of the dwindling amount of protesters can be seen in trends for the Women’s March. The day after President Trump’s inauguration in 2017, millions of angry citizens around the country went to the streets to protest with the successful Women's March. However, since 2016 the Women's March has lost steam. An estimated 750,000 protesters attended the inaugural LA march, according to NBC L.A. In 2019 the turnout was estimated at 200,000 people, as reported by L.A Daily News. While protest still exists in American culture, it is moving online rather than in person.
The steady decline of attendees at the Women's March is representative of the decline of physical protesting we are doing. With the rise of hashtag activism and, consequently, “slack-tivism,” the amount of people who actually take to the streets to protest issues that affect us is dwindling.
College campuses like LMU should be incubators of social change and protest. Campuses have both the proximity and social awareness to be a strong foundation for change. Historic movements like The Civil Rights Movement and The Free Speech Movement found their legs on college campuses, and in-person student protesting is declining due to the convenience of hashtag activism. While social media is a fantastic tool for organizing and spreading the word about a social movement, we would be remiss to neglect the importance of on-the-ground community organizing.
The speed at which social media movements gain support and go viral have led to us forgetting the mundane and slow process that is involved in changing oppressive institutions. The most effective protests combine effective foundational planning and policy, and harness the attention derived from social media.
As students in one of the most populated and diverse cities in the country, we have access to infinite amounts of perspectives and people. College students have a unique view on the world and the future, and we need to be sure to have our voices heard. Planning and participating in in-person protests is essential to challenging injustice and changing the future.
This is the opinion of Alyssa Story, a freshman film, television and media studies major from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email email@example.com.