Shifting Perspectives and Making Unexpected Connections

On my way to visit a friend on Saturday morning, I noticed a commotion, some sort of large-scale event, happening on Duke’s East Campus. Out of curiosity I chose to drive past the campus and was immediately thrown into an atmosphere full of rainbow flags, elaborately decorated cars, and people dressed in vibrant, colorful outfits. There was an air of lively celebration that I couldn’t help but smile at. I then remembered this was North Carolina’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Festival. At this time last year it was easy for me to take in the scene without thinking too much about why the festival was being held in the first place. But after my experiences this summer, where I began learning about the gay rights movement, I realized this festival and that it was freely happening is evidence of just how far our society has come in terms of gay rights.

In thinking about this parade, I began to compare my reaction to the festival when I first saw it my freshman year to my reaction this past weekend. They couldn’t be more different. Coming into Duke, I had never known anyone from the LGBTQ community. This fact along with the fact that I’m straight made me think the issue of gay rights didn’t pertain to me. As I observed the festival I remember feeling uncomfortable as well as disconnected from everyone there. But three years later, I find myself looking on with happiness and pride. Though I didn’t stop and physically take part, I felt connected to the scene. What was it that changed for me?

I learned a lot about the history of various social movements through the Moxie Project this summer. The readings I did along with the interactions with individuals who are actively working toward social change pieced together a picture of society for me that was much more interconnected than I had realized. While I used to feel that I could only relate to issues involving discrimination against women because I am a woman, it has become clear that I also relate to other populations who also face discrimination. Working together with and supporting other social change agendas that focus on discrimination, whether it be based in racism, sexism, or classism, is a necessary aspect in influencing social change at a policy level.

The fact that a gay pride festival attracts so many supporters and no visible opposition marks a tremendous achievement when considering where the gay rights movement was 40 years ago. In the 1970’s there were instances of police brutality against members of the LGBTQ community and gay rights activists. In 2011 the police are helping block off roads so gay pride festivals can take place. In the 1970’s and 1980’s there were laws against same sex marriage and the right of gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. In 2011 we have seen the passage of a New York law to allow same sex marriage and the repeal of a policy that banned gays from openly serving in the military. At least from my perspective it appears there are major strides being made in terms of gay rights. That legislation is beginning to be passed in favor of gay rights suggests there may be some shift in perspective on the issue. Gay rights opponents used to find more successes in striking down gay rights initiatives based on the idea that homosexuals are a threat to traditional family values and thus the status quo our society had contrived. Now there seem to be more and more successes on the pro gay rights side along with more supporters. Could it be that efforts of the gay rights movement are slowly succeeding in shifting our society’s perspective of what is the status quo?

It’s a complicated question and one that I don’t have the answer too. After all true social change is a long-term process. It takes time to truly make social change because breaking individuals from what is perceived as the norm is uncomfortable. It means taking risks and working with others who share similar goals of achieving equality for all. And that’s a recognition that results in success: that it is not enough to fight only for gaining rights for one population. It is necessary for social change movements to take into account where racism, classism, and sexism may still exist in social change agendas and take the routes that will benefit every population that faces discrimination. All populations who face discrimination should have freedom to live the way he or she wishes.

Maybe that’s why I felt so connected to the festival that day. Whether members of the LGBTQ community have the right to marry, among other things, may never directly impact my life but that this right exists for them has a broader meaning that does affect me. It means that I live in a society that has become accepting of an individual’s right to choose a lifestyle without fear of discrimination. At least it’s getting there, slowly but surely.


Who gets left behind?

Reading about the LBGTQ rights movement this past week only added to the realization I often had this past summer during The Moxie Project—coordinating and building a social movement that seeks justice both in it’s own organization and the wider society is so much harder than I ever realized. Some of the lessons important to social movements that I gleaned from our readings this week include the effectiveness of coalitions, the need for a sense of urgency to effect real change, and the need to use all opportunities—even one’s opposition—to forward the movement. Lastly, above all, the readings reinforced the necessity of true solidarity among different segments of the population in order to achieve change that benefits some people without oppressing others.

It was especially heartening to read Suzanne Pharr’s comparison of the LGBTQ rights movement of the late 60’s and the movement in the late 90’s, for I felt that she really hit on some of the characteristics that are necessary in any truly just movement. She writes about how the LGBTQ community must learn from the experiences during the Stonewall era and seek solidarity among queer people and people of color, support queer youth, fight for economic justice, and break down the gender binary. Even though some of these issues, such as class and the gender binary, may seem disparate, Pharr urges activists and the LGBTQ population to see connections among their varying struggles and view their liberation as “bound up” with all other oppressed peoples.

To me, Pharr’s ideas are incredibly necessary, but I can see how they become hard to implement, especially when reflecting on the recent repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the activism around this issue. The repeal of DADT was officially implemented this past week, and seeing a fellow member of the Duke community blog about his desire to serve in the military and his experiences as a bisexual male in the ROTC program made the issue feel even closer to home. However, as I did some further research about DADT’s repeal, my excitement about this major step in LGBTQ rights waned a little bit because I soon found that transgender members of the military still face being discharged from the military if this aspect of their identity is discovered.

Transgender individuals are still seen as “unfit to serve” because they “may be considered medically unfit because of Gender Identity Disorder” and/or if they have had “genital surgery” ( Thus, even though the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” represents a huge step for LGB individuals, transgender folks continue to be left out of such progress. I think it’s too soon to tell if LGBTQ rights groups will continue to fight for transgender individuals’ right to serve openly in the military. I worry that securing this right for LGB people will be enough to appease the movement so that the issue (as it pertains to transgender people) will be conveniently “forgotten” for now. However, knowing that activists such as Suzanne Pharr and countless others in the LGBTQ movement understand the necessity of true solidarity gives me hope that transgender rights will not continue to come second to LGB rights.

From Sit-Ins to Facebook Groups: The Internet and Activism

The other day I logged onto Facebook and was greeted by the red notification flag informing me of an invitation to join a group page. One invitation struck me in particular. Fellow Duke students had created a group with the purpose of expressing dissatisfaction with how well the administration listens to and acts on the voices of its students. There were no specific evidence presented regarding the claims nor was there indication of any planned action to address the issues. The language was persuasive, but what’s going to happen if I agree? What would happen if I don’t? Would I get in trouble or would nothing come of it? It’s just a Facebook group afterall. The beauty of the Internet is that I can express my opinions without fear of getting in trouble, especially when those opinions are part of a larger group’s. What results are really to be gotten by joining a Facebook group?

The Facebook group invitation fit in nicely with the topic of class discussion for the week: social media as a tool for activism. Is the Internet as effective in producing social change as more physical forms of activism such as protests, sit-ins, and rallies? Sure the Internet serves as a way to communicate and send information quickly and thus has the potential to recruit more supporters of a cause. But my response to the Facebook group forces me to consider the negative impact of social media. As a Duke student, I absolutely want the administration to hear and respond to my voice, but will joining a Facebook group solve the problem? I often receive invitations to support various causes on Facebook, but even if I join them, how invested in the issue am I? And how willing am I to take action in addressing that issue?

Not really. True, these networking opportunities are good at raising awareness that issues exist and often recruit a large amount of support that there needs to be something more done to address the issue. But being able to agree with an opinion on the Internet decreases the accountability by which the individual is held to those expressed views. In Malcom Gladwell’s Small Change article, he defines activist tactics that require physical participation such as sit-ins and protests as high-risk activism. Faces are linked with views and, when participating in sometimes illegal acts, there is risk for imprisonment or violence, as was the case in civil rights movements. When expressing views over the Internet, such as in the large Facebook group I was invited to, it’s unlikely all individuals will suffer negative consequences and if there are, it’s much easier to back out of those opinions. If social change takes time, there must be a large number of supporters deeply invested in taking necessary actions to produce that change. Even if I joined that Facebook group, I’m not anymore willing to take action on the issue. At least for me, the Internet is an impersonal medium that, when used to connect individuals to a social change issue, provides only a weak tie to both the issue and other supporters of that issue.

So are individuals who use social media wasting time? Not necessarily. It’s obvious the Internet is a useful way to connect individuals to one another and most people today have become dependent on the Internet. Email and Internet access are available on phones. Newspaper articles are now posted online. I have made getting on the Internet part of my morning routine. In terms of the usefulness of Internet technology in social movement settings, there is a place. The Internet can be used as a tool to raise awareness for issues and connect individuals to the need for social change quickly. The Internet allows for the voices and different perspectives of many to be heard. But the Internet doesn’t accomplish what traditional “high-risk” activist strategies do. Face-to-face communication and collaboration is effective in promoting social change. Just look at advances made in the civil rights movement. The issue now is, as our society adapts and technology advances, how do we use technology to our advantage in social change goals? How do we apply the model of in-person activist strategies to online strategies, and is it possible?

I’m not convinced the strategies we are using now, such as Facebook group invites and blogs, are that effective in producing social change movements alone. Maybe with time, these strategies will be. But the amount of information I receive regarding social causes on the Internet is too overwhelming for me to become deeply involved in any one issue or even know which issues are most pressing. As for now, I think I’ll just leave my response to the group invitation pending.


Social Media: Use It, Don’t Abuse It

The title of this post does not refer to the insensate way in which many people update their Facebook statuses with mundane and useless information about their daily lives every five minutes. Instead, I hope to reflect on the way that social media and the Internet can either be utilized as a dynamic tool for social change, or an outlet for passive complaints.

To the seasoned activist, social media presents several new opportunities. As the Gladwell article, “Small Change” and the Land article, “ Networked Activism” pointed out, the Internet creates a space to generate new ideas and connecting movements worldwide. Although there may not be one large online activist movement, the Internet can better facilitate communication between existing movements and social issues. For example, thanks to many fact sheets that were made accessible on websites created by National Women’s Law Center and Planned Parenthood, I was able to create fact sheets and resource guides this summer at my internship at Ms. Foundation for Women. I was able to more easily link aggregate facts to the political climate to create a unique resource for the Foundation; a resource that can be used by other researchers and reporters but also a resource that will help transition the goals of the foundation as they gauge what is currently most important to various movements. Resources such as these can make moments of solidarity more tangible, if done correctly.

Social media has also provided an efficient method of participation. I do not associate the word participation with the same negative connotation that Gladwell uses when he distinguishes participation from motivation for social change. Instead, I see participation as a key component of the activist movement. There is little effort and responsibility required to give small sums of money to a cause, and yet every cent raised on a breast cancer awareness website is one cent closer to a cure. Giving has become easier with the help of Twitter, Facebook, and websites, and should be recognized as an important aspect of activism. After all, many nonprofits and Foundations alike survive on donations. And now that giving has been made easier (just click a button!), it is more likely to occur.

However, these situations are specific to those who are already activists and operate through other mechanisms for social change as well, often times in some sort of hierarchy. In these situations, social media is a supplement, or a means to a greater event, rather than standing alone to create social change. People must recognize that Internet activity alone cannot facilitate meaningful change. Such is the case with the current Duke student “activist” attempts so be heard by the administration.

Recent decisions have been made by Larry Moneta & Co. that have angered the students; the cancellation of tailgate, the Merchants on Points change, rumored renovations to West Union, and of course the changes to the Housing Model. The main argument on campus has been that the administration fails to include students in the decision making processes that ultimately impact them the most. Over the past weeks, student displeasure has reached a new high. Many Chronicle articles have been written commenting on the pitfalls of the administration, and someone has even created a blog: and a Facebook group: that call for the dismissal of several administration. The Facebook group even contains a manifesto of sorts that argues “Students have a voice in their administration, as they are stakeholders […] students are permitted their civil rights- Students are permitted their civil rights – including but not limited to the right to assemble, the right to speak freely both for and against their administrators, and are entitled to the presumption of innocence in student conduct investigations [and] The undergraduate experience is a cherished one that is not significantly altered without input from students, alumni, faculty, and administrators. No one group has sole exclusive license to do what they want without any constraints – especially not administrators, whose role is not dictatorial control but instead to manage the affairs of this great university.”

One hundred and seventy-two students are attending this Facebook group, and there have been over 200 comments on the Chronicle online in response to articles. However, these battle cries lack both strategy, and even a basic layout of the battlefield. Because students do not know what radical activism looks like, and very few understand the steps to mobilization and organization, these groups are nothing more than a group of children whining and not getting their way.

However, even the few students who do understand what it may take to get their voices heard do not step up to do so. One student’s recent Facebook status reads “Quote from Arthur “If Duke kids want to do more than just protest the Admin on Facebook, start organizing shifts of protesting students to stand in front of the admissions building and shadow tour groups handing out pamphlets about how LMo/et all have taken away our rights. That’ll get news/alumni attention pretttyyy fast.” An online comment to the Chronicle article “The best of Larry Moneta”, states “Maybe we students need to start demonstrating and telling applicants to stay away from Duke. Much as it breaks my heart, maybe daily demonstrations outside the Admissions Office would convince the administration they’re in the wrong”. These comments, although recognizing the steps that need to be taken to create the social change that is desired, are still missing one important element: accountability. No one is willing to step up to organize and be held accountable to actions and to each other, and thus anonymous complaints online are far more common.

Students cannot truly be considered activists until they recognize that true change can not occur without action. Social media can be one tool for organization, but not the only one. Perhaps if DUU or DSG (respected and organized groups on campus) sent out an email or a created a Facebook group to host an event to rally outside Larry Moneta’s office, or hand out fliers to incoming students to drum up publicity, things would begin to change. Decisions need to be made and students need to become accountable, but the Internet provides too many anonymous, risk-free opportunities to defer the responsibility to someone else. So who will it be?