I have very conflicting views on this new thing called social media activism. I feel as though I was at the part of this movement, trying to change people’s lives through the sharing of personal narratives online, in running a feminist blog to highlight feminist issues that we face today. And I know it has created change, or at least played a role in bringing pressing conversations about gender to the attention of our larger Duke student body. And I also know staff writers and guest writers who were able to heal from their past in sharing their pain with their peers. I felt the community that was coming out of this blog.
Since then, I’ve begun to sign multiple petitions online, share news articles online, all in the efforts to bring more attention to the issues that I care about most. But despite all this social media activity I was generating, I found myself hesitant to urge my peers to sign the same petitions I was signing, to talk about the news articles I was sharing, to make those issues more real.
I was most conflicted when I came to know of Occupy Wall Street. I moved to New York a year ago, and over the summer made friends who were moving to the outskirts of Brooklyn due to the rapid rate of gentrification in the borough. These friends were attending meetings before Occupy Wall Street hit the streets. These friends were there on Sept. 17th, the first night of Occupy and continued to keep me in the know by sending me blog posts, videos and pictures of the event. The police brutality infuriated me, the economic injustice that my friends dealt with infuriated me, and I knew I was helping in spreading the word through every avenue I could—especially as the major media sources weren’t covering the movement.
I was an adamant supporter. I admired the horizontal structure of the movement, the view that these protestors were practicing democracy and figuring out the answers on the way, the disorganized and all-inclusive nature of it. But when the movement came to my front door, I was less than ready to join the protestors out on the streets.
We now have a group aimed at Occupying Duke. I was ecstatic that the movement was laying its roots here—something that could open up conversations about the socio-economic status of our students, staff, faculty and admin, Duke’s labor unions, financial aid, Duke’s investment practices, the wall-street culture at Duke, Duke’s financial hold in Durham, the integrity of our board members, and the integrity of our student body. I was hoping that the movement would allow a space for narratives to surface about how economic injustice plays out at Duke, because I barely knew anything of it.
But at our first general body meeting, I was dismayed at how quick everyone was to take action. Not only was I afraid of taking action, but did not know the risks of doing so at this institution. I was also uncomfortable with the disorganized way in which the meeting unfolded. Someone needed to be taking notes. Someone needed to lead the group into creating community norms. Someone needed to hold the group to set goals for our meetings. Someone needed to set an ending time for the meeting. I saw all these needs, but I was not going to step up to offer them. Furthermore, half of those present at the meeting seemed to be there out of plain curiosity. I did not feel safe to take any risks in voicing my opposition to some of the decisions we were making, or in joining the loudest supporters of Occupy in tenting out.
This meeting was mainly publicized through the web, through Facebook and emails and word of mouth. I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t know who was holding the meeting nor had friends to go with me. I would’ve been more comfortable taking risks if I knew most of the people at the meeting. I would’ve gone to Occupy Durham if someone was willing to go with me.
That’s the thing with social media activism. I can do it alone, and the risk is minimal. But as soon as it goes off the web, I realize that the risks get higher and I don’t like taking risks alone. This transition is a hard one, and one that asks so much more of me than re-posting a good article about the movement and getting my friends to like it on Facebook. It requires that I start making real relationships, to invest in creating a community off the web to impact others and let others impact me.