October 14, 2010

Letter to the Editor: Twitter a Tool for Activism

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To the Editor:

Re: “Picketer and Twitterer” Opinion, Oct. 14

Malcolm Gladwell’s essay in The New Yorker misses some of the key components of activism. Picketing and twittering have the exact same effect when it comes to political activism. Stating one’s beliefs through Twitter, Facebook or marching in the streets, though an important part of activism, cannot create social change on its own. Most of the modern discussion of activism ignores the process that is necessary to create social change. Social change comes through exposing one’s humanity to one’s oppressor while acknowledging the common humanity one’s oppressor has with oneself. Social change comes when we are able to see the truth of our common humanity. Ghandi called this satyagraha, or soul force.

Marching in the streets during the civil rights movement worked because when police released dogs and fire hoses on innocent black children, who were marched at the front of the picket lines, the world could not escape the humanity of these children. Their suffering, without seeking revenge against their oppressors, exposed their humanity. Marching on its own does not create social change, because it does not expose the problems that it seeks to solve. During the civil rights movement in parts of the United States where police brutality against blacks did not take place, integration did not happen. If the humanity of the oppressed people is not exposed to the oppressor, the oppressor will not be transformed. The point of the civil rights movement was not to depict racists as evil, but to show them the humanity of blacks and thus lay aside racism. The point of any social movement is to transform the beliefs of people who seek to oppress. If Facebook and Twitter can be employed as a tool to expose the humanity of the oppressed then they can be effective tools for social change.

Until Facebook and Twitter are utilized in this method they are like protests — illustrating the desire for change, but completely missing the means through which it can be achieved. In order to create effective social movements we must look in the past, not at what physical actions (picketing, marching, sit-ins etc.) created change, but what were the ideas behind them.

Shannon Isaacs ’14