February 6, 2017

MORADI | When Slacktivism Becomes Activism

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Today at noon, many of you will head out to Ho Plaza and protest Donald Trump’s immigration ban and border wall. Many of you will Snapchat it. Many of you will take photos, and many of you will Instagram them. I mean, that’s exactly what I did in November, when thousands of us walked out of class and marched across campus in solidarity and in protest. There were thousands of bodies standing, hugging, resisting; but above them were countless wriggling hands tightly wrapped around iPhones. Many, I’m sure, were tryna get the ‘gram.

Last week, my Snapchat feed — usually made up of blurry photos of red cups and aggressively geo-filtered travel photos — was almost entirely videos of marches. For one day, the Ivy-League Snapchat story (the most obnoxious phrase I think I’ve ever typed out) was mostly videos from students protesting, interspersed with people trying unsuccessfully to find love  and a clip of Cornell students dancing while dressed as vegetables. My friends’ stories were of massive marches at the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary, where radical political activity is familiar but certainly not routine.

Tapping through, I felt overwhelmingly pleased, for lack of a better word. That sounds pretty creepy, actually. There’s definitely a better word. Gracious? Sure. I felt extraordinarily gracious. These weren’t snaps from my radical leftist friends who had been marching since they could walk; these were from friends who were generally apolitical and notably apathetic. Yeah, I felt gracious: gracious that even the most passive people had mobilized, and that there were so many bodies fighting for my existence and my livelihood.

My friend messaged me the night of these protests: “i am v annoyed at like how its cool now to be at protests,” she wrote, “and how like ppl are just repeating things they don’t understand.” I got a little upset. Not only because these were the same images that filled me with a light, floating sense of glee and support, but because she was right. I highly doubt Apathy Adam and his pals shouting “Fuck Donald Trump” knew much about radical leftist sociopolitics or why there was an “x” appended to “Latin” or what “misogynoir” was. I truly don’t mean this in a condescending way; in order to find items for that list, I had to google “radical feminist glossary.” These ideas definitely aren’t mainstream, yet the protests around them absolutely are.

Protesting has become Cool and Good, partly because our political climate is a mess, but also because social media makes it easy to see who’s speaking out and who’s not. Of course, this isn’t new: “Slacktivism” has helped us make this distinction through hashtags (remember #BringBackOurGirls?), copypasta (“To the students of color at Mizzou…”) and angry posts accompanied by links to news articles (“This isn’t the America I believe in!!:(” my mom posted alongside a New York Times article about the visa ban). There’s been a transition, though, that’s kind of amazing. The same instruments of social media that made slacktivism commonplace have now made actual, physical activism a social norm. You want to go to a march to protest an unjust policy, but also a little bit because you want to Snapchat it. You make a poster not just because your friend recently lost the ability to re-enter the country, but also a teeny tiny bit because, well, it would make a cool Insta.

This is definitely a sort of vapid mob mentality, but I don’t find it particularly heinous. Most people don’t have the time or energy to stay up-to-date with radical feminist theory or to think deeply about the sociopolitical implications of their actions, and many individuals who radicals believe will benefit most from this ideology (those disadvantaged and disenfranchised) especially don’t. To envision a world in which everyone is passionate about intellectualized social justice is a fantasy. In reality, most people make decisions based on basic heuristics — like “protesting is Cool and Good.”

So, yeah, it does feel yucky that many of the people at mainstream protests are blindly chanting radical ideas without much thought. And, yeah, for those who have been doing this work for years without recognition or mainstream support, it hurts deeply that so many of these new marchers are ignorant of their prior absence. But still, damn. Hundreds of thousands of white women hit the streets a few weeks ago to protest the disgusting actions of President Trump. When my parents recounted their experience protesting the visa ban in front of the White House last week, my dad made sure to mention that there were “thousands of people, and a lot of white people, very young too. It was very good, I think.”

So long as you’re not subverting a movement, I don’t care if you’re a radical or not. I don’t care if you’re here to get the ‘gram. I just care that you’re helping, that you’re chanting, that your body is being productive and present. Above all, I just care that you’re here.

Pegah Moradi is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at [email protected]All Jokes Aside appears alternate Mondays this semester.