October 15, 2017

GROSKAUFMANIS | The Trendiness of Activism

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It’s no secret that activism is becoming trendy. In today’s day and age, famous comedians are taking stances on the Affordable Care Act, supermodels are posting their opinions about gun control, and The New York Times just published an in-depth piece on how “wokeness” is the new cool.

As a partial consequence of this, many people’s personal and political identities have become inextricably linked. A lot of people today seem to be creating personal “brands” that reflect their penchant for social justice — whether they are celebrities or students. For the most part, I honestly think this is fine. In fact, it’s nice to see that people are at least paying attention to major issues.

However, the trendiness of activism raises questions of authenticity, making it hard to distinguish between those who genuinely care about issues and those who pretend to do so in order to gain some kind of social capital. It’s impossible to tell whether a person is at rally on the Arts Quad because they genuinely care about the issue they’re protesting, or if they’re showing up to post it on their Snapchat story. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but I think people’s motivations are often a combination of both.

It’s easy to be critical when one’s mission-for-change exclusively operates within the context of social media. If someone’s main contribution to the progressive movement is an annual Instagram post on “International Women’s Day” it’s safe to say they’re probably not single-handedly solving any large-scale issues. That being said, small contributions can be beneficial and better than silence.

I thought a lot about the social appeal of activism last January during the Women’s March. I was moved by how many people showed up and how many people were fighting together. But I was also critical of how the entire day seemed to play out on social media. Those who marched were armed with signs, pink hats and good intentions, but something in the back of my mind questioned whether that momentum would materialize into substantive resistance. In the time since, I think it has. A recent survey found that most of the people calling their members of Congress to oppose Trumpcare were women, and the Women’s March network continues to highlight and combat issues ranging from the DAPL to DACA.

In the end, I think the trendiness of activism is a step in the right direction, but also something we should be cautious of. I’m glad we’re moving away from a culture where apathy towards politics was the default, and shifting towards one in which participation is encouraged. That being said, that shift is more beneficial, for everyone, if we back it up with action. I’m confident that we can.

 

Jacqueline Groskaufmanis is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at jgroskaufmanis@cornellsun.com. The Dissent appears alternate Mondays this semester.