Activism in the US: Protests and Social Media

When I think of US activism my mind fills with images of Americans demanding social, economic, environmental, and political changes throughout history. I believe protests are one of the largest elements of activism in the United States, beginning with the Revolutionary war. In 1773  colonists protested “taxation without representation” with the Boston Tea Party. Since then protests have continued to be a huge element of American activism. Since the 18th-century significant protests have included those by the suffragettes, the Civil Rights Movement, Stonewall the Women’s March, the Climate Strike, and the ongoing George Floyd protests. In a capitalist country that focuses on productivity, disrupting the norm is a powerful way to draw attention to pressing issues.

The rise of social media has also shaped activism in the US, particularly expanding the awareness and reach of protests. While social media certainly isn’t unique to the US, it has played a huge role in shaping activism in the 21 century. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have been utilized to rapidly spread information and resources across the country.  The Women’s March in 2017, was shared through a Facebook event and infographics on Instagram. Similarly, social media has played a critical role in coordinating efforts across all 50 states for the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. Activism has taken the shape of sharing information on what is going on, why it matters, what can be done, historical context, and countless other resources.

American culture focuses on individualism, and social media provides a place where people can share their own opinions and take individual action- such as sharing activism centered posts to their page. One danger of this, however, is an increase in performance activism. As the usage of social media increases, I believe it will continue to become an important part of activism in the US.

5 Comments

  1. Interesting to consider activism in the age of social media, and to what extent activism on social media is merely performative activism. I like how you made the connection between individualism in American culture and using social media as a way to express one’s own opinions and thoughts.

  2. Hi Clara! The United States’ obsession with unsustainable economic growth results in a more obvious target to. make. a change. I really appreciate this quote: “In a capitalist country that focuses on productivity, disrupting the norm is a powerful way to draw attention to pressing issues.” It really highlights why protests, sit-ins and riots are an effective call to action in America. I also think that the social media aspect is really important. In regard performative activism, it has become so much. clearer with the corporate responses to the BLM movement where it is clear that many of their messages of solidarity do not seem genuine. Ben & Jerry’s seems to be an exception, though.

  3. In 2000, Robert Putnam argued that increased social media actually undermines active civil engagement and instead prompts people to engage in more passive ways (i.e. instead of going out to protest you write a social media post). What are your thoughts on this? Do you think this is true? Do you think that it is bad that fewer people are protesting in person or does it not matter how a person voices their support for a movement so long as they do so?

  4. I would agree with the connection of activism in the U.S. being intertwined with social media. What it has highlighted for me is how it has been utilized to actively challenge the Trump admin’s continued degradation of American democratic institutions. Like the real time updates of the most recent Trump rally and how it makes it increasingly difficult for Trump to change the narrative. It’s easy to manipulate the message coming out of sources like Fox, it’s much harder disputing a picture of empty seats.

  5. Julia Carnine

    June 24, 2020 at 4:22 am

    Your points about US history shaping the movements as well as current material and technology are very important. As we hear more cries for ‘beyond the hashtag’ you are right to look at performance activism as a mode of showing possibly self-serving cyber awareness, but to what end? In addition, how does this compare to EU forms of activism?

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