Author: rothcl

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.

Sustainable Development: Copenhagen and Nairobi

Copenhagen and Nairobi are two very different cities, one lies in Denmark, Northern Europe, and the other in Kenya, East Africa. These cities differ in their geography, climate, national wealth, and culture. These differences shape the behavioral choices that their citizens make in regards to sustainability.

Copenhagen is striving to become the most sustainable city, with a net carbon emission of zero. Both Copenhagen and the environmental organization’s resources are going towards addressing environmental issues by developing sustainable solutions. Many of the issues Copenhagen faces are not unique to Denmark, so the technologies they create can be used by other cities. For example, an air quality meter developed in Copenhagen is being shipped across the globe for use in the U.S., Mexico and Greece among many others. Denmark is able to find solutions to environmental issues mostly due to the wealth of the country. Copenhagen is improving its sustainability, while also working toward global sustainability.

Nairobi, however, is working to ensure that citizens have access to clean water and sanitation throughout the city. Kenya has significantly less wealth than Denmark, and a repeated history of exploitation due to European colonization. Nairob’s sustainability efforts are greatly different from those in Denmark due to the difference in wealth. Although these efforts are being handled with vastly different economies, both cities are taking major strides in improving their sustainability and quality of life.

Copenhagen and Nairobi demonstrate different ways interdependence can take shape globally. Copenhagen is working to develop technologies to advance sustainability. However, they would not be able to do so without the support of its citizens, and the technologies and resources around the world. Nairobi depends on loans from both local banks and the World Bank in order to finance its water and sanitation infrastructure. The residents of Nairobi benefit from these advancements which will lay the framework to continue taking steps forward in sustainability.

Defining Sustainability

This image best represents sustainability to me. I think this image does a good job encompassing the aspects of sustainability- and is cute! “The triple bottom line” refers to three factors that shape sustainability the economy, social needs, and environmental constraints. The imagery on the left shows three semi-circles, one representing each of these aspects, the outermost is environment while the innermost semicircle is economy. To me, this is illustrating how environmental constraints limit social needs, which in turn limit the economy. The right of the image illustrates this same principle in a different way.

I think it is important to remember sustainability isn’t just about the environment, rather it must also meet social needs and be economically feasible. While each of these aspects is important I like how this image shows a sort of hierarchy among them. I believe currently the United States acts in a way that prioritizes the economy first, often at the expense of social needs and the environment. I think it is important to challenge that perspective and instead use economics as a way to meet social needs while working within environmental constraints.

While I can see how all of the images we were presented with can relate to sustainability, this image resonated with me the least. While I do believe that simplifying your life can be a productive way to live more sustainably, that is not always the case. In many ways, technology can advance sustainability rather than reduce it, despite being less simple. The Sustainable Development Goals address how advances in medicine and energy have allowed us to advance toward our goals. In summation, reducing consumption is a beneficial way to simplify one’s life, but simpler isn’t always better.

Intersectionality Calculator

My intersectionality score was calculated as a 37 and as me being more privileged than 39% of others. I was surprised to receive a relatively high score and a relatively low privilege score. I  perceive myself as being in a position of significant privilege due to my race, nationality, parent’s income, and being cisgender.

I think that the calculator is grossly oversimplified and therefore inaccurate. Firstly, the use of sliders seems inappropriate. It cannot be assumed that everyone will rank a given trait in the same fashion, or know how to rank a given part of their identity. For example, I was very unsure of how to rank myself for disability. I have moderate to severe scoliosis and while I can still do most anything I want to, I live with pain and will likely need surgery- how does that rank from able-bodied to disabled? Similarly, I found having to rank myself from straight to gay problematic.

I believe in trying to make a simple and easy-to-use calculator some important, but more complicated, factors were not included. I also think the simplification lead to my score being inaccurate. I’m no longer religious but was raised Christian, I ranked myself based on my current beliefs and practices but I do not believe I have experienced oppression as a result of my religious beliefs.

While it seems like this website and calculator are meant to be serious- as they explain the reasons for it and advertise its uses- some aspects make me think it must be satirical. One such aspect is the extent to which it is oversimplified- they can’t possibly believe identity and experiences of oppression can be boiled down to 13 sliders! Another reason I think it must be satirical is their advertisement for the new feature which can determine scores for individuals based on a photograph of them.


Identity is complicated. There are so many things that go into making us who we are. There are things in our control and those which we have absolutely no authority over. Similarly, I believe there are both internal and external aspects.

In Eguchi’s ethnography they described their experience as a gay Japanese American. They wrote about how the colonial views on Japanese men feminizing them shaped their identity, however, they also explain how they chose to challenge those stereotypes through their “exaggerated performance of femininity”. Looking at Eguchi’s experience it is hard to tease apart which parts of their identity may be endogenous or exogenous, though only they could truly say.

When reflecting on my own identity I still find it challenging to distinguish what parts have been shaped by internal vs external factors. The community I grew up in has certainly molded my identity. Being a part of a small, mostly white, religious community shaped who I am, but so have my responses to living in such a community. Growing up with the same 30ish classmates for 13 years made me a very community-based person, but also taught me how to be independent. In response to interacting with the same people for over a decade, I learned the best way for me to deal with emotion is by being direct. While being community-based is a direct result of an endogenous factor, being direct was an internal response to growing up with the same small group of peers.

In trying to answer the prompt, whether identity is endogenous or exogenous, I think I’ve ended up less sure in my answer than when I began. However, I don’t think there is truly an answer to this question. Rather, I believe everyone’s identity has been shaped by an inordinate number of things, events,  circumstances, decisions, and so forth and that the line between external and internal can be rather blurred.

Empathy and Cosmopolitanism

There are endless ways in which we can extend cosmopolitanism every day. I perceive the sharing of information and empathizing as the best way to remind extend the idea that “every human has obligations to every other”. It is easy to view communities or cultures to which we do not belong in as “them”. Separating “them” from “us” makes it all too easy to be apathetic or even critical of others. When we are reminded of the humanity of ourselves and others it is much easier to empathize and seek to understand differences.

I have worked on various photography projects which centered around social issues. Through these projects, my goal was to share people’s stories with a powerful image in order to get the viewer to tap into their empathy and feel for a stranger. I believe photography has a unique power in that an image can bring so much emotion while also sharing information. When photographing in Kennsington, Philadelphia, the goal was to celebrate a community that is known for the opioid epidemic. Because of the association with heroin, many’s instincts are to feel pity, fear, or disdain toward the community- even though it’s apart of the city we love. By sharing images and learning the stories of individuals I was able to change the perspectives of my friends and family on Kennsington, challenging them to empathize with the residents there, rather than turning away.

Every day there are ways we can remind one another that we are all human. Sharing stories or accounts on social media, or with friends and family is a powerful method to remind one another of our obligation to help one another. I believe empathy opens the door to taking action.


Global Citizenship

In my introductory class to Environmental Studies, we read a case study on the PlayPump.  The design seemed ingenious, children playing would pump groundwater, and billboard advertisements would cover costs. Unfortunately, the PlayPump worsened problems rather than providing a solution. The pump was flawed and couldn’t provide adequate water supplies as the amount of time children spent playing on the pump was nowhere near adequate to meet water demands leaving women to spin the playground equipment by hand.

It seems stories such as these are abundant. A brilliant idea sparks a humanitarian project or service program which, despite having good intentions, falls flat. Why is this the case?

Global citizenship is focused on finding solutions to the world’s biggest issues however most of these solutions come from western countries. I think that many projects focus on great ideas and meeting a need without considering community dynamics. Folks from developed countries take new and innovative ideas and implement them. Without understanding the communities, the culture, history, and without a proper long term, plan such efforts are bound to fail.

During Rwanda’s reconciliation indigenous perspectives and Rwandanese culture were used to create lasting solutions. After the genocide of the Tutsis, the country rebuilt itself. Rwandans looked back to their pre-colonial culture and incorporated their traditions into reconstructing the country. One specific example is the Gacaca court. In pre-colonial Rwanda, the punishment of a crime would be determined by the community. Using the traditional western judicial system it would’ve taken decades to try the millions of perpetrators, however, with Gacaca the trials were completed after five years. As with everything there are mixed opinions on the use of Gacaca courts, but there is a great sense of pride in Rwanda surrounding their homegrown solutions.

By imposing western ideas and solutions on countries I believe failure is inevitable. Rwanda illustrates the power of solutions from within a country. The voices of indigenous people should be at the center of global citizenship, shaping the course of action and resources supplied, rather than incorporated into western perspectives. While the world failed to aid Rwanda, if global citizenship were to focus on supporting homegrown solutions I believe we may see fewer solutions fall flat.

Interdependence in a Pandemic

At no time has the interdependence of the human race been clearer to me. Right now as the world fights a pandemic and the United States enters a financial crisis our reliance on one another is clear.

The pandemic has brought the world together to overcome a common challenge- COVID:19. While the US has been a little less than cooperative, countries have been working to help one another by sharing their experiences, doctors, and scientific research.  Within the US the work of essential employees has allowed life to continue. Medical staff have been putting their lives on the line to treat affected people while communities have rallied to donate gowns, gloves, and masks.

Jobs that are typically overlooked have received attention and gratitude as the pandemic has illustrated how much we depend on them. As those with flashy or more appealing jobs have been stuck at home, others such as farmers, those who work in packaging and shipping, and grocery store staff have been clocking in. While it is normally easy to overlook these employees and remain apathetic to their wages and working conditions, the spotlight now shines on them as heroes. Our society is dependent on them to keep store shelves stocked and people fed. Similarly as international imports and exports slow with COVID, the imported items we typically take for granted are now much more appreciated. While our interdependence has not changed our perspective has.

The economic situation in the US also illustrates how deeply interdependent we are. With nonessential businesses closed it has become crystal clear. Small businesses are struggling without their customers while consumers must find new ways to navigate life without all of the usual resources. However, communities are coming together and supporting one another. I think our nature of interdependence creates relationships and bonds so that even though the need for support is no longer mutual- ie a hairdresser needs clients for income but right now clients don’t NEED a haircut- we still provide for one another.

I hope once the pandemic passes our appreciation for essential workers remains and our interdependence is more visible than before.

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