Student activism should not be quickly abandoned

Olivia Griffin

In the past week, my Facebook feed has been filled with non-stop rants and events for protests throughout the Austin area: “Banish the electoral college!” “Stop racism!” “Encourage electors to vote for an alternative Republican president!” “Ted Cruz is (still) the Zodiac Killer!”

The problem is that, as a generation, our attention span in regard to social issues is far too short. During the first week of school, everyone was focused on Cocks Not Glocks. Now, save for a few dedicated core members, students have largely forgotten the movement and what it stands for. I’ve not seen a single student carry a dildo after about the third week of school. Additionally, we sometimes are vague in our demands, particularly in the anti-Trump protests. Motivations are rare, and lawmakers cannot reply to protests that have no clear and highly specific — and achievable — demand. 

This inattentiveness allows lawmakers to be more extreme in the laws they pass. If lawmakers know that students will lose their focus and stop protesting a few weeks after the law takes effect, then what incentive is there for lawmakers to respect the demands of protesters? 

In combination with this challenge of maintaining focus is the emergence of “slacktivism,” which is composed of actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, such as signing an online petition or joining a group on Facebook. 

This slacktivism has eroded our ability to enact real change. Slacktivism quells our thirst for social justice through pseudo-activism that has minimal impacts. For example, petitions have minimal impact on actual policy outcomes. Most likely, a Supreme Court decision or Congressional legislation to abolish the electoral college will take place with or without a petition — instead, activists should take a more focused stance, such as letter-writing campaigns to representatives, protesting in front of the U.S. Capitol (for an extended period of time) or connecting with lobbying firms to network with representatives and pressure for more change. 

That’s not to say that social media and effective activism are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, social media is a key strategy to activism in the 21st century. Yet social media activism without coordinated and directed efforts will prove ineffective. 

For example, social media is a great way to build brand recognition of important charities, and can encourage others to donate. Yet sharing and “liking” a charity’s post — another form of slacktivism — has come under fire in recent times. UNICEF Sweden recently launched an advertising campaign stating “Like us on Facebook and we will vaccinate zero children against polio.” In the U.S., Vice columnist Brian Moylan had a strong opinion against the popular online movement in support of gay marriage where users changed their profile picture. “Right now, gay activism needs all the help it can get,” Moylan said. “But do you know what’s not helping? Changing your Facebook profile to a silly red-and-pink equal sign.”

In the wake of the election, many feel furious, and have every right to protest and make their opinions heard. Yet, in doing so, protesters should be careful to avoid “psuedo-activism” that becomes words without action to back it up, focus on the issue over long periods of time or clear demands. My greatest fear for the anti-Trump protests is that they will quickly be abandoned and Trump’s behavior will eventually go unchecked and unprotested because the initial wave of demonstrations died down. 

Griffin is a junior Plan II and government major from Dallas. Follow her on Twitter @OGlikesdogs.