#activism is the evolution of our most fundamental human right, but how is it holding up in today’s tech-heavy world?
Protest is a vital element of democracy and has always been an important part of letting the government know what the hell we want. But in the age of Wikileaks, online campaigns and slacktivism, how is our fundamental democratic right changing? As a tech-heavy generation, social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook have become the tools for spreading the word and uniting protesters.
The power of the hashtag has been undeniable in connecting people with interests in common causes. The Black Lives Matter Movement started with the use of a hashtag on Twitter back in 2013. #EndAusterityNow was the direct rallying callback to the Tories by thousands on British streets, #ISeeTara brought the plight of a transgender woman wrongfully put in a male prison into the public consciousness and #FreeEducation and #GrantsNotDebt reverberated the demand for free higher education.
Online civil rights activists, like Deray McKesson, make sure that word spreads quickly, and to a global scale, and his online activity when the Ferguson and Baltimore protests were happening played a large part in rallying people together in the face of police brutality.
With all this digital campaigning, how are the traditional methods of protesting holding up? Research done by Freuds Communications show that though online activism and protests have grown, they have not detracted from traditional methods of protesting – in fact both are on the rise.
Activist and actress Lily Cole, Deputy Managing Director, Europe and UK Director at Change.org Brie Rogers Lowery and veteran human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell were among the speakers at Freuds’ ‘Protest’ talk. They discussed the internet and social media’s role in online protesting – here’s what we learnt.
THE INTERNET GENERATES A GLOBAL COMMUNITY OF PROTESTERS
Lily Cole: “Internet platforms allow someone who wants to say something to generate consensus amongst a lot of people. I’ve been involved in a few different street protests in this country and to be honest none have actually enforced any actual governmental change.”
PROTEST THROUGH SHOPPING
Lily Cole: “The other type of protest I think is really important is actually through shopping. The reason for that is because I think that money runs this planet right now and makes major decisions on a political spectrum, a business spectrum – they are arguably very intermingled – and the biggest way you can have an effect is by being very conscientious with your own money and where you direct it. So typically the way is boycotting the companies that get bad press because they have negative practices. But you could also apply that positively and see it as putting your money into the companies that you think are trying to do the right thing.”
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: SOCIAL MEDIA MAKES THE NUMBERS COUNT
Lily Cole: “I was very moved recently watching what happened with the Refugee Welcome campaign in this country, where there was a petition that went round about the way that our British government was reacting to the refugee crisis and the fact that they were refusing to take more refugees in. I think it generated around 450,000 signatures, which reached the point where parliament needed to respond to it and as a consequence we saw Cameron really take it seriously.
I think that really says a lot about the power that is given to platforms of protest because you might have seen 450,000 people on the streets five years ago and that might have been easier to ignore. Numbers are now clearly on social media and count to a specific number to point to when we can say: “Hey this many people really care so you need to respond.”
STARTING YOUR OWN CAMPAIGN HAS NEVER BEEN EASIER – OR MORE EFFECTIVE
Brie Rogers Lowery: “The internet has made it easier and far more effective to have your voice heard on issues you care about and open up the world of campaigning for people who never thought about themselves as campaigners.”
SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOW ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT NEW FORMS OF PROTEST
Peter Tatchell: “For me the core principles of protest are unchanging, but the form they take obviously do evolve. Social media is one of the most important and significant new forms of protest. I think for me the core starting point for protest is to hold the rich and powerful to account, hold the government to account, business to account, other social institutions to account and even individuals to account.
Protest is to challenge power. It’s also a very positive, constructive check and balance on authority. It’s a way of ensuring that those in positions of wealth and power cannot simply do what they want by relying on their wealth and power. I also say that protest is a vital part of any democracy.”