There is a clear community of people who will say that hashtag activism does not accomplish change. I used to be one of the cynics. However, I believe that we have hit a significant tipping point in the US where that will no longer be the case. Ferguson, Missouri has changed the course of national discourse on police brutality by centering...
There is a clear community of people who will say that hashtag activism does not accomplish change. I used to be one of the cynics. However, I believe that we have hit a significant tipping point in the US where that will no longer be the case. Ferguson, Missouri has changed the course of national discourse on police brutality by centering the experiences of those most impacted. This is not a repeat of Kony 2012, and the difference is the positioning of the communities demanding change.
As a child of the 90's growing up in LA, police brutality was a normalized part of being brown or black. The 1991 Rodney King beating and the LA riots shaped the landscape. It took the personal experience of police brutality that young black and brown men had suffered in silence and made it public.
In the 90's it was the luck of a lone VHS camcorder that made this possible. The outcome of the King case was not what community advocates hoped for, and some policing practices shifted, but not dramatically enough. Yet, it ultimately changed how communities began to hold the Los Angeles Police Department accountable.
Now we are all armed with personal video cameras through our smart phones.
The role of young African Americans and Latino youth leading change has been significant in terms of raising awareness. The vanguard of traditional journalism does not acknowledge the leadership that is surfacing because it is in fact different. In the short term, young citizen journalists have changed the course of the narrative around police brutality. The rapid increase of cell phone and smartphone users indicate where the sudden shift has come from.
This is what made Ferguson a flashpoint. There were several incidents of police brutality being shared through social media in the weeks leading up to Ferguson. I want to be clear that it is not that incidents of police brutality have suddenly increased. It is just that communities who are most impacted by police brutality are recording their lives, establishing a network offline among those with commons experiences, and capitalizing on the power of black twitter and millennials.
According to Pew Social Trends, 40 percent of black millennials use Twitter, compared with 28 percent of their white peers. Without black millennials, black Twitter wouldn’t exist.
In addition, the hashtags helped to build a rapidly networked community that turned the protests in Ferguson into a national day of silence via #NMOS14. Within days, traditional organizers across the country were able to cut through the noise, and hosted rallies across the country, coordinating via social media and google documents seen here. Within the height of the social media moment it is important to look to organizers and nonprofits who are actually establishing calls to action. Instantly the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Dream Defenders, and the Black Youth Project began to strategize and assist local organizations. Organizers on the ground rapidly developed strategies to assist those on the front lines. For example, local organizations like the Organization for Black Struggle and Missourians Organizing for Reform and were circulating this document on how to build meaningful broad based support, “Ferguson Solidarity: Ways to Support the Fight.”
A larger call to action has been issued to make change in our local communities in this #HandUp campaign.
It also signals true democratic participation and engagement with political systems that are broken. It may not come in a form currently accessible to major media outlets or politicians but it surfaces leadership and spokespeople from the community who can continue to work through the long term solutions. These leaders surface because of digital advocacy and connect with one another because of social media.
In the past three election cycles voter turnout of Black and Latino youth have been at a historic high. Which according to the Black Youth Project, Blacks and Latinos comprised an increasingly larger share of the voting electorate in each of the last three presidential elections. Demographic shifts and recent voting trends indicate a few salient points:
We are looking at a politically engaged, digitally collective rising American electorate and that is shifting what is happening in this country.
These communities led the trending hashtags #handsup, #handsupdontshoot, #dontshoot, and #blacklivesmatter, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown along side #ferguson and #mikebrown.
It will take these leaders, local elected officials, voter engagement, and community based organizations to move this forward. However, the entry point into this conversation is on a different platform. Mike Brown can no longer be perpetrated as "the problem,"his parents have a community standing with them, and they may be able to influence policy for years to come — if they would like to.
Increased transparency, accessible social media tools and interconnected networks are driving resources into communities like Ferguson, have made this possible. This was not an option for the parents of children and family members who had lost their lives at the hands of the police brutality and gun violence previously. They lacked community resources, broader public support, and validators in the press to push their story forward. However, since the case of Trayvon Martin, this is shifting. While progress is slow, I can take the giant leap forward: hashtag activism has taken off especially when communities who have historically been excluded are at the center of leading the charge.
Hemly Ordonez @HemlyMO is VP of Digital Strategy and Mobilization at Fission Strategy.