Off the ‘Net, To the Streets

How social media changed the way we protest

22 West Magazine
Feb 24, 2017 · 9 min read
Diana Martinez/Union Weekly

Intro by Sylvana Uribe Community Editor

One of the defining aspects of Donald J. Trump’s first week as president has been the numerous protests to erupt not only across the nation, but globally.

In looking at the evolution of peaceful assemblies within our own nation, it’s grown increasingly evident social media has become key to driving current movements.

Whether it be for RSVP’s or trending through hashtags, social movements have come to rely on social media as a way to spark connections even before officially hitting the streets to protest.

This week, we take a glance at recent movements and discuss how social media has embedded itself as an essential component of modern protests.

Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter movement was born on the internet from the intersecting lines of a hashtag.

It was 2013 and the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of 17 year old Trayvon Martin hung thick and angry in the summer air. In Oakland, Calif. at a bar, Alicia Garza watched the verdict come in with her friends.

The bar went silent.

Garza, sickened with hurt and grief, soon turned to one of the only places she thought would ease her pain: Facebook.

“What I saw was really disappointing,” Garza said in an interview with USA Today back in 2015.

There were countless responses “blaming black people for our own conditions,” she said. “It wasn’t Trayvon Martin’s fault that (Zimmerman) stopped him and murdered him. … It really has to do with a society that has a really sick disease and that disease is racism.”

So Garza did the only thing she felt like she could do in that moment and wrote what she said is a love letter to black people. Her post ended with: “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter, black lives matter.”

It was here that Patrisse Cullors, a community organizer focusing on prison reform 300 miles away in Los Angeles and good friend of Garza, came across Garza’s post. Cullors then attached the hashtag #blacklivesmatter in response and continued to use the tag after every post.

The following day, both women spoke to each other to see if they could come up with a way to organize and mobilize around this sentiment. They reached out to Opal Tometi. Tometi was another activist well known to both who was involved in immigrant rights. Then, the three women started to set up a Tumblr and Twitter account and began to encourage users to share stories of why #blacklivesmatter.

And the rest is history.

The hashtag spread like wildfire and continues strong today.

It condenses in just three words the complexities and attitudes surrounding racial inequality, police brutality, and social justice in America. The intent being to humanize. To remind people that empathy and a regard for human dignity are necessary elements within government.

The movement has become both a sad and empowering statement for the many involved. Unfortunately, what has historically propelled the hashtag forward in social change is the injustice and death within the black community.

The most impactful moments that affected the movement have been the tragic deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in 2014, Freddie Gray and Rekia Boyd in 2015 and the Presidential Election in 2016. These are just to name a brief few.

However, in the same vein, the #BLM movement’s capability to provide information and “think-pieces” to a widespread audience through the internet has empowered countless people (who would have never thought to do so before) to become activists and to politically and socially organize.

This is because the #BLM is less unified through one distinct organization or codified alliance but instead the movement is connected and organized through the actual hashtag itself.

With every post regarding systematic racial oppression and injustice, the #blacklivesmatter is clipped right on. With every article or every fact that arises, #blacklivesmatter is there. Here. In this hyperlink.

There’s a world of work, a labor of love and a hard push forward and in the right direction. The information is there. Easily accessible. For every man, womyn, child, and young teenage activist. White or black.

It proves that there really are important things that are not being taught in classrooms. That the classroom, this temple for change, progress and black empowerment, is found and cultivated right here on the internet.

The Women’s March

Social media’s role in the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington and its globally inspired sister marches is undeniable as images of the historic occasion continue to circulate. This particular march is only one of many that bring the interconnectedness between social media and social movements to the forefront of our awareness, with both clinging onto the other in order to thrive.

For the Long Beach community, social media was key for supporters of the Women’s March on Washington. Locals hosted their own marches and rallies or planned to collectively travel to Los Angeles the day after the inauguration.

Receiving more than 800 RSVPs on Facebook, the “Long Beach Ride to Women’s March Los Angeles” event page became a hub for people to connect prior to the march. It spread news of a poster-making party days prior to marching, facilitating the opportunity to connect with likeminded people who advocated for the protection of human rights and tolerance.

The main function of the page was to provide marchers with Metro route information to access Pershing Square where the march kicked off. Days later, the event page still received photos of posters soaring above the heads of marches, links to organizations involved with issues relevant to marchers, and positive messages to continue fighting for human rights.

With so many voices permeating social media, messages flooded social streams from all directions, making it difficult to sift through what was real and what was not. Following the Women’s March, screenshots surfaced of what appeared to be a call-to-action prompted by the organizers, seeking a headcount of participants.

All marchers had to do to be counted was submit a text that said, “COUNT ME,” to be redirected to an electronic survey. The main problem was that the count was not initiated by the Women’s March organizers, but rather a third party.

By the time the official Women’s March account announced on Twitter they weren’t associated with those efforts, it was much too late as large volumes of people had already submitted information about themselves to a third party site utilizing the same logo as the official organizers.

The It’s Time Network, a group whose mission statement says it’s dedicated to accelerating “the full empowerment of women and girls,” took responsibility for the count, saying its intention with collecting the data was not malicious, but rather a service to support efforts of organizers and marchers.

The connections and conversations happening online are reminiscent of consciousness-raising groups popular in feminist circles during the 1960s. These spaces were some of the first steps in educating people through the exchange of ideas and personal narratives.

In today’s technology driven world, the main difference is that someone’s story has the capability of going viral after being published more than it ever could if confined to a traditional consciousness-raising setting. As incredulous as that may be, it’s also worth noting that opposing viewpoints are as easily accessible and prevalent online.

Nicole Rodriguez, a fourth year applied mathematics major, was at the Los Angeles Women’s March and utilized Facebook to learn about the purpose of it and plan her trek to Los Angeles.

She said she was glad to see older women among the marchers, ones who likely had protested decades ago with even fewer rights assigned to them. Rodriguez also expressed that she, like so many others, had not been immune to sentiments online and in society that didn’t coincide with those of hope and equality.

“This election showed me that in many parts of the U.S., people don’t get the education and chance to see diversity like we do in California and especially in Long Beach,” Rodriguez said. “We are very lucky to have the experiences we have because we can be more accepting of people who are different from us.”

Although the protest is done, social media will ensure the momentum of it lingers with emerging projects and conversations to continue fighting against forces encroaching on the rights of “we the people.”

Dakota Access Pipeline

Once again, the United States is at war for oil.

On April 1, 2016, a group of 200 Native Americans came to the Dakota Access pipeline construction site on horseback, demanding a stop to its’ production. The pipeline would be near the Missouri river, a key water source for the people living there and would allegedly cut through sacred Standing Rock Sioux tribe lands.

There were only a few media stations that covered the story, such as the Guardian and a nonprofit independent media called Unicorn Riot. After the event, the Dakota pipeline slowly appeared via Instagram, twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat.

However, it was actress Shailene Woodley’s arrest that brought major attention to the Dakota pipeline protests. She was arrested on October 10, 2016 on misdemeanor charges for participating in the riots and for trespassing. She pled not guilty.

Her presence and action in social media helped the Dakota pipelines controversy be a global debate. In an article she wrote for TIME covering her experience, she said that “…it took me, a white non-native woman being arrested…to bring this cause to many people’s attention. And to the forefront of news publications around the world.”

She proposed that people use the hashtags #ProtectCleanWater, #HonorNativeTreaties, or #IStandWithStandingRock to make the protests trend instead of #FreeShailene.

Rapper Vic Mensa supported in her stand against the DAPL, communicating through Instagram with pictures of him on horseback and the protesters with the caption, “if you believe in the inalienable rights of people; the right to clean drinking water, the right to food & shelter and the right to freedom then you have to support standing rock.”

Soon after these trending posts, the construction of the pipeline and the continued protests created nationwide debate on the ethical measures in the installment of transferring oil through sacred land.

To compensate for the protesters’ argument of oil leakage, Dakota Access reassured the public that it would be monitored relentlessly for 24 hours, 365 days a year, according to an article by Popular Mechanics.

However, it dismissed the US Geological Survey statement that “oil contamination of water is a nightmare with the potential danger to public health. Groundwater contamination by crude oil is a widespread problem.”

On January 24, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that lifted the halt on the Dakota Access pipeline.

With his background in business, he claimed that moving forward in the development of the Dakota pipelines would help create jobs. An article in BBC News backed up this claim, stating that the project “will create between 8,000–12,000 jobs and generate $55m in annual property taxes.”

Who could argue that more jobs for Americans is a bad idea? Nonetheless, the question of whether it’s right to build something as catastrophic as an oil pipeline near native communities is a no-brainer.

It’s more than the dangers of oil leakage. It is the expulsion of the sanctity of the indigenous people of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The tribe accused the government of never consulting them about approving the construction of the Dakota pipelines.

BBC News also reported that the tribe said the government “took this land from them illegally in a series of treaties” dating back to the Treaty of Fort Laramie 1868. This treaty declared an alliance between the US government and Native tribes to respect the lands of the indigenous people as well as consult any business transaction or trade requested among its leaders.

In the context of these treaties and agreement, this pipeline is a violation and continues to generate a discriminatory history between Americans and indigenous people. Constructing the pipelines on sacred burial sites will result in the destruction of preserved Native American culture and will disrespect the voices of indigenous people.

Ultimately, what helped and will continue to help the protests of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) gain traction was social media. Without it, we wouldn’t have the convenience to communicate from all parts of the world, especially in historic moments like this.

And although there has been speculations over as to whether the protests were peaceful or not, a message was sent across the world — America still has hope.

22 West Magazine

A publication for the students, by the students. Since its inception, the vision of this publication has been to be "the students' newspaper." With each new staff and in this new iteration, 22 West Magazine has progressively taken steps to keep true to that ideal.

22 West Magazine

Written by

For students, by students.

22 West Magazine

A publication for the students, by the students. Since its inception, the vision of this publication has been to be "the students' newspaper." With each new staff and in this new iteration, 22 West Magazine has progressively taken steps to keep true to that ideal.

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