“The evolving ability of citizens to connect online and through social media despite vast physical distances, a slew of new social movements are increasingly pushing for action on a range of social, political, and cultural issues. The immediacy of social media, many activists say, allows a rapid spread of information not previously available, with updates possible in near-real time” (Lewontin, 2016). “As a period of escalating political dissent looms, activists, journalists, and the communities they engage are looking to digital tools to widen the reach and impact of their message. Whether via the immediacy of live streaming, the immersion of 360 video, or the network effects of social media, digital platforms offer possibilities for creating virtual communities around real issues. But it’s worth revisiting the question of whether the likes/shared of Periscope, Facebook, or Twitter serve as a basis for genuine solidarity” (Bierend, 2017).
The rapidly-growing movement calling for a wider consciousness about anti-black racism and police violence started last 2013 from a message posted on Facebook by an activist from Oakland named Alicia Garza. She was motivated to do this after finding about the decision to decline to imprison George Zimmerman for killing an unarmed teen named Trayvon Martin. She expressed her thoughts and feelings on the said post, ending her message with “Black people. I love you. I loves us. Our lives matter.” (Lewontin, 2016)
Garza’s post was then seen by her friend Patrisse Cullors who was a community organizer “who works on prison reform issues” (Lewontin, 2016), and shared it with the hashtag “BlackLivesMatter”. Garza and Cullors decided to contact another friend to set up different websites to promote this slogan.
The slogan became popular after a year due to the death of Michael Brown, an 18 year-old who was killed by a white police officer. This led activists to “form more than 26 Black Lives Matter chapters across US” (Lewinton, 2016). “As a series of fatal shootings and injuries of mostly young black people have continued to grip the country, Garza’s slogan has been omnipresent” (Lewinton, 2016). Even President Obama used the slogan to give honor to the numerous victims of shooting and violence.
Black Lives Matter became a global network chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission is “to build local power and to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes” (blacklivesmatter.com). In their website, they stated “the call for Black lives to matter is a rallying cry for ALL Black lives striving for liberation” (blacklivesmatter.com), this includes Black queer and trans folks, disabled folds, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum.
It can be seen how social media can be an important key communication tool for people and activists, in particular, to spread the awareness and news across the globe. It pushes people to take action, it gathers people who share common interests and goals, even institutions get affected and get pressured when issues start to become trending. But it is believed that while social media tools have greatly helped people to participate in these kinds of online protests, it is still the action of the activist themselves that make an impact (Lewinton, 2016). “It is not the tools that are driving the change, it’s the people, it’s the social movement” (Daniels, 2015).
In Doug Bierend’s article, he stated that “no doubt, what is experienced and expressed online carries tangible consequences. Digital platforms have proven instrumental in sparking movements that spill into the streets. But in these cases, the role of technology tends to recede as the ephemeral, emergent, fast-twitch connections give way to the grinding mechanics of analog organizing. Easy as it is to confuse new forms of media as revolutionary messages unto themselves, movements live or die on what happens outside of the screen. Solidarity is a commitment, not a gesture”. He described the Black Lives Matter as a movement that can explain this. He explained that although they were able to manage and maintain a network of various social platforms which has created a meaningful and shared sense of purpose among those who identify with the movement, the people within the movement struggle with dealing with local issues. It just shows how any form of solidarity pertains to something that happens in physical space. While these networked devices provide possible material, moral, and other forms of support, solidarity is generated where people meet face-to-face (Bierend, 2017). However, he claims that it does not mean that participating in such things is useless. What he’s trying to say is that participating in online movements is a starting step, but one does not stop there. He continued by saying that “technology can and should reduce the impediments to those far from a front line who wish to contribute more than cash or a floating thumbs up. Real-time, immersive media can connect people to an issue in more personal, visceral ways. Networked platforms can channel that connection into a number of productive ends in real time. People can build their own networks and tools on what is now a ubiquitous range of devices and platforms.” There is much potential for encouraging lasting and meaningful forms of solidarity on digital platforms. But any technology will only be as effective in generating change as the movement it channels (Bierend, 2017).