On April 15, 1967, over 500,000 people took to the streets of New York and San Francisco in protest of the Vietnam war. Their passionate efforts ultimately pressured the US to withdraw from Vietnam in 1973 and they saw their peace efforts through to the fall of Saigon in 1975.
The protesters were relentless in seeing that their demands were met, protesting heavily for almost two decades especially during 1965- 1967.
Perhaps Vietnam was a special case where the protestors came out victorious, but it’s important to remember that their cause was highly unpopular – more than some of our movements today – as many took the protesters to be unpatriotic.
So why is it that the issues people protest today such as gun reform, abortion, and climate change aren’t reaping the same success?
The most obvious difference between the time of the Vietnam war and now is the rise of social media. There’s no doubt that it has the potential to transform the way people are heard and thus demand change. But it can also breed a lack of activism as some grow content with voicing their support through a hashtag or repost.
On the one hand, social media can educate us and encourage intervention in issues anywhere in the world. On the other, it can desensitize us to the fact that we could actually be affected by some of these issues.
The expansive reach of social media offers the opportunity to quickly raise awareness about varying issues and garner the support needed to present those issues tothose in power.
Through platforms like Change. org, people are able to support issues that may not even affect them, fighting for those who may not be able to fight for themselves. Social media has the potential to bring worldwide attention and support to a given cause which wasn’t possible before.
Yet the onslaught of information can also deceive us into not being concerned about the issues that could actually affect us. The key is just in striking a healthy balance in regards to how social media influences our approach to activism.
Most importantly, social media doesn’t necessarily bring disruption, and one key factor that may be lacking in our movements is just that, disruption.
Change only happens when people work to disrupt the flow of public or political life. The antiwar protestors demanded the attention of everyone in the nation but today there don’t seem to be any clear groups demanding that same attention on the daily.
Despite its potential benefits, social media could enable a culture of lazy activism. Right off the bat,
it’s clear social media has severely decreased our attention span. With a flood of posts and notifications, it’s less likely that someone will take the time to thoroughly learn about an issue and then proceed to do something about it. The most the average person might do is post something on their story, and that’s where their “activism” likely ends.
There’s also the simple argument that in-person protests are more effective than reposting something or voicing your support through a tweet. It makes sense too. Human interactions always come across more authentic in-person and less so through a screen.
That’s not to say the Vietnam protests weren’t special in the force they mustered. Much of the protest centered around the draft because people didn’t want themselves or their loved ones to go to war, prompting protests full of raw desperation.
Thus, many people might have engaged in this movement for essentially self-centered reasons and that’s why it garnered the support it did.
But thinking about oneself in regards to various issues isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It may even be another factor that is inhibiting the effectiveness of our movements.
The point is, we do have to think about ourselves. We need to picture ourselves falling victim to the various issues in society so that we can pursue change with unrelenting vigor. If we don’t, our movements won’t have the passion they need to cause the disruption that will bring about change.
Based on the current state of our various movements, it doesn’t seem like we’re being disruptive enough.
One of America’s first mass shootings occurred in Camden, NJ in 1949 when a WWII veteran shot 16 people, killing 13. Fifty years later, two high school seniors shot and killed 13 people, 12 of them being students, at Columbine High School.
The Columbine shooting happened over two decades ago. Groups such as the Million Mom March demanded change in gun laws then and still do now since littlechange has taken place since then.
There have been numerous climate strikes all over the world, most notably the ones which took place on Sept. 20 and 27 of 2019 in which a total of 4 million people participated worldwide.
But since a great number of climate strikers are students, they may not have enough leverage to prompt those in power to change policy, as a Forbes article suggested.
Students skipping school tend not to disrupt the lives of the general public or those in power, thus making it difficult to transfer strikes into actual policy change.
In both the protest for gun reform and climate change, little change has been made because they simply aren’t disrupting the public, or those in power. Someone in Congress isn’t going to bat an eye if you repost something on your story.
And if you’re just skipping school for a day, it’s unlikely they’ll notice, but if they do, they’re not likely to feel moved to do anything about it.
That’s not to say all movements are meant to receive immediate change. Issues such as women’s rightsandtheCivilRightsMovement slowly achieved and are still striving for change over numerous decades of persistent fighting.
What sets these movements apart from gun reform or climate change is the fact that they entailed changing deeply ingrained societal norms. Slavery was closely tied to American culture for 200 years and thus changing that norm took a lot of effort.
The same can’t be said for an issue like gun control because it’s something that doesn’t affect everyone like gender and race does.
Thus, it’s reasonable to demand more immediate change of issues like abortion, climate change, and gun control.
Change is possible but not if we stay content with the way we’re asking for it. We need to place ourselves in the issues. We need to use social media to enhance the scope and strength of in-person protests. We need to truly disrupt society and make those in power listen