Youth activism stops behind computer screens
In Washington D.C. last week, as the Supreme Court heard two major cases concerning the issue of same-sex marriage, the debate manifested upon numerous computer screens, as Facebook became flooded with red equal signs in support of marriage equality.
Though countless profiles touted this newly recognized symbol of acceptance, the effects of this cyber-movement have yet to materialize.
The proliferation of this emblem across the Internet is reminiscent of the Kony 2012 campaign that was inescapable only one short year ago. Invisible Children’s video virtually disappeared a few months later after being watched and shared by almost every social media user.
Though the video did inspire and capture the attention of many, the long-term effects of the campaign proved that, while the young people that populate Facebook and other social media sites were motivated enough to “like” a video, it did not motivate the majority to close the computer and hit the streets.
This idea of “internet mobilization” epitomizes the crusades of many young people today. The current generation carries out its activism online.
Today’s youth will change their profile picture to show they stand for gay rights, or they will tweet about their desire for gun control, but how many actually make the move to call their senator or campaign for someone who supports their wants remains few and far between.
This raises the question of whether young Americans truly support and care about the beliefs they’re spouting, or whether they simply want to fit in with whatever activism is currently trendy. Of course, there are numerous young people who genuinely do fight for their beliefs, but this individual seems more and more scarce in this generation.
Elizabeth Brennan, senior English major and chairman of the College Republicans, has volunteered and campaigned since her freshman year. Despite her own sizable involvement in political activism, she expressed belief that young people today “are mostly apathetic.”
Brennan believes the emergence of internet mobilization has generated education and awareness on many important social issues of our time, but remains a platform based on trends.
“[The Internet] is the easiest way to show that you fit in, but you’re not really doing anything. It’s just a bunch of noise,” said Brennan.
“It seems like the most passive way to make a difference,” she continued. “If you want to make a difference, get out there and do something.”
Ally Blanck, senior political science major and president of the Young Democrats, has also participated in numerous campaigns, and she believes that the importance of young people playing a role in the democratic process is huge.
Blanck stated that playing a role in awareness and campaigning not only makes a difference, but it improves self-confidence.
“It’s important for people to understand their voice matters,” said Blanck.
It is undeniable that the youth play a huge role in our democratic system. A remarkable 49 percent of young voters participated in the 2012 presidential election, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).
In addition to those numbers, CIRCLE reports, “In Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, if Romney had won half the youth vote, or if young people had stayed home all together, he would have won those key battleground states.”
Obviously, young Americans, as 21 percent of the voting population in the U.S., are critical to the country. However, of these same young voters who turned out massively to have their voice heard, only 24 percent voted in the 2010 midterm elections. According to CIRCLE, this dismal turnout is around the average for “all midterm elections since 1998.”
The lack of youth turnout for midterm elections is shocking, especially considering the importance of state elections on the issues for which young people seem to show the most enthusiasm and concern.
Both Brennan and Blanck believed that it is a general misunderstanding of states’ rights that causes this.
“People have misconceptions about government and don’t realize the importance of states’ rights and state government,” said Brennan.
“I think a lot of people just don’t understand what state legislature does, and they don’t know how it will affect them,” Blanck stated.
However, midterm elections are imperative for young activists who want to see change in the social issues they believe in. If young people are motivated enough to stand up for their beliefs online, then why wouldn’t they be motivated to raise awareness to their current state government or campaign for someone who will support their ideals?
“If enough people care about and demonstrate a want for something, it can make a difference,” said Brennan.
In her sophomore year, during the midterm election, Brennan and the College Republicans campaigned for over 600 hours.
“That’s less about being trendy,” she stated.
The general sentiment of the youth today seems to be centered on immediate results. If they post a Facebook status discussing their beliefs and they receive seven “likes,” they will feel as though they made a small impact.
This idea explains why so many young people turn out for the presidential election, the most publicized election in the country, yet few go out and vote in the state elections. To make a real difference, young people must understand that the issues they care about are not solved in a single, national vote, and posting a picture on Facebook does not solve them either.
“A lot of people view politics as an election every [few] years and that’s your battle,” said Blanck.
Blanck discussed how the Young Democrats try to change this misunderstanding by focusing on issues and working with the Fredericksburg Area Democrats to make changes closer to home.
There is no doubt that young people have the ability to mobilize for what they believe in. The change that must be made requires action beyond the computer screen. The internet is unquestionably a significant starting point to spread ideas and strengthen voices, but the next step is petitioning, defending and campaigning for your convictions.
It is crucial that passionate young Americans ignore social media for a moment and fight for what they believe in where it counts.