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The Blue & Gray Press | August 24, 2019

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Youth activism stops behind computer screens

Screen-shot-2013-04-03-at-12.07.37-AMBy JONATHAN POLSON

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.



  1. Beth


  2. Good Vibrations

    “Youth activism stops behind computer screens,” said a youth from behind a computer screen.

  3. Bah

    What exactly did the college republicans advocate for? Corporate welfare, restriction of rights? All I ever hear you guys mouth off about is how taxes are too high (despite most of the Fortune 500 hardly paying any and having all their accounts incorporated off shore), and how LGBT people are bad, and how we should go to war with everyone.

    And then everyone else who disagrees is dubbed a communist, or a liberal. Let me tell you, Reinhardt/Brennan, just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean i’m either of those things.

  4. Seconded

    Agreed. As much as Youth Activism being limited in the physical world, I would say that a bigger issue is how the Republican party today is relying entirely on hatred and fear or people different from themselves and extreme hypocrisy.

    For example, all I ever heard Ken Cuccinelli go on about is how gay people are unnatural, and how all sexual acts besides vaginal sex should be banned in efforts to limit gay peoples’ expression of sexual desire. Why does he care so much? If the Republican party is about small government, then stay the f**k out of my bedroom.

    As for high taxes, lower taxes is well and good, but when Republican leaders are calling for more funds to defense despite the American military being the most supreme and often NOT EVEN CALLING for extra money, what do you expect? And then when budget concerns are addressed, the Republicans are obsessed with cutting welfare, which is a tiny, tiny fraction of the size of our unnecessary defense budget.

    Also, they also fail to realize that maybe if some legislation was passed preventing companies from incorporating offshore, then maybe they could actually pay more than 1% tax on anything, and then maybe these multi-billionaire companies could help our nation pay off some debts. This is never, NEVER anything the Republican party has addressed.

    It’s a blinding hypocrisy and shows how little the GOP gives a damn about anyone but the financial elite, and the bigoted.

    In a matter of decades, people will see the GOP’s utterly shameful and absolutely disgusting and inhuman policies against the LGBT community as just as bad as pro-segregationist racists of the 1960s. (Ever realize that the Democrats and Republicans virtually entirely switched after the Civil Rights movement succeeded? All the Democrats (The conservatives of the south) became Republicans (the modern conservatives of the south).

    As for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s makers vs. takers argument, how come it’s never addressed that a massive portion of their voter base in the south is in fact from “taker” states? Most of our welfare goes to the population in the south. It’s also a base with the least educated and least healthy people, statistically.

    And yet the Republican party and the views of most College Republicans is quite negative on welfare recipients…well that’s your voter base!