Critical Social Justice organizers Jess Myers, Zach Kosinski, and Jasmine Malhotra share a few of their thoughts on activism, their personal and professional experiences as activists, and social media’s role in activism.
JASMINE: I think about the feelings of social justice activism as being something that infuses within all parts of your life. Social justice activism involves how you interact with others, being able to actively listen and respect other options while sharing your knowledge and experience. It is about making any space into a brave space so individuals can be okay in having uncomfortable conversations in an effort to really understand each other’s opinion. Social activism can be expressed by people asking for change, protesting, or informing others. Social media can be one of the outlooks they use but there are many other ways they can practice their activism to cultivate change and make a true difference.
JESS: I agree with you, Jasmine, about the importance of both-and in activism. Through my research related to better understanding the strategies employed by activists involved in the movement to address sexual violence prevention and response on college campuses, I am learning that these activists are truly using the both-and approach. These local and national activists have repeated time and time again that social media is not their activism but that social media is a TOOL for their activism. They described using social media as a means to connect with other activists, as a tool for reducing power dynamics present in other spaces, and to increase awareness with populations who may not otherwise be reached. Consequently, I’ve become more critical with the discourse around “slacktivism.” Who gets to define what activism is and isn’t? Dynamics of power and privilege related to social identities influence who gets to “be” an activist and define themselves as activists. This year’s Critical Social Justice theme of Creating Brave Spaces resonates with me in so many ways but specifically because creating brave spaces online (and off-line) helps build counter-spaces and tells counter-narratives.
ZACH: Over the past year, I’ve also experienced a shift in how I view my role as an activist and agent for social change. For years, I felt that engaging in social justice work required an “all in at all times” approach. Being more of a homebody outside of work and school, though, attending protests and rallies has never come naturally to me. For so long, I beat myself up for finding reasons not to march with my peers. Over the past few months, I’ve seen countless UMBC students I connect with on campus take a stand on social justice issues important to them. In discussions about their activism, time and time again, students have referenced articles I shared, speakers I helped bring to campus, and critical conversations we had that helped inform the activism they’re presently engaged in. Experiencing these students’ activism, I’ve seen how playing the roles of encourager, connector, resource, and supporter is not only meaningful but necessary to critical activist work. I may not be taking to the streets or expounding from the proverbial soapbox, but helping cultivate the student activists who will is just as essential.
JESS: Yes, Zach! As someone who identifies as an introvert, I sometimes feel conflicted about how to show up in social justice work and conversations. Over the past few years and through a lot of challenge by choice, I’ve learned what kind of activism allows me to challenge oppression and address social justice concerns in a way that authentic to me and my being. We all have an important role to play using our own strengths and passions. If I try to be someone I’m not in doing this work, I’ll most likely fail.
For more reflections from Critical Social Justice organizers, check out this blog post on self-care and social justice.