Being an activist has never been easy.
The purpose of activism is to challenge the mainstream ideology and bring about political and social change.
This requires stamina, vision, and complete steadfast belief in the need for change; those things will never change about activism.
However, millennials, the “internet generation,” have proven that just about everything else can change. In fact, it already has.
The most obvious distinction of millennial activism from activism that came before is the use of social media, a tool that was not available to generations before now.
Social media platforms have allowed for people to access activist groups and learn about new ideologies that previously would have been more difficult to connect with, and they don’t even have to leave the comfort of their home.
“For millennials, taking consistent positive actions every day or week is a lifestyle and a fundamental part of their identity.
In changing how change is made, members of this generation no longer see themselves as “activists” like their parents, but rather as everyday changemakers,” argues Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation.
According to the Case Foundation’s 2016 millennial impact report, 52.5% of millennial self-identify as activists, and it makes sense.
Millennials have grown up during a time when dorm room ideas became billion dollar companies in lightning speed, and social media has provided an outlet for young people to express themselves to an audience at any time, so what sense does keeping silent make?
For many undergraduates, activism can be as simple as sharing activist materials online and keeping up with movement leaders. An NYU student explains:
“From what I’ve seen, there are particular people on social media, at least who I follow, who are really 24/7 online activists, sharing constantly.
I think at this point, activism and social media are permanently intertwined. I don’t see the two separating at any point. I think activism has irreversibly changed and there’s no way, for better or worse, of it going back to its pre-social media form.”
This attitude has enabled young people to tackle issues of varying degrees of size and impact; for example, the #DiversifyMyEmoji movement, a social media led campaign requesting more diversity and positive representation of women in emojis.
However, social media can present its own set of problems for activists, especially for anyone hoping to stay anonymous.
Another student argues: “It’s so much easier to organize and spread the word for events/protests with social media. But also, it’s making it easier for cops, nazis, etc. to find these events and people, increasing some of the danger.”
Millennials have always lived with the knowledge that everything posted online is there for good, and most can recall online safety and privacy lectures at a young age from parents, schools, or other adult figures. But this hasn’t stopped millennials from voicing their diverse and often controversial opinions online.
If social media becomes essential for any given activist movement to succeed, how will future activist leaders negotiate the harmful side effects of publishing their plans on the internet?
Many of the most successful activist movements of the past have required activists to break the law and cause trouble to get attention. Will that vigilante spirit be repurposed online, or will the online world of activism be a roadblock for people to do what needs to be done?
“It’s becoming easier to have a voice and create a platform. I feel like information and the number of people are key aspects of activism, and social media is making it easier to spread information and reach people.
It’ll be interesting to see if activism becomes less of a physical action and more of a digital one.”