activism

Hannah Price’s “City of Brotherly Love”

I studied Price’s brilliant photo series for a class and wrote about its merits as an activist art piece. Here are some of my thoughts about this photographer’s response to street harassment:

Every Day After Work

Every Day After Work

Price’s individual, daily experience of catcalling and street harassment sparked her interest in creating “Every Day After Work” and the entire “City of Brotherly Love” series. After moving to Philadelphia, where she lived for three years, she began to experience attention from men as she walked down her block daily for the first time in her life. She felt uncomfortable with how common this occurrence became, having never dealt with such persistent, straightforward and unwarranted sexual attention on her own street, and she decided to respond to the discomfort she and so many women worldwide experience daily.

“It’s an inappropriate moment,” Price said of the experience of being catcalled. She flipped the inappropriate action of catcalling around through her photographs. Rather than suppressing the anger, discomfort, and other negative emotions often associated with the experience of being catcalled, Price turned around and spoke to the men who were harassing her. She began conversations with these men, and worked with them on the process of creating a photograph.

Activism is generally defined as some sort of action taken in order to shift power dynamics. Price’s work does exactly that. She flips the focus of the gaze and the focus on the female body. In order to do so, she turns these portraits of each man who catcalled her into studies of each of their personas and bodies, instead.

Suey Park and the Twitter Activist Revolution

The first part of this article explains the gist of the recent #CancelColbert hashtag that trended on Twitter in response to the show’s racism-cloaked-as-satire tweet, thanks to online media champion and activist organizer Suey Park.

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Suey Park

Months ago, Park started the #NotYourAsianSidekick hashtag, which trended and led to a huge social media following and a growing online activist coalition, of sorts.

Following Park’s work for a few months has changed the way I thought about online activism.

I now see that comparing it with other types of activism is becoming irrelevant. Online social media activism can be a powerful force to be reckoned with, standing completely on its own. Online work shapes conversations and awareness, and changing the conversation is an influential political act.

I’ve watched Park’s work and the work of those who have supported her become incredibly successful at bringing people to the table to talk about issues they may not have felt they could talk about otherwise.

My favorite statement about the unique role unconventional media platforms play in engagement came from the always on-point site Black Girl Dangerous. BGD creator Mia McKenzie’s site tweeted:

Black Girl Dangerous offers a poignant reframing of media makers who work outside of mainstream platforms, which includes Park and the hashtag activism work she’s done. People who publish without connection to mainstream media are so often talked and thought about as “fringe commentators” or as people who don’t have a more heavily funded platform and, therefore, have to publish unconventionally.

Because of the work of Suey Park, Black Girl Dangerous, and so many other online activists, I’m seeing the less “mainstream” work of people who self-publish and utilize social media as reaching and empowering the audiences whose voices need to be heard most vitally.

Twitter activists are engaging people directly, stepping around the barriers to reaching audiences that mainstream media outlets inherently have and lessening the distinction between those who publish and those who receive information. It’s more than an alternative; it’s a powerful platform all its own when intelligent, hard-working people use it strategically.

And let’s be real: the New Yorker, the Washington Post, and tons of other major outlets have been publishing articles about Park’s activism. New media methods are reaching mainstream audiences. We should all be paying attention.

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How Effective is Online Political Engagement?

The following is a response to my classmate Anna’s post, which asks whether the Internet is actually changing the discourse around democracy. I think about this question a ton, so I’m glad to see someone else stuck on it. She asks:

“Do social media sites and other new media technologies hold a significant amount of political relevance?”

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I mostly think “yes,” but there is a definite limit to what can be done online.

The social media world has inarguably become an important tool for consciousness-raising and educating with regards to politics and policy.

However, thanks to the Internet, I know about horrible things that are happening right now in the Ukraine and in Venezuela. I know the Reader’s Digest version of several human rights offenses happening globally, but I know of no way to directly have an effect on those outcomes apart from sharing articles and videos with people I know online. (Nor do I know for sure if anyone from the U.S. should be getting directly involved.) I share in the hopes that the more people that know, the more likely it will be that international leaders may take some sort of action. That’s not enough, but it’s all I know how to do with the platform I have.

But I also know of human rights offenses in the United States. I am aware of systematic and racial injustices within the prison system, of lack of support for military veterans, of poverty and hunger, of immigration issues, of gun violence, and of a whole host of other problems within the country I inhabit. I have no excuse of distance or of ignorance in confronting these problems head-on, and I also share article after article via social media about these issues. That’s not enough, either. And this time I can get directly involved, but I often don’t.

Here lies the problem of “armchair activism“/”slacktivism,” and I’ll be the first to admit that I am truly guilty of it. The Internet has led to some really crucial discussions about politics, culture, justice, etc., and part of the struggle to change anything lies within these conversations. People need to know what is going on in order to care about it, but they also need to engage IRL.

Calling representatives, voting, protesting, face-to-face discussion, volunteering, finding community behind a cause, even sharing your own personal experiences—that’s where political action and policy change have the most potential. It’s less comfortable, more difficult, and contingent on time, resources, and other privileges.

It’s also totally necessary.