Talk of the Quad: #activism
The day of the Women’s March, I received a record number of likes on an Instagram post. As I scrolled through my feed on that day, I saw iterations of the same picture over and over. Each featured a crowd of women, many of who were wearing pink hats and holding signs denouncing Trump and his beliefs in one way or another. Each photo also had a substantial number of likes. As I scrolled through the photos of the Women’s March, double-tapping with wild abandon and delighting over the accolades pouring in on my own post, I had a thought: how many people marched “for the ’gram?” Was I one of them?
Although I loved the attention from my Instagram post, and I did put great care into choosing the most aesthetically appealing photo, I know that I did not march for the ’gram. I marched because of fear and concern and love and because it was my civic duty. The problem is this: when I posted to Instagram, was I reducing my action, and the action of others, to a photo op? How should I feel about the fact that instead of posting a photo focusing on the movement as a whole, I made a post focused on why I, as an individual, was in attendance?
The march was flawed in that it excluded many groups: the focus on vaginas excluded trans women, tickets to D.C. and other locations were expensive, those who had to work or take care of family were not able to participate and the March was not accommodating to those with disabilities. Because it was a crowd filled with middle-class white women, law enforcement was respectful and we were not perceived as a threat. The privilege that allowed the Women’s March to be so successful and so momentous is the same privilege that limited it from being an all-inclusive march. I see the Women’s March as a place of privilege, a place of self-aggrandizement but equally so as a place of empowerment, unity, hope and the conception of a movement that needs to continue. The March was for an umbrella of issues. It was a way to say “We’re here! Listen to us!”
Marches and petitions and action in the future need to be more focused and more specific, but for the first day of the new administration, I think that the Women’s March, although flawed in many ways, was what it needed to be.
Instagram activism is flawed in a similar way. By avoiding controversy as much as possible, marchers and Instagrammers alike were able to receive support and generate positive attention. However, by not addressing the flaws of the March, was I complicit in the exclusion of key groups? Was I reinforcing the exclusionary feminism that I so deeply aim to avoid? And what is the effect of widespread social media coverage of political events? Does seeing Instagrams of protests teach people that they can have a part in the government and in making change, or does it teach them that they can look cute holding a sign? Just as the Trump memes desensitized us from the threat of his actions, do well-framed photos from protests desensitize us from the immediacy of the cause? Is liking an Instagram post enough? Is making an Instagram post enough? Is showing up enough? Probably not. It is a right to march but a privilege to feel safe while doing so. It is a right to have free speech but a privilege to have overwhelmingly positive responses. To not use those privileges would be unfair—I just hope I am using them in a productive way.
Nina Alvarado-Silverman is a member of the Class of 2019.