Foodie, Dog Lover, California Girl, Activist.
Feminist, Lover of YA Novels, Women’s Rights Activist, Guitar Player.
17 years old, Child-Safety Activist, Music obsessed, Competitive Tennis Player.
Instagram bios or profile descriptions like the ones above are not an uncommon sighting on social media today. When I come across these short self-identifiers, I find myself wondering, what does being an activist really mean and what makes someone identify as one? In the age of technology and social media dominance, the term has evolved in the last decade to encompass everyone who actively supports a movement, even if that support is shown solely online. But does a ‘like,’ ‘share,’ or ‘status update’ really equate to activism?
There is an undeniable power that social media has in sharing information and spreading awareness. Without these information outlets, the trending movements like #bringbackourgirls, a movement supporting the return of Nigerian women kidnapped in 2014 by Boko Haram terrorists; #standwithPP, a trending hashtag in opposition to the government’s bill to defund Planned Parenthood; and #blacklivesmatter, a movement vocalizing equal societal treatment for black citizens, would have ultimately not been able to gain as much momentum as they have. These, and so many other trending movements, prove that social media is indeed helping us to become a more educated global community.
That being said, a ‘like’ or a ‘share’ will not necessarily produce a solution to a problem; activism outside of the internet sphere, however, will. This is why I often ask myself the question: are my activist efforts enough for me?
I consider myself a women’s rights activist and have voiced my passion for issues I care about via social media and school clubs, though sometimes, it still doesn’t feel like enough. I am not fully satisfied simply discussing the issues that affect women globally.
Last summer I decided to find an opportunity in my community that would allow me to be more active in my activism. When I began working for Mayor Garcetti in Los Angeles City Hall, I was quickly blown away by how the Gender Equity department not only discussed the issues targeting women in Los Angeles, but worked toward creating a solution ensuring fair treatment of all genders in City Hall with Executive Directive No. 11. This is a statement approved by Mayor Garcetti explaining that he will ensure gender equality in all aspects of the work place at city hall by appointing a gender equity liaison for each department/office and creating the Gender Equity Coalition, comprised of these equity liaisons. By doing so, issues that are specific to women and female minorities (transgender women, women living with HIV/AIDS, undocumented women, etc.) can be easily reported and addressed accordingly. I also had the privilege of sitting in on meetings with women who work in professional fields dominated by men, such as the fire department, and listened as they addressed the specific challenges they face: the difficult physical demands, their inability to target women for recruitment, etc. I was shocked as I listened to two experienced female firefighters describe the seventy pounds of equipment they have to carry on their bodies, while already physically challenging themselves by crawling through small spaces in extreme temperatures or quickly running up stairs that are crumbling beneath them. These strenuous tasks, they said, are feats that some women think only strong men are capable of, and that thought within itself seems to turn many qualified women away from stepping up to the challenge.
With this information, we were able to incorporate initiatives in this executive directive to help create gender equity in city operations by upholding “an inclusive work environment that promotes fairness” and tracking “recruitment in fields where women remain underrepresented.”
In doing so, I felt a sense of greater satisfaction and gratification because I wasn’t just talking, texting, or tweeting, but was instead helping draft policy and brainstorm solutions.
Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that social media activism is important. And if you find that you are only able to circulate information via social media, it is an excellent way to spread awareness about important societal issues; you can still claim an activist title. After all, as Robert Noyce once said, “knowledge shared is power multiplied.”
But if you find that you want to take your activism further, even dedicating an hour of time to canvassing, making phone calls, sealing envelopes, mentoring someone, or fundraising may help you to own that activist title even more. For me, this was the next step that I had to take in order to continue feeling comfortable calling myself an activist. When you are ready and able to step out of the virtual sphere to the real one, there are infinite ways to break the barrier between sharing and doing, and if you need help finding some, ironically, the internet is a great place to start: DoSomething.org, offthesidelines.org, bigsunday.org, operationgratitude.com, peta.org. There are endless opportunities to make your activism more active as soon as you step away from the screen and into the world.