Bandwagon Activism

Technology has transformed our ability to respond to an injustice. Arguments can be made about how technology has enhanced our responses, but let’s examine what makes a response.

Contributing Author: Fatima M. Smith, MSW – YWCA Director of Community Outreach & Public Education / R-HART Coordinator

Social media has allowed millions to identify and connect over an issue via hashtags. This makes what may seem to be just “one person’s issue”, every one’s issue overnight. That instant connection to something, particularly a wrong doing, feeds into the desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. While connecting we are building awareness and a platform to signify, “we care,” “this will not be tolerated, and provide support to those who have been negatively impacted. Now that we have captured the attention of the masses about an issue what now? When does awareness meet action to create change?

hashtag-27371_640Those who partake in social media campaigns are often noted as “bandwagon activists” or “slacktivists” because their outcries for justice generally fall short of tangible sustainable change. Participating in social media activism does allow us to reflect that we care about an issue and lets us pause to applaud that fact. However, to truly make an impact but we need to do more than care, Let’s create change!

Let us all be reminded of the emotions the following hashtags induced:

#WhyIStayed

#CarryThatWeight

#WhyIStayed was prompted by insensitive and ignorant responses to the release of the video footage of Ray and Janay (Palmer) Rice. Public speaker and social activist Beverly Gooden took to Twitter to put a face to the complex range of answers possible when asked “Why do women stay in abusive relationships?” For individuals who experience abuse in their relationships, this answer varies. It is important to note that in all situations, the abuser makes leaving the relationship difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible.

#WhyIStayed trended quickly on Twitter in September 2014. Now that we’ve reached January 2015, the outrage, discontent and oure passion expressed on social media through #WhyIStayed surrounding the issue of domestic violence is less prevalent. A brief fad in solidarity toward eradicating domestic violence was ultimately not a sustainable solution to truly make a difference in creating awareness for the complex emotions a survivor faces when trying to leave.

#CarryThatWeight was created after a Columbia University Student, Emma Sulkowicz, who was raped by a fellow Columbia University student. The University mishandled the case, so Sulkowicz decided to demonstrate that being sexually assaulted is a burden she must carry every day. To demonstrate the “weight” she carried each day, Sulkowicz carried the mattress on which she was raped around campus. Many other individuals then vowed to carry the weight of sexual assault because they understood that this issue is not a one-victim crime, but rather one that affects the community. Where was this solidarity during the UVA rape case that Rolling Stone brought to the attention of millions?  Some readers were quick to discredit “Jackie’s” gang rape story when Rolling Stone misreported the details, but their editor’s comments did not change the fact that an assault had occurred.

While I praise social media for its ability to serve as a catalyst, I challenge participants to seek out ways to take action for the causes they support. The first step in doing this is having a conversation. I am hopeful that after 2014, America will continue to discuss domestic violence and sexual assault as community problems, and explore ways to prevent and eliminate violence.

An equally important second step is to “be the change.” For those who support healthy relationships and communities without violence, consider volunteering with like-minded purpose driven agencies. Volunteer opportunities to create change around issues like domestic and sexual violence can include direct service with survivors, legislative and government advocacy, community outreach, and philanthropic contributions

It is no longer acceptable to throw a hashtag on something and consider it as problem solved. These issues are far too complex for a hashtag, but with intentional discussion, organizing, planning, and leg work we can address these issues.

What change will you affect? Don’t just tweet about, be about it.

‎To find out ways to get involved with the YWCA of Richmond, we invite you to continue to explore our website. Volunteer opportunities are detailed on www.ywcarichmond.org/volunteer, and we offer suggestions for local and national resources to share if you or a loved one are experiencing violence.


Fatima-Smith-YWCAFatima M. Smith is the Director of Community Outreach & Public Education / Regional Hospital Accompaniment Response Team (R-HART) Coordinator at the YWCA of Richmond.  She is a graduate of George Mason University where she received a Bachelor of Science in Administration of Justice and went on to receive her Master of Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she currently teaches a “Violence Against Women” course.