Social activism during the age of #BlackLivesMatter

BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The Pinellas County Urban League Young Professionals (PCULVP) held a panel discussion Jan. 19 at the St. Petersburg College Midtown campus, centering on the theme of social activism in the age of #BlackLivesMatter. The evening explored the differences between social media versus “boots on the ground.”

The panel included Corey Givens, Jr., second vice president of the NAACP; Ashley Green, community/political/union organizer; Zachariah Wade, Stetson Law student; Jabaar Edmond, indie filmmaker and cofounder of 909flims and Dennis Lemmermann, spoken word artist and program assistant, Community Tampa Bay.

A network of young professionals, the PCULYP strives to provide leadership development, economic empowerment and community volunteer opportunities for other young professionals.

A key aspect of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement was strategy, explained Marvin Dasher, civic engagement chairman for PCULYP, who acted as the moderator. Behind every sit-in, behind every demonstration was a strategy, generally to have the news media at the time catching some “overzealous sheriff” locking up dozens of African Americans simply for trying to eat a sandwich.

“One of the ways that we are able to be active especially today—something that was missing in the 1960s—was social media,” Dasher said. “Facebook, Twitter, cell phones.”

Addressing the question of how effective social media is these days in the social justice movement, Green said, “I think social media has been a really tremendous pathway for a lot of people to come into a sense of consciousness about the reality in the world around them.”

That’s not so say that they couldn’t have come into this consciousness without social media, she explained, but social media can coalesce around certain ideas in ways that are more accessible than what you’re going to get in the classroom. She noted that there were 186,000 tweets that went out about Ferguson before the first national news media “hit the ground.” It was truly a manifestation of the people, she went on, and not just the people in Ferguson, Mo., but the people around the world to make Ferguson a reality for better or for worse.

“The first people to reach out to folks in Ferguson were Palestinians who that summer had been bombed on the Gaza Strip, reaching out to the folks on Facebook and Twitter saying ‘this is how you get teargas out of your eyes…,’” said Green.

Green pointed out that a lot of time what is missing is the ability for people to speak in the real world to each other about ideas. That kind of conversation in the real world really allows for a level of humanity that you don’t get when you’re talking to each other behind the computer screen or cell phone.

“I think social media is definitely the tool that cannot be replaced,” Edmond posited. “But people do take the information out of context.”

Givens, Jr. noted that social media is crucial for people to know what’s going in the community. “There’s a lot of people in this room right now that I did not know prior to coming to this meeting, but I’ve networked, I’ve downloaded with them online, on Facebook, on Twitter, and because of that I feel like I have a piece of their mind, I know what’s going on in their head, I have a little insight about who they are.”

He echoed the sentiment that social media can be a tool can be useful or it can get people in trouble due to the amount of misinformation “being posted Facebook” and the “lies being told on Twitter.” But he was quick to note that it is invaluable these days in reaching a number of people for positive things like jobs and community gatherings.

“What a lot of folks don’t want to admit to is that we are that next generation,” he proclaimed. “We are the millennials. We are the age of social media. And it’s our generation that’s really going to be the catalyst for change, that’s really going to catapult us into that next era.”

Lemmermann noted that there is a difference between being merely active and visible on social media sites and assuming an active role in the community by getting out there and interacting with people, be it for something personal like show promotion or something with a larger scope, like social justice.

Wade put forth that social media sites like Instagram and Facebook can gauge direct action that allows people to follow movements like Black Lives Matter, but it can also “create” people who mistake merely logging onto social media sites as being truly socially active.

“There are Facebook activists who share everything,” he said, “but don’t actually do anything.”

Green described social media as a tool in a larger strategy of change, but cautioned people against using it as an “end all, be all.”

“You’re never going to get a real result out of that,” she said.

Concerning the question of inclusion and promoting unity among African Americans of different genders, socio-economic backgrounds, etc., Green said when we talk about the idea of “living in the margins” and talk about ourselves as people individually, somebody will say that you’re trying to divide the community.

“And yet,” she added, “most women in the room and a lot of men would sort of recognize that our historical figures in the Civil Rights Movement are male, and yet a lot of the work was done by females.”

She explained we’re in a movement that is very much led by black women, including a group of lesbian women, but to talk about themselves within the movement and to talk about their own experience is to talk against the black community, by a lot of people’s definition.

“It’s difficult when you feel as if you’re doing work,” Green said, “and yet there’s not a space for you to actually be seen in the fruits of that labor. And eventually what it does is tear apart the work. It tears apart the movement.”

People in the black community need to be willing to have conversations about their differences, adding that she hopes that dialogues and meetings like the evening’s discussion become even “less of a panel thing” and more of a collective conversation.

Edmond echoed Green’s sentiment adding that many groups and organizations have gender specific roles in place such as women being secretaries and men being figure heads.

“In my mind the only way we can ever get over that is to have a bunch of tough conversations,” he said, adding that the way people dress or their lifestyle also plays a part in which roles they will be accepted into in certain organizations.

Edmond feels that the difference between the movements now and the movements in the 1950s and 1960s is that they were highly organized.

“They understood organizational structure,” he said. “They knew what their jobs were and they knew it broke down to boots on the ground. Martin was not at every rally. He wasn’t at every meeting.”

Dasher closed out by saying that Dr. Whitney M. Young, a forefather of the Urban League organization, said that the movement needed researcher, lawyers and all other professional positions as well as people on the street.

“That makes an organization, Dasher said. We can’t all be out in front.”

To reach Frank Drouzas, email fdrouzas@theweeklychallenger.com

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