By Elle Gennis
If you take a look at some of the most significant and influential movements of the past century — from the Women’s Sufferage movement of the 1920s to the anti-war movement of the 1960s to today’s Black Lives Matter movement — it is interesting to note that young college and high school students were often the leaders behind the protests and activism. Young people have always been at the forefront of political and social activism. We have strong opinions and powerful enthusiasm and a drive that has not yet been warped by the somewhat legitimate realities of the system and the bureaucracy. We see something we think is wrong and we want to make a change. Young people have always made a voice for themselves and advocated for what they believed in. Today, our platform to speak our minds and incite change is more widespread and all-encompassing than ever before because of social media. One of the most prominent examples of activism on social media is the #MeToo movement which raised awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood as well as in other industries and contexts. In a recent study conducted by Pew Research Center, it was found that roughly one half of Americans have participated in civic activism on social media. There is no question that when it comes to expressing an opinion and seeking change through protests and social media posts, young people are both highly equipped and eager to do so, so why is there such a disconnect when it comes to voting?
In recent years, so many young students have participated in or even organized protests all over the world with regard to climate change, gun violence, women’s rights, and police brutality. It is evident that these students are passionate, informed, and ready for change, but why do they continue to not go out to the polls and vote the change they seek into action? Although there are many benefits of this generation’s use of social media, one relatively negative result is our need for instant gratification. By posting an article or message on Instagram or walking out in a protest, many young people are able to get the instant gratification they seek. This has to do with the more deep-rooted issue that our activism often is more of a way to make ourselves feel better about the situation than actually a way of trying to change or fix it. By posting on social media or participating in a protest, we feel like we’ve done something to help and the weight is automatically lifted from our shoulders. Voting needs to be involved in our process of self-validation and instant gratification. Young people need to understand that the fight is not won after an Instagram story is posted, the next step needs to be voting, otherwise, no change will ever go into effect. Voting should feel just as important and satisfying as activism on social media.
Anderson, Monica, et al. “1. Public Attitudes toward Political Engagement on Social Media.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, 11 July 2018, www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/07/11/public-attitudes-toward-political-engagement-on-social-media/.