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Social Media Activism: What It Means to Take Positive Action

IMG_0660I opened my Facebook page five minutes ago and already I wish I hadn’t. I love catching up with my friends here in Taos that I don’t get to see as much as I would like, and checking in with my siblings (none of us live in the same time zones). But lately I feel overwhelmed by requests to show support for causes that range from child slavery to mental health issues to local volunteer firefighters. It only costs me the click of a button, the flick of a finger, to “like” or “share” these posts, which feel a little like Tindr for activism – swipe right, swipe left. Voila! I have supported a cause in a fraction of a second. I spend marginally more time brushing my teeth in the morning or tying my shoes.

It isn’t that those things – child sex trafficking, world hunger, supporting your community – aren’t important. They are, hugely so. In fact, my life in social media would be dramatically easier if the issues were less important, if the stakes were lower. “Share if you like crossword puzzles” is something I can get behind. “Re-tweet if you agree that everyone in the country should get a Caribbean vacation” – on it! But if what we are assessing through these “likes” and “shares” is people’s actual will to action on behalf of the causes they like and share about, then I feel like somewhere we’ve crossed a line or missed the mark.

My point is that we shouldn’t confuse these actions with activism. True change takes dramatically more time, energy, and just sheer unsexy and often unrecognized work than a Facebook share. If you care about something, share by all means. But then go the extra step: DO something. Send money. Give time. Give your expertise in whatever area you have it.

The power and potential of social media to support action is tremendous, such as this past summer when all of Facebook (it seemed) painted their profile pictures in rainbows and as a result our national monuments lit up with an array of colors to celebrate marriage equality. I am inspired by #IllRideWithYou, which arose after 2014’s hostage crisis in Sydney as people volunteered to walk in solidarity with those who feared they might be targeted. The Facebook page “Israel Loves Palestine” posts pictures and messages from Israelis and Palestinians who, despite the problems between their countries, hold signs that say “We refuse to be enemies.” The #BlackLivesMatter movement is changing the national conversation on race and within minutes of the news of the horrific attacks in Paris, people on both sides of the Atlantic offered strangers sanctuary by tweeting under #PorteOuverte (literally translated as “door open”). Occurrences like this give me hope, make me tear up, make me excited for what is possible.

As I write this, the Little Ripples team is in the Darfuri refugee camps in eastern Chad to continue our work of change and empowerment. Gabriel and Sara-Christine with two other team members will be conducting teacher training on social-emotional learning, mindfulness, peaceful conflict resolution, basic health, and early childhood literacy in math and language. I can tell you from experience that this is a tall order in any classroom, but the iAct program team is actively making positive change in one of the harshest areas inhabited by humans. The team will also be working to expand our in-home preschool model by opening several Ponds, building opportunity and hope with a population whose experience of conflict, violence, and trauma is beyond what most of us reading this can truly understand.

Tools like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram help all of us connect, to share ideas, to spread information. When social media helps us pull together and take action in the face of atrocity, that is a powerful force for deep, meaningful change in the world. It’s when social media fools us (or lets us more easily fool ourselves) into thinking that we are taking action that I find it dangerous. So, yes, “like” us on Facebook and share with your friends and family. Spread the word – but please don’t stop there.


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Elizabeth LeBlanc

Elizabeth Shuler LeBlanc is thrilled to be working with the i-ACT team as an Expert Teacher Adviser. Elizabeth graduated from Wake Forest University in 1998 with a BA in English Literature; she is currently pursuing a Masters of Education at NMSU with a focus on Educational Learning Technologies. Her love of travel and concern for vulnerable populations began during a college backpacking trip in Guilin, China. Elizabeth teaches Language Arts to students in grades 5-12 at Taos Academy Charter School where she also serves as Curriculum & Data Coordinator. Working with i-ACT brings together her passion for innovative design, early childhood literacy, global education and Emotional Intelligence/Six Seconds training. Elizabeth lives, works, plays and moms in the beautiful rivers and mountains of Taos, New Mexico.

 

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