With the election of President-elect Donald Trump, the ongoing conflict over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the plethora of other social issues occurring, many young people are feeling frustrated about how to create change in this country. Social media posts and online petitions are some of the most prevalent ways our generation is trying to make our voices heard, and while these methods can be useful, they are mostly ineffective at bringing about real change. Social media is a great platform for spreading awareness, but awareness alone will rarely ever solve a problem. Crucial issues require a lot more time and effort to make change happen. The problem with social media activism is that it often makes people feel as if they’ve done something substantial to help, when in reality they’ve done very little.
Most politicians do not pay much attention to social media protests. Signing an online petition may feel a little more significant for making your voice heard, but this does very little to actually persuade anyone in power.
Politicians pay attention when a large group of people sacrifices their time, energy and money for an issue. Pro-gun lobbyists—led by the National Rifle Association—have successfully lobbied for pro-gun legislation for decades. They may not reflect the majority of Americans who favor stricter gun laws, but they are a fiercely politically active and well-funded group––and therefore, an influential one.
That is the level of organization and commitment that is required to make major changes in the government. Ultimately, our government is biased toward the status quo; unless they are pushed into doing something, they’re unlikely to do it.
Many young people today are highly aware of social and political issues plaguing society, but have a hard time getting their voices heard in government. One of the reasons for this is that American citizens aged 18-34 vote at much lower rates than other age groups, with Americans aged 65 and older voting at higher rates than all other age groups, according to the United States Census Bureau.
Voting is a civic duty and privilege that contributes to a well-functioning democracy—yet, many of us fail to do this simple task. More than half of the 112 anti-Trump protesters arrested in Portland failed to vote or to even register to vote, according to USA Today. Politicians must ultimately answer to their voters; if they feel that a specific group mostly isn’t going to vote, then they don’t have to answer to the group’s wishes.
Voting is just one component of enacting social change. Historically, large-scale change has come from grassroots movements of people and not from the government. These movements require a clear purpose, organizational strength and strong political involvement.
It’s critical that our generation focuses less on social media and more on active involvement for the issues they care about. This involves calling your representatives at the state and federal level and getting more involved in local politics. Furthermore, volunteering for organizations that fight for issues is also another way to actively fight for change.
It may be easy to feel as if your singular act of volunteering, donating or calling a representative may not matter, but that mentality is what keeps real progress from occurring. If everyone who wants to bring about change puts in time and effort that can’t be done on a computer, nationwide change can occur.