Movements, Revolutions and The Promise of Egalitarianism
Chained inside dingy cargo cells with little room to spare, a large number of African prisoners of war were carried in ships as they sailed to Portuguese colonies across rough seas. Stepping on Portuguese soil with no knowledge of the land they had arrived in, the prisoners were forcibly shoved around, unaware of what was to be their plight in the foreign territory. In 1512, the Portuguese established the transatlantic slave trade, providing a model that was soon followed by several other European settlements. By 1619, nearly 100 years after the transatlantic slave trade was established in European colonies, the immoral livelihood made its way into the American continent, beginning centuries worth of forced labour, torture, and oppression.
Despite the normalcy placed on the trade, a handful of people disagreed with the business while several of those trapped in the unethical industry made attempts to fight for their freedom. However, it was only in 1816 when plans were drafted, and voices raised to abolish slavery. Through several movements that eventually converged into the Abolitionist Movement, the inhumane industry was put to a stop liberating slaves in 1863.
As abolitionists enjoyed the fruits of their labour, it became evident that to eradicate mistreatment while enjoying the same rights as those of the privileged, rallying through movements was an effective way to achieve these goals. The post-Abolitionist Movement thus saw several supporters work towards the first phase of the women’s movement popularly known as the Women’s Suffrage Movement.
While the fight for women’s suffrage did not run for centuries, it was nevertheless, a lengthy and arduous battle. However, through the use of print media, conventions, rallies, and several women’s associations, the Women’s Suffrage Movement accomplished their task of giving women the right to vote. New Zealand’s women, in 1893, were the first to receive the right to vote during a time when women across the globe struggled to achieve the same feat. In 2011, Saudi Arabia became the world’s most recent country to give its women suffrage.
The women’s movement did not stop with the Women’s Suffrage Movement. Women and men alike, continue fighting for equality across various spheres of life while also drawing attention to pressing issues such as domestic violence and marital rape. Witnessing the accomplishment that came with achieving the right to vote, rallies grew more robust, and feminists came very close to passing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the United States Constitution. While they did not succeed, the outcome of the movement saw many women earning regular incomes that they saved under their names, and more women put their foot down at both their homes and work-places. Today, many women are occupying positions of power, improving legislation and practices such that issues faced by women are better addressed, while others continue to rally fiercely for equal rights.
As democratic ideas and notions of a people’s governance grew across the world, the concept of a movement continued to evolve into its modern-day form. The idea was that people of every kind could influence change by coming together, no matter the means or difficulty. As seen with the American Civil War and the French Revolution, violence and conflict were looked upon as a part of the process of change, but not for long.
Locally, Indians began their long struggle for Independence through a violent revolt against British rule in 1857. However, it was the non-violent movement held by Mahatma Gandhi and several other leaders that finally won the country its freedom in 1947. The demonstrations led by Gandhi brought to light the power of non-violence in fighting for change while stating the significance of union amongst people fighting for a common cause. It changed the face of rebellions by causing those confronting injustice to focus on the message they wanted to deliver, promoting peaceful civil disobedience over the use of violence. It, thus, does not come as a surprise that Martin Luther King, leader of the Civil Rights Movement, took inspiration from Gandhi’s broader principles when he rallied to end racial discrimination and bring upon the concept of equal rights for all races.
Although the Abolitionist Movement legally freed slaves from their owners, many of them were still subject to severe mistreatment and racial discrimination. As a result, in 1954, thousands of people fought against legal racial discrimination, racial segregation, and disenfranchisement through the Civil Rights Movement. Taking inspiration from Gandhi, this movement was mostly non-violent as several protestors silently disobeyed laws that did not garner equal rights for all. Consequently, by 1964, the struggle culminated with the formation of the Civil Rights Act. This act ended discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin, and took down segregation in public places. Today, movements like Black Lives Matter continue to address incidences of unfair treatment towards the black community across the world.
On 25th May 2020, George Floyd, a man accused of having used a false cheque, was brutally murdered after being pinned to the ground by an investigating officer who knelt on his neck. Being just one of many instances of police brutality over the years, droves of people from varying backgrounds came out to protest en-masse. Solidarity with the movement rained in from across the world, primarily through social media. At the same time, demonstrations across the United States called for a major restructuring of the police and the anti-glorification of racist historical figures. At any given instant today, significant movements across the world are fighting for justice and change with the vision of a greater society as a whole. People have sought out a change in areas of race, caste, religion, and more recently, sexuality and gender identity as seen with the LGBTQ+ community.
While it is clear that movements have been powerful contributors to liberation and justice, these paths that drive change have evolved through time. From being poorly organised and limited to a region or population to becoming a unified force against injustice, movements have shaped the world to what it is today. Movements that were solely organised by adults are a thing of the past. Through the progression of time, the world has seen a shift in the response of youth as more youngsters fight for what they believe in while being leaders for social reform.
Carrying the Baton of Change in the Crib
Gone were the days when children stayed behind closed doors, breathing what their textbooks taught them. The last couple of decades have seen a rising shift in youth involvement with more youngsters standing up for issues they believe in. Through the evolution of mass media, the youth are quick to take a stand, rallying for social change by taking matters into their own hands.
At the early age of 11, an adolescent at the Swat Valley of Pakistan took it upon herself to blog about the threats she received from the Taliban for wanting to go to school. Three years later, on a bus ride back from school, a masked gunman boarded the bus demanding who the outspoken blogger was. The afternoon of 9th October 2012 shocked the world as the young girl—Malala Yousafzai—was shot by the gunman because of her rebellious stance against the Taliban’s ruling on female education. Despite this atrocious incident, Yousafzai recovered and continues to rally for girl’s education across the globe.
On the afternoon of 14th February 2018, terror struck the walls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida as a deadly school shooting left families mourning for their loved ones on Valentine’s Day. A massacre that killed 17 members of the school left students gutted and furious. With the dire need to reform existing laws, five students from the school took it upon themselves to rally for stricter laws on gun regulation while being vocal advocates for the same through online campaigns and media appearances.
On 20th August 2018, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg skipped school and carried a large sign to protest outside the Swedish parliament. Through her actions, she hoped to raise alarm amongst lawmakers regarding the environment as, during the time, Sweden witnessed heatwaves and forest fires after 262 years. Holding up her sign ‘School Strike for Climate Change’ while sitting outside the parliament brought attention to the problem of climate change around the world, beginning an international movement of students skipping school to rally against climate change and its impact.
The above stances taken by young teenagers and several others raise questions on how and why youth involvement in social movements has evolved. Besides seeing an improvement in the wider spread of information through developments in technology, the young have a few plausible causes for their motivations towards participating in movements.
The youth have every reason to worry about the environment they are being raised in and it’s future. From crashing economies to changing weather patterns, the younger generation is the most impacted because of their futures having to cope with such situations. While the older generations exit the job market, stay at home, and live off their savings, the youth are left to pick up the pieces of what is left behind while attempting to build something off of it. It thus should not come as a surprise that there has been an increase in youth involvement and any idea of a decrease in such activity is rather unlikely. With the youth and the dynamicity of their thinking process, their early involvement sees new ideas and methods making their way into solutions, and moreover, a population that is more accepting to change as they grow older.
Through their history books and the web, the youth, are aware of the impact they can create when they raise concerns through a united front. They know of the power that comes with standing up for themselves and that the only way to bring about change is to take charge of the situation. Today’s generation thus sees it best fit to rally with the century’s most widely used tool—social media.
Hashtags and Retweets—The Modern Disseminators of Revolutions
Over the last two decades, social media has grown to connect a sizable number of the world’s population, with people coming from a diverse range of socio-economic divisions. Information travels much farther and faster and as a result, has helped create an atmosphere where people are better exposed and more equipped to take part in movements. Another benefit of this virtual platform is that protestors have been able to plan and organise movements in a simpler fashion while spreading information beyond the physical constraints of their protest. With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping people largely indoors, information about George Floyd’s death and India’s own cases of police brutality were largely spread by social media. Video footage and personal accounts uploaded by civilians at the scene of these events went viral, drawing attention from across the world, and inspiring people to fight for the cause.
Social media has helped demonstrators in organising their protests, place, time, and objectives on the go, while also addressing the risks of the pandemic and authoritative crackdowns. Unlike the television or newspapers where the circulation of news is dependent on the prevalence of a few agencies and their reporters, social media has helped even the average person report incidents to a larger audience. On the internet, the many divisions that separate mankind become less apparent, and communication across boundaries flourish. Everybody has the equal right to receive and disseminate information as they please, which in many ways is the closest to an egalitarian society that we have seen so far.
While social media and the internet as a whole have made movements incredibly dynamic, it also has its vulnerabilities. The ease of information flow is a double-edged sword with the possibility of participants falling victim to false, misleading, or inflammatory information that impedes the progress of movements. Validating information that has traveled far from its source is inherently a difficult task while suppressing dubious information can be perceived as undemocratic. Those who receive information primarily through social media are also often vulnerable to selective reporting, where issues of concern are given unequal attention because of their varying sensational value. The significance of a major issue may fail to be noted simply because of disproportionate attention, in part thanks to greater sensations lent to other issues. Additionally, users of large following and popularity tend to have a great effect on other users, a magnitude of influence that might not be shared by their degree of responsibility and ability to inform without biases.
Aggravating the issue, the absolute control of social media and the internet lies predominantly in the hands of a few corporates and government regulators. This makes social media vulnerable to manipulation, not just on individual levels, but also on a systematic level, where even all-out internet closures are possible at the behest of a government.
The youth’s progressive ideas and use of mediums such as social media have revolutionised the way movements have been conducted. Yet this dynamicity of the youth also makes them easily impressionable. The ease of social media stands threatened by false information and its oligopolistic control. Without checks and solutions to overcome these problems, movements may be resisted, or worse, receive eyewash attention.
This is where internal change comes in. Every movement needs activism for it helps us draw attention to an issue, its nitty-gritties, and even the biases that we harbour within ourselves. Without effective activism, societal perceptions cannot change and the pressure needed to address an issue may never be adequate. However, activism without action is just as inadequate. Changes cannot simply be willed into power and thus behind every successful movement, there are people working within the systems that they are trying to change. They come in the form of legislators, administrators, scientists, and an assortment of other workers that help restructure institutions as their part in turning the ideals of a movement into actuality. While the information that we get through activism may never be fully reliable, it has the power to inspire us to take action and learn about the realities of our immediate surroundings.
Featured Image Credits: poynter.org