“When you are fighting for social justice, one of my biggest pet peeves is speaking out of ignorance” – Eva Longoria
I have spend a life-time as an activist and an advocate for social justice. In that time I have also worked, maintained a career, raised a family and accomplished all of this with a life-long disability. I am one of many baby-boomer polio survivors. Next to the WW2 veterans, the polio survivors were probably the largest disabled group to integrate back into the community.
What makes this extraordinary is that it occurred spontaneously driven solely by an ingrained sense of social justice held by so many that had fought in the wars for democracy. The policies and regulations that promoted inclusion didn’t really start until the activists of the 70’s and 80’s pushed for them. Prior to 1972, the same year the Alberta government finally repealed their Draconian Sexual Sterilization Act, those who didn’t assimilate faced a life time of institutionalization. The activism generated by the anti-Vietnam war movements changed all of that.
So to many of my generation, this isn’t ancient history, it is personal experiences. It wasn’t until I read a fascinating set of articles by Arti Patel and Maham Abedi focused on Generation Z that I really took a hard look at the changing faces of activism. The days of the activists like Robin Cavendish are now history and we have a new tool box that many of my generation don’t understand but are second nature to Gen Z members. Activists of times gone by now have to assume the mantle of mentors for the committed of today.
I did see this coming but ignored it. Twenty years ago, in 1998 actually, Global New Vancouver introduced a new news function, instant feedback to news stories through e-mails. The beginnings of a community based social media program and the same time Generation Z kids were entering kindergarten. These seemingly innocuous events would have a ripple effect that is being felt today.
The immediacy of electronic response to subject matter allowed media providers to tailor the news based on public outcry. Public outcry acted as an alerted to the media and gave them a focus. This focus generated viewers (numbers) and the higher the numbers the better the advertising revenue. Advertising revenues is what drives media so the more vocal the community the more we hear about certain themes. This worked well for the world of news but played poorly for those who were fighting for social justice.
This type of public influence appealed to a certain demographic while excluding the most marginalized individuals or groups, those most in need of social justice, those lacking the financial ability to keep up with the technology needed to counter this influence. Millennials had that access and used it, in part, because of a pathological but misguided belief that baby-boomers had left them a crappy world. They used this vehicle of influence to dominate the type of news coverage a community was exposed to. There idea of activism had little to do with social justice but more to do with undoing the perceived wrongs of the previous generation.
This has opened the door for an American President who thrives on tearing down traditional institutions and any news outlets that speak out against him. For the first time in my memory America has a President who is measured by the amount of “falsehoods” (polite term for lies) he spews. According to a May 1, 2018 Washington Post article their fact checkers have tracked 3001 false or misleading statements made by this President.
Enter the Generation Z who are much more prepared to fact check before expounding “fake news“. This is a generation that was weaned on technology. They have never known anything different but have had a life time to come to grips with the pros and cons of social media. They have a bigger interest in activism, in part, because of the impact of their grandparents doing primary care-giver duty while their parents (two-income Millenials) were off keeping up with consumerism. The other seed of interest is that so many of the tragedies of the past twenty years (from Columbine to Lakeland County) have had a direct impact on that generation.
There are now organized groups whose sole purpose is to perpetuate “fake news” to encourage the American President’s false narrative subjugating the media. We see and accept too many fake news stories because we fail to verify but what we see we initially belief. Facebook is full of this and much of it is orchestrated to help create a self-fulfilling prophesy of an artificial President. This is obviously a false story and easily verified but few people want to verify these days. However, having grown up with it, verification has become almost second nature to the members of Generation Z.
They know the importance and have taken up the mantle of renewed activism. They understand the simplicity of a Snopes check. The members of Generation Z do not take social media for granted. As I mentioned earlier, they have grown up with it and understand how easily it can be used to manipulate. As a baby-boomer I grew up believing if it was to good to be true it probably wasn’t, a simple lesson that seems to have been lost on many.
The best I can do these days as an activist is to act as a positive mentor to the new generation of social justice warriors. I can also plead with members of my own generation to please verify before accepting or sharing something on Facebook. Your enthusiasm for sensationalism just amplifies the American President’s false narrative regarding fake news like pablum to a new born. Let’s not spoon feed the unenlightened.
Next the shrinking centrist and the silence of the moderate fringe of the right and left ideologies…