How #BlackLivesMatter Turned Suzanne Into an Online Advocate
As online activists, we sometimes end up speaking to an echo chamber of our own Facebook friends. Which is alright, but not terribly effective and useful in really changing things. And that’s why part of our job is empowering people around us to also become activists and advocates themselves.
Today I caught up with a personal friend of mine, Suzanne, to talk about her first big step into advocacy and what that meant for her. Suzanne is an elementary school speech pathologist and she recently penned her first Facebook post in which she openly shared her feelings about racism in America. She’s proof that people everywhere do care about injustice and stopping the cycle of violence and oppression, but that stepping into online advocacy can be so daunting that it stops them from speaking out. If you’ve ever felt nervous about sharing your views on politics or society publicly (and hey, who hasn’t?), read on for Suzanne’s experience. Maybe her story will help empower you or someone you know to act, too.
K: Suzanne, would you consider yourself an “activist”?
S: I think of an activist as someone whose opinions are firmly rooted and who actively engages in conversations and pursuits to change the social climate. I’m still figuring a lot of things out, so no, I would not consider myself an activist.
K: That’s interesting. I think most of us are still figuring things out, it’s hard to be well-informed on every topic. But it definitely takes people like you who are willing to listen and learn to make any kind of chance. So thank you!
S: I’m absolutely willing to listen, learn, and share. You’re welcome!
K: You and I are personal friends and I was delighted to get a snapchat announcing you’d become a Facebook advocate! Can you tell me about your decision to take a step into online political discussion? What convinced you it was time?
S: Of course! I think it all started with our group of friends in our old town who were socially aware and eager to participate in conversations that are often deemed “hard.” Just hanging out with friends who were willing to talk about social issues got me to realize that these conversations don’t have to be avoided like I was taught growing up. Just talking with people and getting their perception of complicated issues has helped me to see all the different sides and start to form opinions on issues that I may have avoided in the past. Then you posted a few videos on your Facebook, and the one by Amiyrah Martin really got to me. She urges people to “say something” and asks what people are waiting for. I guess I just decided that I could say something and that it was more important to say something imperfect now than to wait for the perfect words to come to me later, so I posted.
K: And what did your post actually say?
S: I edited this several times before I posted it along with Amiyrah Martin’s video:
“It is impossible to understand what is currently going on and what has been going on in our country for too long. Murder, racism, and then the denial that either of these things exist. I don’t know what I can do, but this is me saying something. I’m saying something for my black students who are precious as 1st and 2nd graders but will grow up to be black men that could be considered “threatening” based solely on their appearance. I’m confused, angry, and at a loss for words, but I’m hoping that as I begin to put words to my thoughts and feelings a path for action will become clearer. Sending comfort to everyone grieving and hoping that through collective conversation and peaceful actions we can begin to move our world in a more loving, accepting, and peaceful direction.#saysomething#altonsterling#philandocastile#blacklivesmatter”
K: So great! Why haven’t you considered yourself an online advocate before now? What things did you fear?
S: I am an excellent “sharer” but I haven’t added my own words before now. I guess I’ve always worried that what I said would come off as polarizing or preachy, so I’ve just let the articles that I share (often from your page!) speak for themselves.
K: What has the response from this experience been from your friends and family?
S: I was pleased that no one started a Facebook argument with me! But really, my post was not confrontational, so I’m not surprised it didn’t inspire any mean comments. The response was positive- I got a few loves and a few likes. I think posting something was most powerful for me because it was like me taking a step into this world of advocacy where I felt like I didn’t necessarily belong before now because my mind is not made up about a lot of issues. But posting my own words gave me my own personal green light to start conversations with friends and my parents about how they were feeling about recent events. I also have interacted with several police officers recently because I had to get fingerprinted for work, and I tried talking with them about all the violence to get their perspective and just to see how they were doing.
K: What do you think your online activism will look like going forward?
S: I would like to continue to add my own words to articles that I share. It’s helpful for me to add my own words because it allows me process how I feel and it’s also empowering. I tend to give a lot of power to other people who write articles and share their ideas because they must be smarter than me and know more about all of these complicated issues, but in reality, I know that’s not necessarily the case. My words and opinions have value even if they just give me the courage to have tough conversations with people that I wouldn’t have had in the past. Amiyrah Martin’s video urges people to “say something,” so that’s what I am going to continue to do.