On Thursday 14th of March, Issey and I attended a banner making event for the Youth Strike for Climate Justice organised by some students at King’s. We took part in making banners and placards to hold at the protest, and also interviewed attendees in how social media has played a part in their involvement.
For most of the people we talked to, this was their first time engaging in climate activism at university. They had either come across the event on social media or had deliberately sought out events happening that they could attend. It seemed that social media was essential in popularising the event, particularly on Facebook. Several responses involved reflections on how social media has been a very effective tool in informing them about political actions and protests which has encouraged them to take action themselves, including the recent wave of youth strikes around climate justice.
There also seemed to be a general doubt in the authenticity of online climate activism. Some respondents questioned whether people were involved because they genuinely cared about the issue or just wanted to look like they care without taking real action. However, others said that online activists who share their concerns and actions on platforms such as Instagram are key in not only informing them about climate change but also inspiring them to get involved in similar movements. Therefore, perhaps “performative wokeness” can in itself be an important mobilising tool, as it popularises the idea that activism is something we should all be engaged in.
These issues raise interesting questions over the authenticity and usefulness of social media; is it a genuine organisational tool that can mobilise meaningful action and the transformative change necessary to deal with climate change, or an opportunity for people to appear to be involved in trending public concerns without having to engage in “real world” activism that brings about change? Are movements built solely on social media doomed to burn out as the population moves on to the next trending topic?
Clearly the bridge between social media activism and material, transformative political change needs to be gapped. From attending the climate strike in Parliament Square today, it seems that the youth have used social media effectively to enact this. Social media has been a crucial tool in popularising the protest, and the movement seems to be building every day.