The current level of social disquiet in America is curious. Often, something doesn’t feel quite right. Both sides of the political spectrum reference a diverse array of culprits, some accurate and some less so. A key social change never mentioned is the effect of selfie activism.
Those of a certain vintage can recall a different definition of activism compared against what we see today. There was a time when the call for change or redress itself was center stage. The thing that mattered in other words was the cause. Few if any personalities or permutations entered the mix.
Today while watching a national network’s live feed from Baltimore, as the household name reporter spoke on camera, the activists behind him transitioned from a weird in unison hand-clapping evolution to chants. As the chants grew louder, it was as though each activist struggled to attract attention to him or herself. A guy with a sign took to beating it with a stick to make noise. Another performed what may have been a dance. Hand gestures from still another. Someone else ducked into it all to take a selfie.
Much of the same has been on display throughout the Baltimore situation. The night of the riots, stolen cars were driven through burning piles of rubbish. On the sidelines, cell phones were hoisted high and videos made to herald the event. Drivers of those stolen cars, after destroying someone else’s ride, were celebrated by the crowd.
On those occasions when a reporter was able to ask these activists what they wanted, the answers were really non-answers. “Why did you steal someone’s Acura, crash it, and cheer as flames engulfed their car?” the question might have been. The six-second soundbite responses – things like “we want justice”, “stop mass incarceration”, or “black lives matter” – were uninformative.
That they were uninformative speaks volumes about the condition of social activism in America today. If 50 years ago someone asked Martin Luther King Jr why he endured imprisonment, his response would have been thoughtful, coherent, and definitive. (If there is any doubt about this, his writings are readily available and do cover this topic). Contrast with some of what activists have told America this past week.
“We want justice”. Oxymoronic when stated by people who have used the injustices of theft, arson, vandalism, and assault to seek justice. Besides, who doesn’t want justice? Is it honestly believable to pretend that a secret cabal of the powerful plots behind the scenes to deny justice to some? (For the commentor that says “yes, it is believable”, explain how this can be the case when Baltimore’s last Republican mayor, Theodore Mckeldin, left office in 1967 leaving Democrats in charge for nearly half a century).
“Stop mass incarceration”. What does that even mean? That arrests should be made on a quota basis (sounds like racial profiling) beyond which police look the other way when they respond to a 911 call? Do we really think communities would be well served if a squad car rolls up to a crime scene and the police inside say “well, if the assault had happened two days ago we could have made the arrest but we’re over quota right now…take our card and call us next month and maybe we can squeeze the arrest in then”. And, is there a number figure that delineates when the number of arrests over any given time period become “mass” in nature? If so, what is it?
“Black lives matter”. The presumption is that only the activists shouting this slogan are enlightened enough to think so. To accept that narrative requires one to believe that everyone else disagrees with both the legitimacy and value of black lives. More importantly, it avoids questions regarding the impact of progressive policies on urban black communities.
People like Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby may try and divert attention by claiming the Iran Contra scandal (what Mosby refers to as Iran Contraband) created Baltimore’s woes. Facts are facts. Baltimore represents 48 years of uninhibited Democrats in action. Karl Rove isn’t hiding out in the basement at City Hall. These would be the same “black lives matter” Democrats committed to abortion on demand policies that thus far have ended more than forty-million, largely African American, pregnancies; only two percent of which were connected with rape, incest, or a medical hazard to the mother’s own life. Black lives matter though, right progressives?
The slogans created by activists are by design shrill and uninformative. They are employed to do one thing — convey as much shock and snark in as little mental space as is possible. Rhetorical molotovs in other words.
In the selfie age, it’s necessary then that each cause grow and become ever more inflamed and frantic. It’s important be frantic, in near panic and rage. It’s why marchers in Baltimore Friday night display signs and flags representing everything from LGBTQ+ rights to neo-Marxism to something called political accountability. Tweets go out to stir up the turn out. Images from the march will be tied to slogans derived from grievances — some long-standing and some brand new creations — and used to sustain the idea of activism itself.
And to sustain uninformed and aimless activists who routinely put their cause on the back burner so that their image and slogan can become what goes viral and renders them famous for a brief moment in time. Go to any leading social media site. Find their images and commentary. Full of frantic rage and devoid of thought. (That’s what the rage part is designed to do by the way, silence the discussion so thought never enters the equation).
In the age of selfie activism it’s personal recognition, even if via infamy, that really matters. When Baltimore is considered in this context — and not in trying to understand connections between rioters and a desired social outcome — recent events there make sense.
Those who took to Baltimore’s streets and burned over forty buildings (and over one-hundred cars) didn’t do so in hopes they could change their city and country in any way. They did it to get on TV, and to post to social media. They got their hashtag posted so their job is done.
Until the next ism or victim comes around and it starts back up again.
Image: Screen Shot: Fox News via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjUaAUhyPwk