Apparent Separation or Concise Teamwork: Traditional vs. Social Media Activism

The roots of strong and apparent activism can be traced back to Martin Luther King Jr. in his quest for civil rights in the United States. Using a traditional form of activism–marching–Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most pivotal leaders in putting an end to legal segregation.

But is contemporary activism as successful as traditional activism once was? Traditional activism is still prominent today, but a new form of activism known as social media activism or, “slacktivism,” has taken a leading role on the activist stage. “Slacktivism” has taken large amounts of flack for its methods, since all it relies on is the click of a button to count as making a difference, and it does not include the physical act of protest or gathering.

Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, an instructor at the University of Colorado at Boulder as well as a published writer, poet, and editor, knows firsthand how traditional and social media activism work, separately and together. McFadyen-Ketchum worked as an election observer in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, has been a part of numerous women’s rights movements, as well as being one of the key players and leaders in the recent Ferguson, Missouri marches.

McFadyen-Ketchum was drawn to the Ferguson marches due to the fact that they were organized by the NAACP, and he saw them as an opportunity to physically become involved, but he did not discover his role within the marches until he had arrived and became actively involved. “One thing was tweeting about it. I discovered that people wanted me to tweet because they wanted to know what’s going on,” McFadyen-Ketchum stated. This instance combined the traditional activist tool of marching, with a form of social media activism, tweeting to inform the public. But, McFadyen-Ketchum believes his biggest contribution to the movement was his physical presence, especially his race, being a standout as the minority race in a movement for the rights of colored people. “The more I went, the more I discovered that I was a ‘white ally.’ When you’re out there marching, you’re putting your body to work, and as a white person to do that in this [Ferguson] situation is dangerous.”

This sense of danger and sacrifice highlights just what Malcolm Gladwell, a journalist, best selling author, and writer for The New Yorker, highlights about the downfalls of social media activism in his article, “Small Change.” Gladwell states that, “Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice, but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice.”

Aida Chavez, a double major in journalism and political science at Arizona State University studying these concepts, firmly believes that social media activism has become an easier option to advance one’s interests than traditional activism. Chavez states,”One factor that contributes to social media activism being lazier and simpler is because the internet lacks the permanence and the physical mobility that traditional activism embodies. Another reason is because of how public and social norm driven social media is, the internet allows people to form a façade, a caricature of who they want to be. This façade allows people to join in on hashtags and trends to give the appearance of awareness, decency, and intelligence.”

McFadyen-Ketchum agrees with Gladwell’s statement to an extent, stating that, “If all you’re doing is getting on Facebook and Twitter and yacking, then nothing is happening. But if you’re out there doing things in your or somebody else’s community, then that seems pretty smart to me. I don’t know why you wouldn’t.” McFadyen-Ketchum feels compelled to physically partake in the causes he is passionate about, but not without utilizing the tools of social media activism.

This teamwork between traditional activism and social media activism is what Jillian C. York, a free-expression activist, journalist, and travel writer, says is success in her article, “The False Poles of Traditional and Digital Activism.” York states that, “Traditional activism is indeed enhanced by digital tools,” and McFadyen-Ketchum agrees that a clear separation of the two forms of activism would be pointless. He states that, “You have to use your body. Your words are valuable, but you don’t really know what you’re talking about, and you can only get so educated, unless you’re there. But why wouldn’t you use social media while you’re there?”

Aida Chavez agrees that the best way to utilize the tools of activism is to use a combination of traditional and social media. Chavez asserts that, “Social media cannot act on its own,” due to the fact that, “The internet is too ingrained in human life now, and it works as a wonderful tool, but physical sacrifice and organization on political and social levels is needed to create tangible results.”

Although social media activism has received some very negative comments, it can be used as an essential element when combined with traditional activism. Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum confidently states that, “You have to have both. I don’t feel comfortable preaching until I’m there.” And Aida Chavez says that she herself would utilize the two together, remarking that she, “would combine the two: spread awareness and motivate people on social media, use it as a form of communication between allies, then physically peacefully protest.”

The future of social media activism looks grim on its own, but when combined with traditional activism, real change can be made.

Day 1 of the Ferguson Marches: Courtesy of Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

Day 1 of the Ferguson Marches: Courtesy of Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

McFadyen-Ketchum in Tent City, Downtown Kiev during Ukraine's Orange Revolution

McFadyen-Ketchum in Tent City, Downtown Kiev during Ukraine’s Orange Revolution

To see a video from the NAACP’s Journey for Justice, click this link:

To see more of Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum’s journey as he travels to Baltimore, Maryland with the NAACP, follow him on twitter: @AndrewMKdotcom


Jesus Christ Breaks Gender Norms at CU

Jesus Christ Superstar, a controversial rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, took the Broadway stage in 1971. Detailing the events leading up to Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, the musical focuses on the emotional struggles of Jesus and his betrayer, Judas Iscariot, that are not detailed in the Bible.

The controversy of the show revolves around the fact that the musical created its own story and happenings about Jesus’final days, which sent many following Christianity into an uproar. But this mainstream controversy about the musical is not what made the University of Colorado at Boulder’s performance of it provocative.

The portrayal of Judas Iscariot is of the utmost importance, since Judas carries the show. It opens with a bold gospel number by the actor portraying Judas, and the show continues to center around the mental struggles Judas deals with when making the decision whether or not to betray Jesus to the government. Judas, usually played by a large man–dark, strong, menacing–was utterly flipped in CU Boulder’s performance of the show. Satya Chavez, a theatre student at CU Boulder, astounded the audience by taking the role of Judas in her own hands, as a woman. With Chavez’s incredible vocal range and obvious emotional attachment to the character, she single-handedly broke gender roles in the theatre.

The debate of gender roles in the theatre can be traced all the way back to Shakespeare, who, although he may have written female roles, wrote for all-male companies, banning women from performing in the theatre. Along with writing for all-male companies, Shakespeare failed to have even 50% of the lines in his shows go to the female-gendered characters; most of his plays had around 30-35% female lines. This trend of oppressing women on the stage continues to be a problem in the contemporary world. According to The Guardian, “Only 38% of the actors employed by the 10 (There’s something missing here: 10 top theatres? 10 main theatres in London? In the world?) theatres in 2011-12 women.”

Along with Satya Chavez contributing to surpassing the female statistic in theatre, her role as Judas versus Jesus shied away from the stereotype of women as submissive, or as an accoutrement to a show. Chavez clearly claimed her territory as the leading character in the show, which goes against the sociological theory of “woman as other.” This theory states that the woman as other is one in which,”‘The Other’ is one who fills what is lacking in the dominant being without the threat a person of equal stature would possess.”

Although Judas is the villain within this story, the essence of Chavez rendering the role of the villain is what makes this situation so unique. Revered as a holy story, Jesus Christ is commonly viewed as the hero, never shadowed by outside”others”, even with his violent death. This musical keeps Jesus himself as a holy creature and the characters remain in their intended standing, but adding a female to the male-dominant ideal of disciples changes the show in numerous ways.

CU Theatre made a bold decision with the casting of Satya Chavez as Judas, and it paid off. This trend of breaking gender roles in the theatre will hopefully continue. Kudos to CU Boulder for taking this risk.

A Societal Shift in ‘Greek’ Attitude

A sexual assault epidemic has come upon the college campus, and the focus of the problem has shifted to players in the Greek system: fraternities. From the suspension of Phi Kappa Psi and Sigma Chi at Brown University due to cases of sexual assault, to the ‘”rapebait” email from a member of Phi Kappa Tau at Georgia Tech, all the way to Sigma Alpha Epsilon having the slogan “sexual assault expected,” the evidence against fraternities in sexual assault cases is more than just a  coincidence.

The question of whether fraternities are the main cause of sexual assault on college campuses has been a targeted source of controversy in the recent boom in conversation about sexual assault. Justice Gaines, a junior and member of Brown University’s Task Force on Sexual Assault, stated in an article from the New York Times that, “While fraternities and Greek life can definitely play a role in the problem of sexual assault, it’s a mistake to focus on a few campus organizations at the expense of others,” since, “Some perpetrators are not part of Greek life.”

While they may not be the sole cause of increasing sexual assault on college campuses, many argue that fraternities create the environment that is conducive to sexual assault. Killian Womack, a freshman at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a brother in Phi Kappa Psi, has had first-hand experience with the environment fraternities create. “Parties that are less regulated usually have more liquor, meaning faster and higher rates of intoxication,” states Womack regarding the fraternity party environment. Could a solution to this dangerous environment be stricter regulations on parties? Womack states that regulations are already fairly strict on regulated parties, with required IFC party-walkthroughs, as well as on site EMTs.

With the environment of fraternity parties already being regulated, another possible cause of sexual assault in fraternities, is that the individuals themselves are being influenced by mass mindsets within the fraternities. A study by Foubert and Newberry showed that men who join a fraternity are three times more likely to commit rape than their non-affiliated peers. Womack states that this correlation could be due to the fact that in many cases, “Fraternties instill attitudes in their members that are hostile or negative, such as, arrogance, elitism, and racism.” Although it may be the individual committing the actual crime itself, from Womack’s personal experiences, he believes that, “The social institution of Greek life contributes to the rationalization of sexual assault.”

The greater reasoning behind sexual assault in fraternities could, in the end, be linked to the sociological culture of the fraternity. Peggy R. Sandy, a University of Pennsylvania sociologist who has done much of her work with rape in fraternities, stated in article by Newsweek that, “These so-called brotherhoods often have a “superior status” because they are older and more numerous than sororities, which rarely hold parties.” Killian Womack’s experience in being involved in the fraternal system supports this notion of a mindset of superiority. “The presence of money, as many fraternities and their members are wealthy, in addition to the inflamed sense of self-importance, causes many fraternity members to hold a mindset of ‘I can get away with whatever I want,'” states Womack.

This mindset is potentially the most explosive cause of sexual assault on college campuses, especially in fraternities. Many solutions to this issue have been proposed such as bans and restrictions, but from the inside, freshman Killian Womack believes that these restrictions are, “short-term fixes for a larger institutional problem that can only be resolved through a societal shift in attitude. This shift will come about through the spreading of alertness, as well as the replacement of arrogance and exclusivity with humility, diversity, and openness.”

The Comparable Trial of Palestinian Supported Terror

A breakthrough in the decade long battle to hold the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization liable for supporting six terrorist attacks in Israel occurring between 2002-2004, in which Americans were killed and injured, has just come to a verdict: guilty.  A New York jury ruled in favor of the United States and Israel,with the decision that the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization must pay $655 million in damages. The New York Times in their daily newspaper, The Wall Street Journal on their online site, and CBS New York on their radio broadcast, all reported on this story. Although occurring on different platforms, all three reports are strikingly similar, beginning with the hard facts, including statements from an Israeli and/or Palestinian source, and then ending by discussing the victims of these terrorist acts, the plaintiffs.

The New York Times, one of the most renowned sources for news, titles its article, written by Benjamin Weiser, a journalist, author, and Pulitzer Prize nominee, “Palestine Groups Are Found Liable At Terror Trial.” It quickly moves to all of the details associated with this trial, such as, the criminals who committed these acts of terror were mostly employees of the defense, and that this case was brought to court under the Antiterrorism Act, which, “allows American citizens who are victims of international terrorism to sue in the United States courts.” The New York Times also includes a peculiar statement from the Palestinian Authority stating that, “We tried to prevent violence from all sides.” But with objectivity, Weiser found within the testimony that the Palestinian Authority had paid salaries to, “terrorists imprisoned in Israel and had made martyr payments to the families of suicide bombers.” Ending with shocking testimonies from the plaintiffs, victims of these terrorist attacks, graphic descriptions such as a severed head laying next to one of the victims provide a jaw-dropping conclusion.

There is no obvious bias in the way the facts are reported in The New York Times newspaper, and although the facts are the same in The Wall Street Journal, there is a hint of a shift towards Palestinian commentary in their online article, “Jury Finds Palestinian Authority, PLO Liable for Terrorist Attacks in Israel a Decade Ago,” by Nicole Hong with contributions from Nicholas Casey, making somewhat of a varied argument. The article states the crucial facts such as the amount in damages, the Antiterrorism Act, and the affiliations of the terrorists. But regarding the topic of the $655 million in damages now owed, The Wall Street Journal brings up the financial crisis that Palestine is in, due to sanctions by Israel surrounding the Gaza Strip conflict. The possible United States bias is also brought up in the Wall Street Journal’s article when the Chairman of the PLO’s Department of International Affairs, Ghassan Shaka’a states that, “It is a politically biased verdict based on [America’s] bias and siding towards Israel.” Incorporating this statement into the article gives a better in-depth view of the issue, but it could be called into question whether the journalist’s who wrote the article have some support for Palestine. This article also includes the victims of the attacks, but without their gruesome accounts, as written in the New York Times. Instead, the Wall Street Journal’s article includes a statement about the trial itself saying that it was, “Emotional at times, especially during testimony from the victims and their families, when they vividly described the mental and physical injuries they sustained.”

The radio broadcast by CBS New York’s Alex Silverman titled, “NYC Jury Finds Palestinian Authorities Liable For Terror Attacks,” follows the same format as The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. This broadcast reports the facts, and includes testimony from an Israeli lawyer, as well as a brief statement from the defense, to which which no other comment was attached, most likely due to the interest of time. Alex Silverman reports than an Israeli lawyer said that in light of the verdict, the defense now understands that there is a price for supporting terrorist networks. A brief statement from the defense was also noted, stating that the terrorists attacked on their own. Comparable to the Wall Street Journal’s account of the victims, this CBS New York broadcast brought up one victim’s emotional account of the attacks while on the stand.

All three news sources did a thorough and accurate recounting of this trial. Surprisingly, even with three different platforms, all three stories complimented each other, and reported the same general facts, with unique spins to the story.

The Perpetual Deliberation of Truth and Free Speech in Journalism

In a media wrought with lies and sensationalist scandals, it’s not out of the question to state that public distrust of the media has increased. As a practice that produces knowledge, journalism’s utmost goal is to seek the truth, but how does one find absolute truth when the human element is involved? The answer itself is in that question. With varying degrees of human comprehension, the absolute truth is nothing but a fable, and acknowledging this, journalists must strive to achieve a practical form of truth.

Professor Mike McDevitt, a journalist and professor from the San Francisco Bay area, has had years of experience with this concept of truth in journalism, and states that, “Truth is indexed to human understanding, and human understanding is always flawed but hopefully progressing in various areas of knowledge.” With this optimistic outlook on the conflicts between the human element and the truth, it is hoped that the more knowledge gained, the greater the progression.

Unfortunately, it is rarely agreed upon that one has found the absolute truth, but professor, currently at CU Boulder, author, editor, and journalist Paul Voakes believes that this should not bar journalists from attempting to find the greatest possible degree of truth. Voakes states, “We’re not perfect, but that does not stop us from trying to be perfect. Truth is the ideal that we can never convince the world we are achieving, but that does not stop us from trying to achieve that ideal.”

The actual practice of journalism itself is also called into question when examining the goals of journalism. What defines, or does not, define one as being a journalist is constantly contemplated. “Journalism is a profession, despite what many media educators claim, and a journalist is someone committed to professional principles that guide the production and dissemination of knowledge in ways that facilitate democratic self-governance,” Professor McDevitt says on the concept of journalism as an occupation.

The arts and the practical sciences are rarely used as comparisons to one another, but when looking at the methods, there are striking similarities. Providing another view on journalism as an occupation, Professor Voakes acknowledges that, “Journalism is a practice, we verify statements, and this gets us closer to the truth. We can look at journalism as scientific method; we seek to verify hypotheses.”

Seeking the truth itself, though, can be a dangerous business. With laws that guide the United States, the degrees that truth can be revealed are often varying, especially with the conversation over the First Amendment, granting the people freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. The limits on free speech and freedom of the press are regularly debated, and Professor Voakes declares that, we as citizens have, “Given the job of limiting free speech to the court system, and judges are constantly in the business of interpreting what it means to have free speech and freedom of the press.”

The latest case revolving around the First Amendment has been that of Barrett Brown, a journalist and member of the activist group, Anonymous, who was sentenced to 63 months in prison for leaking confidential files from government contractor Stratfor. In his case, the Supreme Court decided that there was a limit on free speech and that Brown does not hold the title of journalist. Brown violated the privacy of others, and Professor Voakes contends that, “Everybody deserves a certain basic space for personal privacy, and when people invade that personal privacy, the courts of America have said that they can be punished.”

On the other hand, what may be considered free speech to the citizens and government of the United States, may not be considered free speech to those coming from different cultural backgrounds, and this is where the real struggle takes place. The United States has a relatively homogenous political culture, and the nation as a whole has basic understandings of free speech, but for those coming from different political and cultural backgrounds, there’s a whole new set of ideals and morals.

A perpetual deliberation on truth and free speech is presently in full swing, and this debate will not be shelved anytime in the near future.

Finding Refuge in Film: Shifting the Perspective

Immense tragedies leave many scarred and without closure, minds full of unending questions, and virtually no solutions. But beauty can come of tragedy, and that is exactly what filmmaker Tim McGrath has set out to do.

Survivor of the July 20th, 2012 Aurora, Colorado theater shooting, McGrath has created a screenplay called “Aurora,” with testimonies from many of the victims of the shooting. Upon hearing of the Sandy Hook shooting months later while in class at the University of Southern California, McGrath felt compelled to take action. Wanting to create a first-hand view of the horrific incident, McGrath stated, “With any event, I’d much rather hear the story from those who were there, than a reporter or a commentator guessing what it was like.” Working closely with the Aurora Strong Resilience Center, McGrath united with those willing to share their stories. “With this movie, I’m interested in the strength and inspiration that comes out of an unimaginable circumstance.  Humans can be wonderfully amazing creatures, and I wanted to show and share that,” he said.

Most commonly when tragedies like this occur, the focus is on the perpetrator; who they are, where they came from, what could have possibly compelled them to commit such a hateful act. By shifting the perspective of this film from the criminal to the victims, Tim says, “I find this much more interesting and informative than the current main focus on those who commit these awful acts.  In the film we see strength, resilience, inspiration, by watching those who lived through it.” Expanding the definition of victim, McGrath notes, “It’s also very important to understand that mass shootings affect a wide range of people, both those who were physically present and those who were not.”

Although the great weight of the film revolves around personal accounts of the July 20th shooting, there is a larger message behind the film: gun violence. With gun violence being a prominent source of catastrophe, “I wish it would stop,” is the simple statement McGrath had to say about gun violence in today’s society. Referencing an article by Tom Junod in Esquire, McGrath believes that, “There may be a more effective way to prevent it than what we are currently doing.”

Hatred and hostility have become much easier to act upon, when their effects on the other person are hidden, and that is one of the main issues regarding gun violence–anonymity. “Mass shootings by definition have an element of being anonymous.  Even if it gives someone pause in day to day circumstances.  People who hate in traffic, on the internet; anonymity can be a barrier to understanding and compassion,” Tim says.

Writing and producing “Aurora,” Tim is using art to make a statement about today’s society. “Art is ongoing.  At it’s best, art is reflective of the society in which it exists.  As society constantly changes, so does the art and interpretation of it,” he says. Using the film American Sniper as an example, McGrath believes that art is a way for people to decide on how they view certain topics, such as what it means to be a hero.

Prevention and help are goals of this film, and McGrath hopes that, “This movie can help one person find strength after any kind of tragedy or trauma, or prevent someone from doing something horrible to another human, once they see the effect of their actions.”

The power of art can be much greater than the power of a loaded gun, and with hopes that this movie will change the mindset of many, and give haven to others, McGrath is set up for success.

Tim McGrath, writer and producer of "Aurora."

Tim McGrath, writer and producer of “Aurora.”