Updated: Aug 5
In this two-part blog series looking at ongoing protests, we examine how students have a vital part to play in a new form of online activism.
The words 'student' and 'protest' are commonly portrayed as synonymous in the media; for as long as schools and universities have been establishments in modern states, students have often been some of the most vocal advocates for change around the world. In the past, student action has brought about historic upheaval and have led to landmark events: Tiananmen Square (1989), Kent State University (1970) and May '68 (1968) are all famous examples of student protests from recent history.
Turning our attention to the present day, what will the next historic student protests be? Through online activism using social media, we investigate the 'Never Again' and 'Me Too' movements.
'Never Again' Movement
In the aftermath of the horrific shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, student survivors created a social media campaign to remember the victims - some as young as 14 years old - using the hashtag #NeverAgain. The students advocated for stricter background checks on potential firearms buyers in light of reports that the gunman, Nikolas Cruz, had been reported to the police on several occasions. Under stricter checks, he would never been able to acquire the semi-automatic rifle which he used to murder 17 innocent students and teachers.
In the days that followed the shooting, members of 'Never Again' gave television interviews and raised their profile on social media. Looking to increase the scope of their campaign, they planned the 'March For Our Lives', a national demonstration for stricter gun control laws including universal background checks on all gun sales, raising the age restriction on purchasing firearms to 21, banning the sale of high capacity magazines and closing the 'gun show loophole'.
With an estimated turn-out of around 1.2 million people, the protest was one of the largest in American history. Alongside promoting their proposed policy changes, the movement targeted young voters and encouraged them to sign up to vote in the 2018 mid-term elections, with the aim of undermining National Rifle Association, a pro-gun lobbyist in the US, backed candidates. Increasing youth turn-out by an unprecedented 47%, a record 46 pro-NRA candidates lost their seats in the mid-terms, signalling to the world that gun-control is firmly on the American political agenda.
'Me Too' Movement
One of the most pressing social issues today is that of gender inequality and sexual assault. Formed in 2006 and driven by a network of sexual violence survivors, the 'MeToo' Movement aims to support and help victims of sexual assault while finding solutions to interrupt sexual violence in communities.
With the hashtag #MeToo, the movement has captured national attention and many famous female celebrities such as Alyssa Milano, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd have joined the campaign by sharing their survivor stories, raising the profile and popularity of the movement.
At universities in the UK, students have taken the ambition of the 'Me Too' movement to challenge the 'lad culture' which is prevalent on campuses up and down the country. Surveys have found that close to two-thirds of students have been victims of sexual violence, but more alarmingly, very few of these cases are reported to the police or the university.
Using the #MeToo hashtag as a springboard, students at Kent University have launched their "We've Had Enough" campaign, bringing together survivors in solidarity against sexual assault on campus. Likewise, following the recent University of Warwick scandal, Warwick students have created their own hashtag #ShameOnYouWarwick to put pressure on the university to punish the perpetrators involved. As one of the marchers present at the student protest, there was truly a sense of outrage from the hundreds of demonstrators about how the university reduced two of the perpetrator's bans, potentially condoning their unacceptable behaviour.
While not directly affiliated with the 'Me Too' movement, these two examples show us how #MeToo has raised the profile of sexual violence in public discourse and created a precedent for students to do the same at their universities.
Young people today are in an incredible position to enact real change using social media and online platforms, quickly mobilising to gain support for their campaigns. In the modern, globalised world, this new form of online activism has the capability to bring about radical social change by galvanising young people from their smartphone screens. So, what are you waiting for? Get onto social media and make your mark!
Blog Post Crafted by Oscar
Oscar studies Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at the University of Warwick.
When he's not studying or tutoring GCSE Maths and Science, Oscar plays saxophone and co-ordinates the Small Band division of the University of Warwick Big Band.