David Neff examines the phenomenon of hashtag activism and an inherent issue with it among lazy liberals.
Since the mainstream cultural revolutions of the 1960s, the largest threat to constructive policy change has been complacency among liberals. These milquetoast individuals have enjoyed the benefits of (usually) being white, while getting smug satisfaction from choosing a cause for a week, voicing their deep-seated concern, and then moving to the next topic as soon as they lose interest. They furrow their brows, purse their lips, and cluck with disapproval; lamenting how the country would be much improved, if only The Right was as informed and erudite.
Meaningful debate should never be discounted. Without oration, protest, and petitioning of representatives, societal change would be even more stagnant. However, simply airing one’s views on social media rarely leads to a tangible effect. Too often, change is only enacted after an issue has a direct impact on a large portion of society. Thankfully, campaigns like Black Lives Matter and Love Wins have gained real traction; evolving from a hashtag movement into an ever-increasingly organized call for justice. Unless so-called progressives are willing to head to the proverbial streets, there is little impetus for our elected officials to enact new policy.
Unfortunately, many of the issues that were being debated and upturned in the ’60s are still major talking points among modern activists. The folk singer Phil Ochs penned a song called “Love Me, I’m a Liberal,” a scathing indictment of moderate Democrats who were, at face value, open-minded, but who in reality, had little concern with being part of the change they claimed to support. Before performing his song in concert, he said,
“In every political community there are varying shades of political opinion. One of the shadiest of these is the liberals. An outspoken group on many subjects. Ten degrees to the left of center in good times. Ten degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally. Here, then, is a lesson in safe logic.” (Phil Ochs in Concert, 1966)
The actual song was no-less forgiving of fair-weather revolutionaries, who only supported causes that had very little personal sacrifice.
I vote for the Democratic Party
They want the U.N. to be strong
I attend all the Pete Seeger concerts
He sure gets me singing those songs
And I’ll send all the money you ask for
But don’t ask me to come on along
So love me, love me,
Love me, I’m a liberal
—“Love Me, I’m a Liberal” Ochs, Phil)
Ochs was part of a group that desired a total paradigm shift in the nation regarding race, sex, gender, and the increasing power of wealthy, capitalist elites. He, along with Mary Travers, Pete Seeger, and Buffy Sainte-Marie, was at the forefront of cultural change. Not only did they sing protest songs, but they organized rallies, bringing attention to the issues that affected their peers on a daily basis. For their actions, they were blacklisted by the U.S. government.
It is far too easy for middle- and upper-class Americans to donate $100 a year to NPR and feel good about their contribution to society. Our radical forebears in the ’60s understood that to impart real change, people had to also voice their concerns through protest and public outcry. Their actions were covered by the media, leading to a culture shock for much of the country. Even moderates and conservatives paid attention to the happenings, because they had a palpable fear that revolution could bring established mores crashing around them. The progress of these civil rights leaders made it possible for modern conversations to take place.
Modern radical movements face a different sort of opposition. Not only are groups like Black Lives Matter treated with contempt by neo-con racists, but they are viewed with amusement by the sinister neo-liberals, who have become increasingly entangled with the lobbyists they used to decry. This is an abject failure of a government which is bloated with corrupt politicians who no longer feel the need to follow the will of their constituents.
If social progress is truly the will of the people, the representatives who create public policy and law must fear for their job security. Until they are petitioned by voters and forced to confront the inevitability of change, they will continue to take bribes and handouts from the Super PACs and corporations that have more of a say in government than the individuals.
Those who desire to see their friends, neighbors, lovers, and family members treated with the same respect as the entitled few have an imperative to make their views known. Attend racial equality marches, go to rallies, Gay Pride parades, volunteer, petition local congress people, donate to charities, and express the need for change.
Or you could just hashtag your thoughts and call it a day.