When I wake up to a flurry of texts in my The Gavel Opinions section’s group chat, I never really know what to expect. The last time this happened, one of our members had sent a link to an article detailing SCOTUS’s plan to overturn Roe v. Wade. This time around, I found myself in a more harrowing reality, one where the link that was sent in the chat was the confirmation that the landmark case had been overturned. Immediately after a mild panic and the sinking feeling in my stomach settled in, I moved to Instagram and was immediately bombarded with infographics, statements, opinions, and the typical posts that tend to flood my timeline whenever a particularly pressing issue blows up in the media. It’s common for my generation to find social media a welcoming place to express their thoughts and opinions, especially in the wake of such terrifying events, and it is almost expected that one should be vocal whenever something monumental occurs. Don’t get me wrong—there is nothing wrong with using a social media platform to spread information and express one’s thoughts; I’ve seen plenty of helpful tidbits on my own feed and have had others express gratitude regarding posts I made explaining a couple of issues that can otherwise be hard to digest. However, the issue arises when people feel satisfied with their activist behavior after reposting a decently detailed infographic before patting themselves on the back and doing nothing more to protest the problem at hand.
I acknowledge that it is terrifying to live through a time where it feels like the clock is rapidly turning backwards and our freedoms are under attack. I understand that it feels like our ability to shape our future is slipping away and there is nothing to do but beg others to pay attention and care about what is unfolding before us. But at the same time, it begs the question: how much are you really doing when your activism begins and ends on Instagram? How much change is that story post facilitating in the grand scheme of things? I encourage everyone to ask themselves how much of what they post on social media is genuinely for the purpose of educating others, and how much of it is just fulfilling a social pressure to show followers they’re "woke" and up to date. An Instagram story post is not magically changing the reality of our situation. It is not influencing senators, it is not protesting these changes, and it is not funding access to reproductive care for those majorly under attack. At best, it is informing someone in your close circle of the breaking news, and maybe encouraging some engagement, but if this is where your activist journey begins and ends, then you are part of the problem.
If you follow me on social media, you know that I am a big fan of using my platform to express my opinions. I believe that it allows me to reach some people that I would not otherwise be having conversations with. The use of social media in general as a means of bringing awareness to an issue is not the problem itself. It is only engaging in half-hearted, inauthentic media activism that brings the movement down. No one can call themselves part of the movement if they are not forcing uncomfortable conversations, directing energy at active participation, and consistently educating themselves. Social media is an additional tool; it is not the primary vehicle of change in most instances.
I have a couple more qualms with the popular reactions to breaking news such as this one. As someone who lives in Seattle, Washington and attends school in Boston, Massachusetts, I am thankful to know that my right to reproductive freedom will continue to be protected. With this in mind, I acknowledge that regardless of how painful and horrifying this decision may be, I am not at the center of the damage this overturning will cause. I understand that my outrage should be directed towards supporting the lower class, survivors of sexual assault, BIPOC, immigrants, and other exploited and consistently underprivileged communities that continue to bear the brunt of these decisions. Those individuals that live in communities with trigger laws already in place, notoriously pro-life politicians in charge, and limited monetary resources should be the focus of our activism. It is harmful to draw the attention of the repercussions away from the communities being most drastically affected. This is not to invalidate anyone’s feelings, but to urge everyone to understand that location, socioeconomic status, race, and gender all influence the way each person’s rights are impacted at the hands of this overturning. Remember that even in times of fear, privilege still exists.
My final request is to urge you to stay away from referring to reproductive rights as a “woman’s issue.” Restricting access to reproductive care targets anyone with a uterus, not just cisgender women. Using female-specific language in the context of abortion rights can be alienating for populations of non-binary individuals and transgender men. It is imperative that we do not consider this a female-only problem, especially in the context of the gender spectrum. Be conscious of the words you are choosing and acknowledge that there are others in this country that require access to this form of healthcare, yet may not fit the dominant template of what it looks like to be a person capable of pregnancy. All individuals deserve support, protection, and advocacy regardless of their gender.
The difficulty of living through a time where our freedoms are under attack does not excuse anyone from being cognizant of their language and actions. Activism is a conscious choice, and taking to social media once every time a new issue blows up simply does not cut it. If your decision to be involved in pushing back against repressive choices is exclusionary and temporary, then that is no show of activism. Ask yourself how much you really want to make a change—of course, only if you care more than to simply satisfy the social pressures of activism.
Hopefully you have felt a call to action now. If you have the means to, here are some places where you can donate to reproductive healthcare access.
Planned Parenthood: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/get-involved/other-ways-give
National Network of Abortion Funds: https://donate.abortionfunds.org/give/323375/#!/donation/checkout
Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda: https://blackrj.networkforgood.com/