How Activism Changed The World (With Examples)

Activism today is more widespread than ever. Considering the paradigm shifts in our social climate, how did activism change the world in an interconnected world that strives for greater accountability and change?

Activism is not all bark and no bite, bringing changes to address social issues that have caused hurt and harm to various groups across all spheres. A simple example of 2020 Black Lives Matter Movement caused changes in education system to teach youth about history and equality.

Let’s take a look at some prominent examples of activism that have proved to be successful.

  1. Historically, activism through protests has also been deemed successful as seen in the 19th century Suffragette movement that also made legislative impacts that allowed women the right to vote in the United States. 
  2. The 2020 Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement championed racial equality and raised awareness of the discrimination and inequality faced by African-Americans in the United States.

In view of the murder of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor, the BLM Movement was a stand for justice.

  • The BLM Movement has proven to be successful, especially in places like Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, and Philadelphia where “defund the police” made headlines and budgets were shifted away from policing and instead, into areas like housing and school.
  • Through large-scale protests, many Americans showed their desire for action to address the unequal treatment and oppression faced by African-Americans not just on the individual level, but on the legislative level as well. 

Moreover, in Welsh schools, black history lessons have been made mandatory from this year onwards (2022) which would educate youth on equality and understanding why activist movements such as the BLM movement need to be brought up and addressed on the macro level.

What is the purpose of activism and what has led to its rise in recent years?

Activism raises awareness of key societal issues, championing causes most typically seen through protests, demonstrations, social media, etc. When we acknowledge the purpose of activism,

  • “all bark” suggests that it seems threatening and promises a lot of change whereas
  • “no bite” means no tangible change is effected and no progress is seen in the situations at hand. 

The above examples further reinforce the influence and impact activism can have -

  • being able to effect tangible changes in the world that affect all spheres,
  • from encouraging to speak up for justice, to organizations being held accountable for their appropriation of black culture; and
  • even on governmental levels where policies implemented would significantly reduce instances of innocent murders by police.

While admittedly, there is some kernel of truth to the above argument, to say that activism is always effective in bringing about change is too sweeping of a statement as it fails to consider the factors that may render activism ineffective.

Factors such as the way a cause is championed, gaps between institutionalized intentions and grassroots education, as well as a country’s own receptivity all affect the successes of activism in effective change.

Hence, considering the shifts in methods of activism, it can be conceded that activism today is for the most part all bark and no bite.  Today, greater social media usage is a double-edged sword.

Even though social media is a faster and more efficient way to raise awareness, it can also give rise to ‘clicktivism’ or token activism where proclaimed activists showed their support through mere reposting of posts or stories, liking posts, and tweets all without actually knowing what or how to show true support.

Bringing back the well-known aforementioned example of the BLM movement, #BlackoutTuesday was dubbed “an online symbol for non-activists” by an Australian journal, ‘The Conversation.

  • Though originally gestures of solidarity with protests against police killings, #BlackoutTuesdays drowned out vital information related to demonstrations, financial donations, and documentation of racial violence by police.
  • These black squares, through a sign of activism, when done without thought can do more harm than good.

As I scrolled through my own Instagram page, it is sad to see that many of these creators, celebrities, and even the average Joe posted these black squares for a few hours and then continued on with their lives.  Single, one-time gestures are proof that activism may be slowly and surely evolving into “all bark and no bite” where no real and lasting change can be made. 

On an organizational level, many companies are seen to change their logos or brand designs during the month of June - pride month. Often including rainbows to show solidarity or releasing rainbow-themed merchandise and products.

A Harvard Business Review “Your rainbow logo doesn’t make you an ally” called out ‘rainbow capitalism’, a term coined to describe how LGBTQ+ symbolism is being wielded by companies to heighten consumerism without leading to meaningful improvements for the LGBTQ+ communities.

A month-long donation or one month of selling ‘pride’ products does not affect lasting change. For icons like Marsha P. Davis and Sylvia Rivera, queer, trans people of color who put pride on the radar in the ‘60s and ‘70s, would be priced out of the very corporate merchandise created as a gesture of solitude of the community. This is especially noteworthy because such performative activism leverages the community to push corporate merchandise without actually showing that they truly care and stand in support of these groups.

Furthermore, the gap in institutional and grassroots education has resulted in activism being more bark than bite today. We all know about ‘cancel-culture’ and boycotting companies due to a rise in the need for accountability leading to social change.

These types of activism aim to de-platform companies, creators, and celebrities so that they are forced to take accountability for their actions. However, when individuals are not fully aware of the harm done by certain companies but are quick to jump on bandwagons, claiming that these companies or individuals should be punished, it leads to innocent lives being affected.

The #MeToo movement involving Amber Heard and Johnny Depp was recently uncovered during a 6-week-long trial that was broadcasted on the news. At the start, many were quick to defend Amber because she was a female, but in 2021, it was confirmed that Depp was also a victim of domestic abuse. Yet, Depp had suffered greatly, losing movie roles and brand deals while Heard seemed to escape unscathed. Their case highlights how our championing of the #MeToo movement has become more bark than the bite because the same standards are not upheld for all. 

Overall, activism today does still fulfill its function of effecting change across all spheres. But to say that activism can always result in lasting and adequate change is too absolute. Do you think that activism is all bark and no bite or would you choose activism as your go-to way of championing a cause?

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Author: Janelle D.
Janelle enjoys writing out opinions and debating on any global social issues that interest her and appreciate any good piece of writing on championing causes.
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