This post was written by Sadie Yankello, Rhodes College Intern, in February 2015.
The power of peaceful protest has not been lost. And as we have seen in the exhibition This Light of Ours: Activist Photographers of the Civil Rights Movement, photography is an indispensable means by which these moments–personal, powerful, and historical–can be captured. While we may have moved from film canisters to memory cards, documenting non-violent protest is no less relevant for our generation. Although some mass media outlets tended to focus on violent protests that have occurred in Ferguson since August, social media movements offer a grassroots telling of the non-violent activism.
After the shooting of Michael Brown this past August, social media has been a means of organizing protests and activism. For example, multitudes of demonstrators organized via social media using the hashtags #notOneDime, #BlackLivesMatter, and #STLBlackFriday. The pictures captured of the huge groups of demonstrators playing dead are incredibly powerful and spread like wildfire on social media. Numerous other mass “die ins,” peaceful walks and marches, and thought provoking quotes can be found using these hashtags among others. Hashtags fuel the peaceful protest because they can help people organize, educate, and most importantly bring direct attention to major events and demonstrations. They are a way for people who are not present to remain informed, and involved, as they spur demonstrations in other areas. For example, the viral videos, Instagram images, and tweets from Saint Louis die-ins, spurred die-ins nationwide. There was even one at the National Civil Rights Museum here in Memphis.
The social media outcry in 2014 has common footing with the demands for equality found in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. While the activist photographers of the 1960s were able to document the powerful protest happening at the time, social media can instantaneously echo and inform the public on what activist are doing on a daily basis. Their message and impact can be spread further, and faster. Imagine if the civil rights activists photographers had Twitter and Instagram, their powerful photos would have been able to spread courage, pride, and righteousness around the globe at the speed of light.