Ajith: Clicking ‘like’ will not bring social change

Ani Ajith

Foreign correspondents of the world beware-we’re on to you.

If your story reads, ‘The protests have 16,000 Facebook fans, and #[insertarabsquarehere] is a trending topic on Twitter, demonstrating clear youth support and overwhelming pressure on the government,’ it’s time to do some real reporting.

And while you’re at it, quit giving my generation the impression that clicking the ‘Like’ button on the ‘Overthrow [insert dictator’s name here] NOW!!!’ page actually has a tangible, significant effect on the situation on the ground.

Social networks should be a means to an end, not the end itself. Social networks should be tools to spark a groundswell of protest and to spread the word, but they should not be the core of organizational efforts, nor a measure of success. Instead, student protests should strive to tap into skills, to aggressively challenge the status quo, and to demonstrate leadership on a key issue–all with real action on the ground.

Comfortable in our insulated campuses, our threshold for protest-worthy anger has become unacceptably high and our tolerance for–rather, apathy towards–corruption, stagnancy and injustice has grown far too indulgent. We have grown content with making symbolic gestures and then going back to crafting the perfect resume, the perfect career and the perfect college experience as the real world collapses around our ivy-covered towers.

Here’s an obvious statement: no one stands to gain or lose more from today’s social, economic and political crises than the youth do. Yet Northwestern students seem more adept at making Gawker headlines for scarring ten-year-olds than the front page of The New York Times for leadership on national issues.

Meanwhile, in reality, nothing changes. And nothing will improve until there are boots on the ground-not American troops, but American youth, marching on the streets in numbers not seen since our parents’ generation shook the very fabric of society in the 60s and 70s.

They took a stand because their future–immediate and long-term–was being threatened by war and an oppressive society. Without Facebook, without Twitter, without even email, they turned universities into hubs of large-scale social activism and demanded that their interests and their stakes be taken into account on issues large and small.

Our aim should not be just to match the student protests of decades past, but to apply our unique generational skills to challenges affecting students on local, national and international levels. I can’t comment directly on the resurgent occupancy law issue, but I can urge Northwestern students to log off their Facebook pages, put their marching shoes on and challenge the status quo with clear, well-informed purpose, organization and leadership.

Even as the ‘three unrelated’ housing ordinance unfolds, the Occupy Wall Street movement becomes a clearer example for the youth protests that must come. Two weeks ago, the few dozen protesters in Wall Street were poorly organized and more often than not spouting wild conspiracy theories, showing not even a rudimentary grasp of fact. Today, the original anger has been refined and complemented with creativity, organization and support in other cities.

Similarly, Northwestern does not have to act in isolation. Over the past few decades, as students have turned inward to focus on building perfect resumes, we’ve forgotten that there are other bastions of progressive thought and action in universities across the nation and world. Educational and research ties between institutions are excellent–why cannot bonds of social activism be similarly deep? A wave of voter anger in town halls last year led to a major political shift; imagine what a wave of aggressive, coordinated, clear student protests across the nation could do.

At Northwestern and at campuses nation-wide, we the youth must rise from our slacktivist, social networking ways and deploy every tool available to mount media-savvy, well-organized, creative protests with well-informed, clear messages and real momentum. We must show we are capable of rising beyond the Tea Party’s signature ‘angry town hall’ tactics, where ignorance and incivility only make progress more inefficient. We must prove ourselves capable and willing to fight back when threatened, but in a manner that raises the quality of debate and places us on higher ground.

Ani Ajith is a Weinberg sophomore.

He can be reached at ani[email protected].