Performative activism is a phenomenon that has made its mark in recent years, especially during 2020 as a result of the pandemic, the 2020 election, and the resurgence of the BLM movement following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Examples include, but are not limited to, Blackout Tuesday (a collective action of posting a black square on social media in protest of racism and police brutality), posting on social media with the caption “reblog or repost if you support…” or using certain hashtags, going to a rally just to get your picture taken for the social media clout, and more. The Hatchet staff defined it as attempting to show that you support a group or movement without actually participating in a meaningful, productive way. There are many reasons one might become a performative activist, but here are a few: the person doesn’t actually care or support the cause, but pretends to in order to increase their social capital; the person does care, but just doesn’t know how to actually help, and copies the actions of people they look up to, like celebrities; or, the person supports the cause, but is too lazy to do more than surface-level activism.
So, is performative activism productive at all? Yes. Even though there is so much more one can do to support a movement, posting on social media at least spreads awareness of that cause to a variety of people. Recently, many social media users have been posting cards of information, petitions, links to places one can donate to, what businesses to support, and more. These posts, whether sincere or just for social media clout, are still great ways to inform others about an issue without having to leave the comfort of your own bed — a concept that has become more relevant than ever with the presence of Covid-19. Many people are scared to go outside and protest among crowds that could expose them to the virus, so for them, performative activism has been the only safe form of activism available.
It’s true that reposting things on social media can lead to the spreading of misinformation, but at least it is bringing some type of attention to a problem that many people may not have known about in the first place. Even though the original poster might not partake in any kind of protest or helpfulness, their post might bring in others who are willing to participate in the movement and inspire them to take action. In the long run, though, performative action itself gets nothing done. More often than not, people are not going to go out and be productive after seeing an act of performative activism, and will instead do the same ineffective thing. Halfheartedly supporting a cause through acts of performative activism could even cause others to lose respect for the cause because of its undevoted followers. One could even go as far as to say that if you do nothing concrete to support a cause, you are on the side of the oppressor; thus, performative activism is aiding the discrimination already present in our society.
While performative activism is better than nothing, there is definitely more we can do. Attending protests, signing petitions, and participating in marches are all significant ways to support a cause, but ultimately, they all lead to one action: voting. Voting is the most direct way to let our democracy work towards change. Even more important than just voting is being an informed voter. Do your own research, make sure to gather information from a variety of different news sources, and pay attention to local elections just as much, if not more, than national elections. Your local representatives are the people who can enact change in your community the quickest, so it is extremely important to vote in local elections. Find out who specifically is in charge of making the change you want to see and reach out to them directly, find out their stance on the topics important to you, and vote them in or out of office. For example, after many people spoke out during the public input portion of the FUSD School Board meeting on November 12th, the board eliminated the SRO program (a program involving the cooperation of the city, school board, and police department, providing one School Resource Officer, or SRO, to each of the 6 high schools in the city to ensure a safe learning environment) across the entire district in a 3-2 vote. This is a perfect example of how being an active member of your community and reaching out directly to representatives that can immediately create change is so important. Without the public’s input, the school board might not have ever made this decision.
If you are not old enough or ineligible to vote, there is still lots you can do. Being introspective and addressing your own personal, implicit biases by asking yourself “Am I part of the problem?” is perhaps the hardest step to take, but arguably the most important. Then, taking what you have learned about yourself and having those difficult conversations with others in your life is essential to creating a better society. Performative activism can be helpful in the short term, but there is so much left to be done in the long term to achieve a better future. Start with yourself, address your own biases, enhance your own education, make your vote count, and then let this mentality spread to those around you. This is how we will create change; this is how we can do more than just performative activism.