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Scrolling Through Activism: An American’s Thoughts on Social Media, Politics, and Entitlement

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I saw the article but I didn’t actually click on it. The headline gave me all the information I needed. “ISIS Claims Responsibility for Palm Sunday Church Bombings in Egypt.” The blurb under the headline told me how many are dead. I went back to scrolling through my Twitter feed.

We had all hoped that after the election in November our lives could be normal again. My Tumblr could go back to being mostly pictures of dogs, and every status update wouldn’t have to contain some divisive moral judgement on last night’s debate. Americans could continue feeling silently uncomfortable about their uncle’s racism when he says something questionable at Thanksgiving dinner, rather than having to debate it publicly in the comments of that meme he posted. But clearly this didn’t happen. Donald Trump is the president, and I can’t stop myself from tweeting about it. I try very hard to resist the urge to start political conversations on social media. I don’t think it’s particularly helpful, and it rarely produces meaningful or nuanced discussion. But I recognize in myself a desire to stand on my tiniest of soap boxes and shout about all the things that I think and feel and believe. I want to let my righteous anger out into the echo chamber, hoping that it might reach the small handful of my Facebook friends with whom I do not share a political party. I hope to get 95% likes and encouraging comments, and 5% opposition from some forgotten high school acquaintance who I can shut down with a witty comment and then unfriend immediately. I feel myself craving that sort of validation. It’s easy. It makes me feel powerful, and correct, and like I am doing something about the problems that I see in the world.

A few days ago, my country dropped more than 50 bombs on Syrian military targets. When I heard, I immediately turned on CNN, hoping that Anderson Cooper would tell me how to feel. But he didn’t, so I turned to Twitter. The reactions on my carefully-curated feed were equally mixed and no one could give me a straight answer. I hadn’t realized that my moral compass had gotten so rusty. I don’t know if my government did the right thing. I don’t know if that violence was justified. I don’t know if it will be a step towards stopping a horrific conflict, or if it’s just adding more flames to a nation that is already burning. I don’t know. If this had happened 6 months ago, on the command of a different president, I don’t think I would have felt the same confusion. I am not the type to ever be happy about violence, but I do think that I would have trusted that those in power had thought it through, considered the options, and chosen wisely. I miss trusting my government.

But the fact that I ever felt that trust is a privilege in itself. I was a rich white liberal growing up in the Obama years and I slept soundly with the knowledge that my government would at least try their very hardest to do what was right by me. Even in Trump’s America, the structures of power are largely working for my benefit, even if I disagree with them. I post rants from my iPhone, picking apart the flaws in this administration, while the people of Syria are being murdered on the orders of their own president.

I was 14 when George W. Bush left office, and he said stupid things and it was funny and I felt righteous in my laughter. When I did pay attention to the news, I didn’t fully understand it. I knew that I didn’t like the war, but it also didn’t feel real. The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan felt so far away from my tiny Ohio town, and I wasn’t even sure what they were fighting for anyway. A “War on Terror”; it sounded so vague. I don’t know what it truly feels like to be terrified. My uncle was an officer in the US Navy and he spent a year stationed in Bahrain. Logically I knew that he could be in danger, but he sent us pictures of him and his buddies by the pool, and when he came back he brought me a gold necklace in a beautiful, hand-painted box. They called it war, but I couldn’t see it. Since when did military offensives come with souvenirs? My grandmother prayed for my uncle every day, but she also had a funny calendar of all the stupid things the president said. “Bushisms”, they called them. He taught us that “the human being and fish can coexist peacefully.” He claimed, “People say, how can I help on this war against terror? How can I fight evil? You can do so by mentoring a child; by going into a shut-in’s house and say I love you.” And that was our president. He seemed like a child playing with toy soldiers and I felt bold and grown-up when I repeated my parent’s criticisms of policies that I didn’t understand. It felt like a game and I never thought to question any of it.

And now suddenly it’s all too real. I learned how to pay attention at a time when it was easy to watch. And now I want to look away but those are pictures of poisoned children on CNN, and I am just sitting here still trying to grapple with the fact that for the first time since I’ve been truly aware of the options, I no longer trust my government to make even the easiest decisions, let alone this one.

And I don’t know what to do about it. I shout on social media, and I rant to you here. I talk to my family and my friends and I yell a bit more. Because it feels good. Because it gives me a false sense of action, like I am changing something without having to close my laptop. So, I wrote a think-piece about it. Here it is. It spells out a problem and offers no solution. I am not trying to convince you of anything, or impress you with how eloquent and well-informed my expensive education has allowed me to sound. I’m not trying to start a debate or spur social change. I am just afraid. I am afraid for myself, and I am afraid of the people that I love. I am afraid for people in Syria, and in the United States, and all over the world. I am afraid that I will always be blinded by my privilege. And I am afraid that I don’t know how to tell right from wrong when it doesn’t neatly fall along party lines. I understand the contradictions that I embody. I understand the deep and unfunny irony that exists in most of the things that I say and do and think and believe. I try to stay informed. I try to read unbiased news. I write to my representatives in Congress, and I go to protests and rallies when I have time, when they’re nearby, when my friends are going, when the weather is nice.
I do what I can. And then I keep scrolling.

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