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Social Media Bumper Stickers: Hashtags warriors are not the activists needed to save us

I woke up this morning and there they were waiting for me, the latest round of digital saviors from the social media realm: the hashtag warriors.

Some of them still remain from the previous day or two, but most have simply replaced those that resided in that same space twenty-four hours ago — yesterday’s supposed world-changing words, now forgotten. Tomorrow they too will be gone, having done nothing but hold space and give a little false hope to people who are slowly drowning.

Hashtags are essentially bumper stickers.

Bumper stickers identify you in a crowd and get you a beep from a like hearted traveler. They give passers-by an idea of what the person behind them cares about. They are a well-meaning decoration, but they are decoration all the same. They are colorful ornamentation that will soon fade out and fall away.

And like bumper stickers, hashtags aren’t much more than that.

They change nothing. They don’t strike fear into the hearts of criminals. They don’t intimidate lawless politicians. They don’t terrify soulless, malevolent despots. They don’t force corrupt leaders out into the light. They don’t change legislation or alter elections. They don’t bring revolutions.

All hashtags do is let us do the absolute minimum and imagine that we’re helping. They are emotional intoxicants meant to briefly soothe us and numb us enough so that we can bear the burdens in front of us. They give us the illusion of power while leaving us powerless. They are paper tigers we hope will scare away the real monsters.

This President knows this. His henchmen know this. His surrogates know it. Republicans know this.

They know that we mistake social media for work and hashtags for activism. They know that whenever a new flood of passion rises and trends, they need only wait it out, let the words swell and crash loudly through our newsfeeds and timelines—until they soon disappear.

They realize that our hashtags and campaigns and marches are events, they are not movements, and all they need to do is weather a little noise and bombast for a few hour—and then they can continue eroding our freedoms, compromising our safety, and winning the war.

And they are winning, while we’re flexing on social media.

In Hong Kong and Lebanon and Barcelona, people are reminding us that there is a cost to freedom, a price to be paid for fighting injustice, there is collateral damage to pushing back against tyranny. There is more required than a few keystrokes and a new status update. We need to get into the trenches and put skin in the game. We need to incarnate our convictions.

In the face of unprecedented corruption and human rights violations and legislative overreach, Americans are going to need to sacrifice more than two-inch space on our timelines. We are eventually going to have to show up. We’re going to have to speak in one unified, sustained voice. We’re going to have to be present and unmovable, and place ourselves in harm’s way—and I’m not sure we’re up for that in America.

We used to be. Our nation’s history is filled with courageous, sacrificial people who decided that their lives and the lives of people who would follow them here (people like us), merited their inconvenience and their loss of income and their received injuries and their bold movement into the path of police dogs and firehoses and bullets.

There are people here today who can marry and vote and live in the country, because someone gave enough of a damn to resist, not with words but with their bodies and their presence and their lives. The fact that we haven’t been moved enough to move yet makes me worry that we will never be. I fear we don’t care enough to say enough is enough.

I feel like we’re the frog slowly being boiled alive, while unaware of the temperature steadily rising around us. I’m afraid that we’ll sit here and simmer until it’s too late, and all we’ll leave behind are the black and white words we imagined would save us.

I hope we can wake up enough and find enough energy to make our presence here be felt enough so that those who follow us will inherit something worthy of them.

Hashtags are not activism. They will not save us. We need to save ourselves.

John Pavlovitz

The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com

John Pavlovitz launched an online ministry to help connect people who want community, encouragement, and to grow spiritually. Individuals who want to support his work can sponsor his mission on Patreon, and help the very real pastoral missionary expand its impact in the world.

About The Author

John Pavlovitz

John Pavlovitz is a 20-year ministry veteran trying to figure out how to love people well and to live-out the red letters of Jesus, both online in this global community.