On September 21, we began a 10-week online hiatus that ends today. Our stated goal was to step back and deeply analyze our engagement with our movements’ most powerful medium - social media. We all felt that something was...off. And, if we’re being totally honest, we were tired. After three years of feeding the news, we found it nearly impossible for our feet to keep up with our mouths and thumbs. And, we weren’t well.
True, some of it was organizational -- genetic maybe: We are a young organization building something that none of us have been a part of before. But we couldn’t shake the fact that our neurosis was somehow enabled by our addiction to “follows” and “likes.” The symptoms were evident: The cynicism, the searching, the scrolling, the beat of our thumbs against our devices, soon soured our vision and even influenced our strategy. We were obsessed with doing the “biggest,” “most shared” thing and, subconsciously, we led ourselves into a war against ourselves and our movement partners.
Put simply, we weren’t fighting patriarchy, white supremacy or capitalism-- we were vying for virtual validation-- and got it. While our spirit, strategy and organization shrunk.
So we took a break. Not because we were above the magnetism of social media, but precisely because our attraction to it was so strong that it actually threatened our ability to do the work that needed to be done. We took time away to develop how our daily communications would truly reflect our membership’s evolving views, ideas, projects and creations, while supporting the growing and ever evolving national movement - a tension we’ve felt since the beginning. We needed perspective so we took some distance from our selected friends lists of “movement folks who think just like us.”
As we entered The Blackout, we wondered, “Is everyone talking about Black lives matter or is everyone on our timelines talking about black lives matter?...or about the genocide in Palestine, or about kids getting kicked out of classrooms or about all of our family, friends and community members who are stuck behind bars?”
We wanted to know where our communities and society at large, are separate from the curated timeline of information we each encounter online. We hoped to recreate the way that we understand ourselves and our relationship with our community, both online and in the streets.
Now, we can hear the chorus of think pieces, already: ‘Where would our movement be without social media! It connects us! It puts the power of the media in our hands!’ ‘How would we know about the struggles of people in the margins without the hashtags?!’
Of course this is (partially) true: Just two weeks ago, our timelines showed us that our comrades in Minneapolis were shot by white supremacists and our BYP family were pulling back the curtain on a huge police cover-up of a murder of an innocent citizen in Chicago. Social media is a tool to connect us to one another’s experiences, a tool for us to support one another. In a society that increasingly strives to make us hate ourselves and isolate us from one another, social media is an opportunity to connect. But, national movement and consciousness grew and existed far before we shared our innermost thoughts into the ether, right?
We don’t think enough about the consequences of connecting online through a corporate-controlled platform. We provide the whole of our strategies, thoughts, and whereabouts real time. And, what is the impact of being inundated with a constant barrage of information about other people’s lives, experiences and thoughts? How does this impact who we are, how we think and the way we engage with the real world?
With this information in hand, we cannot ignore the fact that our newsfeed, while filled with posts created by individuals, is manipulated in ways that are impacting our mental state and how we understand and internalize our own condition and our strategy.
It is our assessment that a movement can be educated and invigorated online, but never built there. A true movement is one based on deep relationships that can withstand the winds of trend. We have seen how they drown in the shallow waters of online connections. Building relationships with people requires being present. Nothing--no amount of speeches, snarky tweets, shirts, or appearances--can replace that.
We know. We tried.
Furthermore, we compromise our strategic footing, the more information we concede to an arena that we can only dream of running.
The past 73 days have created the opportunity for us to reconnect with one another through real human interaction and reflect on our three and a half year history in order to better understand and shape our role in the movement. We’ve launched a listening and research project in local communities throughout Florida, The Free Campaign, to have conversations with one another about the world we envision, building the insight and relationships necessary to build it. We’re using this information to inform the Dream Defenders DNA, a new organizational structure and campaign strategy that will launch in 2016.
Dream Defenders is filled with so many amazing people whose families have migrated here from all over the world. Moving forward, we hope to create spaces - both online and in person - for you to meet the hundreds of people who are building this movement.
During our journey we’ve found more questions than answers. In the coming days, we will be sharing personal reflections from our time spent away. Some will take these as larger indictments on the current state of our burgeoning movement. You have every right to do so. Still, these are based on our own experiences. Any lessons learned will surely strengthen our work. We offer them with the hope that they will, at worst, spark debate and, at best, serve to challenge us all.