I’ve heard so many people comment about what has happened in Ferguson, Missouri, with the words “It’s like the 1960’s all over again,” or “The South never changes.” Never mind that Ferguson, outside of St. Louis, is technically a Midwest town, what is happening in Ferguson, happens all over the United States. And what happened in the 1960’s never stopped in much of the country—what stopped was white people’s awareness of it. This is the reality for black people in the United States: they are more likely to be accused and harassed by citizens and police, more likely to die from violence at the hands of the state.
What has changed since the 1960’s, however, is social media. While the news has covered Ferguson, though it was very slow to do so on national networks, individuals have been reporting via Twitter and Facebook, and livestreaming audio and video. We get not just one eyewitness account of what is happening, but multiple accounts from multiple viewpoints, giving us an overall narrative of what is happening in real time.
A similar thing happened when news of Robin William’s passing broke last week. The hashtag #FaithintheFog came through as a way for people of faith who have mental illness to talk about the stigma, the backlash in the church, and the ways the church has not always been helpful, but harmful.
Social media has offered people an opportunity to share within a global community network about what is going on, to engage in conversation and to build a greater narrative together. The church needs to follow suit. The church universal has the opportunity to engage in a greater narrative, to tell its stories and engage what is important.
Last week, I wrote about #NMOS14, the National Moment of Silence 2014 that took place across the country on Thursday. As was noted on Twitter by @FeministaJones, most of the vigils were organized by diverse people under the age of twenty-five (for more information about how this movement got started, click here).
When I came to my current church two years ago, it didn’t even have internet. We have had to build from scratch: website, Facebook and Twitter, and a weekly e-newsletter. But we don’t leave out those who do not use social media: we print the e-newsletter for those without email. We try to highlight something that happened on Facebook or Twitter in the newsletter so others can read it.
But we are not stuck behind. We are moving forward and working to join in the greater narrative. And the church universal needs to be sure to move with it. The old dismissals of “That’s not real connection or relationships” need to die. #NMOS14 happened because of social media. In Seattle, the momentum is still going and requests for further gatherings to talk about justice issues and follow up with action has all happened because of social media, and there is also accountability because once something is on the internet, it’s on the internet.
Sure, what we have now—Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.—will fade away and something new will come. I hear that argument all the time. But if we just wait for the next thing, we will miss out now. Growing up in Alaska, we didn’t have a phone for years—we had a CB radio. My friends in the villages also had CB radios. But if they just kept waiting for land lines to come in, they would still be waiting. Entire villages in Alaska, Canada, South America and Africa—have gone from no phones to smart phones with 4G service.
The world has changed fast and will continue to do so. But the cause of justice has not changed. Racism has not changed. The stigma around mental illness has not changed. And these things will not change, unless we join in the greater narrative and work for peace and justice with our brothers and sisters in this country and around the world.