Must we as a society wait around for someone to tell us what social justice looks like and whether or not it can look like more than one thing? It seems that young people have answered this question and are paving the way towards even more social justice. Standing up for people that are not able to stand up for themselves has for some, become a value to live by. And where is this taking place? Predominantly on social media and being carried out primarily by young people and nobody is talking about the importance of this.
No group in society is using social media as an instrument of resistance to establish templates for freedom more than young people. We of course have seen non-violent resistance and campaigns around social action before. Protests, marches and demonstrations have been around since the days of the French Revolution and long been at the cornerstone of democracy. What we are witnessing here though, through the undeniable impact of social media, is yet another historic shift within politics and how people use their voice. It is important we give this movement the attention it deserves and young people the credit for making us ponder critically about what the future could hold for how we process the meanings of democracy.
In the early hours of Saturday 22nd July, 20 year old Rashan Charles, known to his friends and family as Rash, was apprehended by Metropolitan Police officers after running into an off license on Kingsland Road in Dalston. The incident resulted in Charles' death and an outpour of anger and confusion from people within the local community. What amazed so many was that the news of Charles' death did not become a 'news story' nor did it get the attention of major news outlets until a CCTV video showing footage of the chase emerged on Twitter. Soon after, the hashtag #JusticeForRash began to trend. Some were quick to insinuate that the substance Charles swallowed moments before he died was illegal. In fact in turned out to be a mixture of caffeine and paracetamol.
People had questions about the gap in time between the events and national news coverage. Why weren't we seeing coverage of this on television as breaking news? Could it be because coverage could elevate this to becoming a prolific police brutality case, similar to those seen in the U.S.? Is it because the deceased is not white?
Eventually what we saw were young people - mainly young black people - sharing the shocking footage, asking these questions and ultimately shaping the political agenda. What followed after were organised, peaceful protests in Stoke Newington that people gathered to after being made aware via social media and major news crews covering the story. Whilst they much rather a 'disproportionate use of force' not have been inflicted on Charles, young black people have courageously pushed media gatekeepers to have these uncomfortable, but necessary conversations about race, policing and injustice. This was and remains in the hope that issues like these receive the visibility it needs to ignite social change.
Another great example of young people using technology as a force for good is student Isaiah Wellington-Lynn. Isaiah was offered the chance to spend the third year of his undergraduate degree in Anthropology at none other than Harvard University starting this month. Tasked with one month to find the £64,000 it would cost to cover his tuition fees, accommodation, living expenses and so much more, Isaiah turned to crowdfunding. What makes Isaiah's story interesting is that not unlike a lot of young black people, it is not talent holding him back, but opportunity. The institutions and class systems in place make it difficult for BME students to overcome barriers to gain access to top-tier institutions. It is isn't uncommon for students with Isaiah's level of potential and come from backgrounds not too dissimilar to his, to be told not to 'aim that high' or to be grateful for the opportunity to go to university in the first instance. Isaiah, according to his crowdfunding page grew up in a single parent, reduced income household in deprived inner city London and is one of the first in his family to go to university.
Donations were pledged by different groups of people and Isaiah was able to meet his target amount. Due to the presence of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, people are able to quickly and easily promote their causes to audiences they believe will be empathetic. This achievement is the achievement of not just Isaiah but the community he comes from and represents. Many people will see stories like this and be inspired to want to create social change. Young people who are deciding whether university is a path accessible to them now know that if Isaiah can raise the money to go to Harvard, they can instil within themselves the motivation to set their sights just as high.
Through these two very different examples, it is clear technology gives us the power to revolutionise how we ask questions about our politics when it is affecting us and the communities we come from. It is arguably our biggest resource in creating social justice and is being used predominantly by young people. Whilst we await justice for Rashan Charles, and the many cases like this around the world, some young people are increasingly identifying themselves as allies, expressing their support through actions as small as a retweet or as big as financial donations to educate the next generation of leaders.