By Andy Mitchell
In the 21st century, activism can be found on new platforms — social media is no exception.
Monday night’s Obermann Conversation at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., brought together four panelists to discuss social media’s role in activism, referred to as hashtag activism. The panelists were made up of women versed in social-media activism by study and by experience.
The panel discussed the stories of two recent hashtag campaigns, #EveryonesAnA, and #Justice4Tory. Both campaigns stemmed from social-justice issues. The former tackled sexism, the latter racial justice.
One of the hashtag starters was 16-year-old Lucy Polyak, a junior at Iowa City West. Polyak started her own hashtag campaign in October in response to the discovery of a student-made Google Spreadsheet that letter graded 94 girls on their physical attractiveness.
Polyak posted on her Instagram and Twitter accounts about self-love and worth. Posts that she thought only a handful of people might share was being shared by hundreds.
“I live by this mantra ‘If it is to be, it’s up to me,’ ” Polyak said. “I wanted to see people happy again in a community I know is traditionally so full of love.”
The offline impact was seen the next day, as one of the school’s teachers had a group of boys and girls put up posters around the school with similar messages. Some of those posters remain up months later.
“It’s definitely affected the community at my school,” Polyak said, “There’s this strength that can be found in solidarity whether that be in person or on the internet.”
Polyak said that while she did receive “blowback” for starting the hashtag, it did not deter her from her activism.
Lisa Covington, an activist scholar and Ph.D. candidate in sociology, recounted the story behind the hashtag campaign she started. In San Diego, a friend of hers, special-education teacher Tory Robinson, was pulled over by the San Diego Sheriff’s Department because of a broken tail light. Robinson continued to drive until he reached the well-lit area of a gas station, where he was arrested at gunpoint on felony invasion of police officers. Robinson was incarcerated for 18 days.
“My friend was unjustly accosted and harassed,” Covington said. “I just want to make sure he was being supported.”
Covington helped start a hashtag on Facebook that garnered national and international attention. While Robinson was incarcerated, Covington and allies rallied outside and inside the courthouses during his court appearances.