In this tumultuous time, it seems we hear about new protests being held every day. In the age of the Internet, a new form of activism has risen: online activism. Commonly called “slacktivism” by detractors, this form utilizes an internet connection and an unfounded precedent that gives nearly everyone a platform to speak out against injustice.
But calling it slacktivism is not just rude. It’s discriminatory. Online activism is a very accessible way to approach social justice, and it includes disenfranchised groups more than any other form. People who are afraid of what physical and emotional harm they may face by marching and protesting on the streets find online activism to be a much safer option. Those who cannot get off work to march find that they can still take part in the fight for what they believe in.
One group in particular benefits from the rise of social media activism the most: the disabled. More often than not, disabled people have been completely left out of activism in the past. Online activism is a way for those who cannot stand for hours or hold up a sign for more than a couple minutes to get their voices heard when all too often those voices have been silenced and ignored by mainstream activist groups.
Online activism gives a voice to the unheard. Before the Internet became widespread, those in power found it very easy to make it seem as though protesters were the loud minority, but now anyone can put in their two cents.
In a recent example, the recent Women’s March on Washington was tied with an online movement that allowed women with disabilities to join in the protests: the Virtual Women’s March. Disabled people were able to enter in their information provide an explanation of why they were marching, and even provide a photo of themselves in full Women’s March regalia, mobility aids and all.
Still, able-bodied activists of every group look down on those who use online activism as a way to be involved. They believe that if someone truly wanted to fight for their rights, they would step onto the streets and join in. This point of view definitively ignores the basest truth about the health effect of marching as a disabled person. Many people, if they marched on the streets for a day, would experience a destruction of health that may even put them in the hospital.
Most of those people decide that one day fighting back in person is not worth the risk to their health and the time they could be fighting back online.
And to exclude disabled people from the women’s march is to take away their voice on one of the most important issues regarding them. The repeal of the Affordable Care Act with no alternative plan in place stands to force millions of people to lose their health insurance. For disabled people, this means losing access to healthcare that keeps them comfortable and alive. So many face the possibility of a loss of what little health they have, and some even face death.
Online activism is one of few ways disabled people can feel included and have their voices heard. “Slacktivism” isn’t just a way for lazy people to pretend to truly care; it’s a way for disenfranchised people to fight back against the discrimination they face on a daily basis.