Growing up, I never thought anything was different about my little brother. Kellan, my brother, has always loved me, annoyed me, and, of course, hurt me (that twerp was a biter when he was little). He has made me laugh to the point of tears and I’ve chased him around the house with salad tongs. His hugs and smiles are energizing, and I love to hear him through the phone when I’m away at college.
To me, Kellan is just Kellan: an amazing, annoying, almost 17-year-old that has stuck by my side through thick and thin and has become one of my best friends over the years. However, to others, this is not all they see.
Kellan has Down syndrome. Down syndrome, or Trisomy 21, occurs when a child has an extra copy of his or her 21st chromosome. Where there would normally be a pair, there is an extra, third chromosome. (If you want to learn more, I encourage you to check out this website.) The results of this chromosomal disorder can vary, but most people born with Downs will have physical characteristics different from those around them and will experience cognitive delays that vary from case to case.
Despite all of this, Kellan has always just been Kellan to me. This wasn’t the case for everyone, though. As I continued to grow up, I noticed that some people treated Kellan differently. They looked at him curiously. Some kids were mean to him. Some people asked questions about why he did the things he did. Some made fun of his G-tube. Some were just genuinely curious and would ask me questions.
Some turned to language, using the R-word to make their point.
When I was in high school, my peers used the word “retarded” to describe anything and everything. From a homework assignment to a person, the word was thrown around as often as a football during an August practice. It really started to bother me: why did these people that knew my family use this hurtful word? Did they really just not understand? This is when I took action, and decided that enough was enough.
Digital activism. Two simple words that can make a huge impact. When I finally got fed up with what was happening, I had a couple of options. I could lose my cool and scream at everyone to stop being stupid, or I could form a logical and precise way to get my point across and (hopefully) change some people’s minds. I chose the latter, and began to start a project with my two best friends to end the use of the R-word in our school. This project included hosting events and sharing information with others, both through face-to-face contact and the heavy use of social media. This project is one that I will remember and carry with me forever.
After this week’s module, I believe even more in the area of digital activism than I ever have before. Using Twitter, Facebook, Tublr, or whatever form of social media that you want to use makes spreading the word about your cause as easy as clicking your mouse. Within a matter of minutes your thoughts and ideas can be reached by millions of people all over the globe. These posts can shape (and change) public opinion on a topic; these posts can make someone’s life better. How cool is it that anyone has the power to make that happen?
Gone are the days of physical protests and one person holding a sign at a street corner. No, I’m not implying that these things no longer happen, because they certainly do. However, I’m saying that maybe they’re not the most effective anymore. According to an article titled The 6 Activist Functions of Technology, social media allows people to create a “collective identity” through “the means of information transmission.” Now, people have the ability to reach others around the state, nation, and even globe instead of just those that drive by. People can unite online and make plans. They can plan a rally of thousands instead of just one or two. They can raise awareness through their words instead of solely through actions. People can make a difference by joining with others and actually doing something. There is truly power in numbers.
I think a key thing to remember is movements can start with just one person; let your passions fuel you to find whatever it is that you can be an advocate for. Activists today are getting younger and younger. A 15-year-old teen living in the U.S. started a campaign called The Why To Stay Strong campaign that reminds teens how much God loves them and cares for them despite their struggles. Its motivational and uplifting message inspires others to keep going. This teen has over 5,200 followers on Twitter and is a finalist for the 6th Annual Shorty Awards. What were you doing when you were 15?
Shaping public opinion, planning an action, protecting activists, sharing a call to action, take action digitally, shape public opinion again: digital technology helps activists throughout the change process from the first spark of consciousness that the status quo is unacceptable to the international ripple effects of a dramatic action.
Digital activism allows us to unite with other like-minded thinkers. It allows us to truly be the change. By the end of my project, I saw changes everywhere. The Facebook page we created had followers from different towns offering to help bake a cake for our basketball game event or just thanking us for sharing our resources. Looking back, I wish we would have used more social media, but since then, I have definitely posted on my personal Twitter and Facebook accounts discussing the R-word and its affects on families like mine as well as posting about Downs in general. Knowing that something I say might change a person’s habits or thoughts makes me feel empowered; I want to be that change.
I leave you with this thought, said by Maryam, a Bahraini activist discussed in an article for Teen Vogue: “Every night before you go to sleep, ask yourself, ‘What did I do today to try and make this world a better place?’”
Send that tweet. Post that status. Be the change.