For the last two weeks, protesters have taken to the streets in nearly every major American city to demand racial equality and social justice, following the tragic death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis cop. And remarkably, Gen Z is leading many of these protests, using social media as an organizing tool.
In city after city, groups of young adults are connecting online or at school, and mobilizing thousands of people. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Jacqueline LaBayne and Kerrigan Williams, two grad students in their early 20s who had never met in person, founded Freedom Fighters DC within hours of Floyd’s death. Their movement now boasts over 10,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 23,000 on Instagram, and brought hundreds of young marchers to Washington, D.C.
In San Francisco, ABC 7 reports that 19-year-olds Tiana Day and Mimi Zoila met online and organized a peaceful protest on the Golden Gate Bridge that drew thousands of participants. In Michigan, the Detroit Free Press documents how Chippewa Valley High School students Mary Vucaj, Angel Santana and Ariana Belyue organized a march into Sterling Heights that appeared to draw a thousand people.
In Nashville, The Hill profiles how six teens—Mikayla Smith, Jade Fuller, Nya Collins, Zee Thomas, Kennedy Green and Emma Rose Smith—met online, and organized a Black Lives Matter protest that drew somewhere between 10,000-20,000 participants. And in Orange County, California, the Daily Pilot reports that a group of 12 young people of color founded MEEP Shows (“More Empowering Events Please”) last summer and organized a protest in Santa Ana that drew hundreds, and another in Garden Grove that drew thousands.
Even teens who can’t organize or join protests are finding ways to fight injustice. Insider reports that many teens are taking to TikTok to post videos in support of Black Lives Matter, and calling out their parents’ racist views. Izabella, a 15-year-old TikTok user, went viral with such a video, drawing 1.5 million views on TikTok, and more on Twitter thanks to a repost and reply from cultural critic Safy-Hallan Farah.
What can brands learn from these young activists?
*Online platforms produce real-life action. There’s a misperception that human connections forged on Twitter, Snap or YouTube stay in the virtual realm, and never become real-life meet-ups or activities. This summer’s protests prove that when the stakes are high enough, and people have good reason to gather, thousands will immediately “answer the call.”
*Any platform can amplify social change. Until a few weeks ago, TikTok was seen as a place for silly music videos. Now, it’s an essential megaphone to promote social change, and document in real time the heartbreaks that activists navigate along the way. Millions of Instagrammers observed Blackout Tuesday, and users of Twitch, Tinder and other platforms might be close behind. Look for users to demand that their friends, fans and followers not just be “non-racist,” but actively “anti-racist.”
*Women are rising up to protect their sons, brothers and themselves. According to author Brittney Cooper in Time, black women who lose their lives to police violence (such as Breonna Taylor) tend to remain invisible. Meanwhile, it’s often black women who bear witness to the tragic deaths of black men, including 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, who filmed George Floyd’s death, and Rachel Jeantel, who listened to Trayvon Martin’s fatal assault during a phone call. It’s telling that young women organized all of the protests described above, and have found a way both to bear witness and effect change.In the fight for racial justice, Gen Z isn’t just on the front lines. it’s leading the way.