While there are certain aspects of social media I love (i.e. the ability to stay in communication with loved ones around the world with whom I would otherwise not communicate), there are aspects of it that I dislike greatly. Today I want to focus on one of those.
Social media has picked up on a quality that Americans have had for a long, long time (the inability to maintain our focus on a cause or issue) and made it much, much worse. When I read Facebook, for instance, it seems like the primary issue of concern for Americans changes from week to week. One week, most everyone is focusing on the need to address climate change due to the fires breaking out all over the West. Another week, the issue is whether mail-in voting should be encouraged or discouraged. Another week the issue of concern is whether people should feel good about the development of a vaccine for COVID-19. Virtually every week or two, the issue of concern seems to change.
That was one reason why I was skeptical that our country would be able to maintain our focus on issues of systemic racism when the issue rose to the forefront following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd last Spring. At the time, many people professed that those three events changed their entire perspective on life. Before, they never understood that racism was such a big problem. Now, many said, they were “woke”.
They also added that things felt different this time – different, say, from the summer of 2016 when the country experienced the deaths of Philando Castiel and Alton Sterling at the hands of police. And yet, just a few months later after the deaths of Arbery, Taylor, and Floyd – for so many Americans, the latest issues have displaced their earlier concern. So many are no longer “woke”; they have gone back to sleep.
All of this has me wondering how can we break this long-standing pattern for Americans of jumping from one trendy issue to the next and begin to maintain our focus long enough to affect lasting change?
For me, the answer comes from the example of a woman named Shannon Watts. At the time of the Sandy Hook school shootings in December of 2012, Shannon Watts was a stay-at-home mother of five who was a former communications executive. The morning after the shooting, Shannon started a Facebook group that said all Americans must do more to reduce the incidents of gun violence. To this point, there is nothing that unusual in Shannon’s story.
Unlike many of us, however, Shannon didn’t stop there by merely expressing an opinion on social media. She focused the energy of thousands of people who responded to her message in order to form a group call Moms Demand Action. Today, that group that was founded by a stay-at-home mother of five has grown into the strongest organization in our country that’s working to prevent gun violence. They currently have over 6 million members – and local chapters in every state. The achievements which the group has been able to win regarding legislative actions to address gun violence are far too numerous to mention here. If you would like to see their accomplishments, click here: https://momsdemandaction.org/about/victories/.
The story of Moms Demand Action is one that needs to be retold often. For if we are ever going to get truly serious about addressing the myriad of problems facing our world including things like systemic racism, affordable housing, and global climate change; we will have to develop the ability to do what Shannon Watts did: focus and sustain our attention on a problem for a number of years.
And the beauty of it is that each of us can choose what issue we want to focus on. Some may focus their attention on systemic racial injustice. Others may focus on affordable housing. Others may focus on expanded access to health care. Still others might focus on global climate change. The list of issues that need a passionate, focused advocate like Shannon is too great for me to list here.
My prayer is that each and every one of us might move beyond a “follow what’s trendy/trending” approach that social media tends to exacerbate – and instead develop one or two passions that we can pursue in the course of affecting true and lasting change.
Who will be the next Shannon Watts?
Who knows? Maybe YOU!