Message from the Millennials
    • Dream Defenders activists hold a rally at the Florida Statehouse in Tallahassee. Screenshot from Dream Defenders video.

Much of this infrastructure is dependent on what Daniel Maree, the 25-year-old lead organizer of last year's Million Hoodies March in New York City, refers to as the democratization of technology. Using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and design techniques normally seen in corporate advertising, Maree and collaborators got thousands of people to Union Square in just two days. Despite the near absence of mainstream news stories about Martin’s death, images from the rally and Maree’s subsequent push of a petition demanding Zimmerman’s arrest helped get the incident onto the national stage.

In the days following the March 21st march, coverage of and Twitter conversations about the killing as well as signatures on a petition that had been started earlier that month skyrocketed. In June, the Pew Research Center reported that in the five years that it's tracked weekly news coverage, Martin's killing received more sustained coverage than any other story that was largely about race.

Maree, a digital strategist at an ad agency, worked with people such as Andrea Ciannavei, 38, a writer and Occupy Wall Street participant who offered up to help coordinate the mobilization. He hadn't set out to position himself as a leader in the wake of the tragedy, but he saw a vacuum that needed to be filled.

"Every time I Googled Trayvon’s name, I didn't see anything coming from any organization," Maree said. "I thought, 'Nobody’s doing anything about this so I have to do something.'"

This pattern — an expectation that an established progressive or legacy civil rights organization would already be responding to a crisis, a realization that those groups didn’t have a game plan or were being slow to implement, followed by a quick pivot to take the reins and a willingness to work with (but not for) whoever then shows up — came up again and again as I spoke with young organizers. For many, the first wakeup call came with an acknowledgment of the Obama Administration’s limitations.

Nelini Stamp, an advisor to Dream Defenders who also participated in Occupy said that she'd had high hopes that the president would use the power of his office to address issues like racial profiling and police brutality. As her expectations have shifted, she's put her hopes in the power of young people, especially young people of color, to bring about change.

"Now you have a movement that is really strong," Stamp, 25, said. "We should push this man and this country to do better because that's what we thought we were getting."

One characteristic of how these younger organizers push is a willingness to move at a fast pace, abandoning what’s not working and moving on to new tactics when demands aren’t met.

"I think people are escalating a lot quicker and a lot earlier," Stamp said.

No group demonstrates this fearlessness and righteous impatience like the Dream 9, the transnational activists who until August 7 had been held for more than two weeks at a detention center in Eloy, Ariz. In an effort to bring attention to the 1.7 million deportations that have taken place since Obama has been in office, the group of undocumented immigrants traveled to Mexico, then turned themselves in at the US border seeking reentry on humanitarian grounds. This border crossing was broadcast via a Ustream live feed that attracted more than 10,000 viewers who cheered them on from around the world.

While the hashtag and rallying cry "Bring them home" shot around the Internet, the Dream 9 waited to learn whether they'd be granted return to the country they've known as home since they were children. Members of the group were isolated in solitary confinement, participated in a hunger strike and organized deportees inside the detention center, all in an effort to highlight the plight of many.

It's necessary action that people at negotiating tables aren't taking, said 27-year-old Mohammad Abdollahi, a member of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) and a coordinator of the action. Abdollahi said the NIYA maintains a broad view of what undocumented immigrants and their families actually need, and he echoes the sentiments of other organizers who see their work as the nimble and envelope-pushing counterpart to more plodding, bureaucratic processes that legacy organizations are often confined to.

"Our goal has always been for the greater immigration rights movement to catch up," he said. "Folks can have a trajectory of what's possible in the movement and hopefully replicate or come up with more creative ways to do things themselves."


Tags: activism, millennials, organizing

    • Dani McClain
    • Dani McClain is an Oakland-based journalist covering reproductive rights and sexuality.

      She reported on education while on staff at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and covered breaking news for the Miami Herald's metro desk. Her writing has appeared in outlets including The Root, Loop21, AlterNet, On the Issues, and ...

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