By Annie Elfers
On Thursday, Oct. 12, Kim Pearson, the chair of the African American Studies Department and associate professor in the English Department, led a politics forum discussing how social media has become a platform to discuss and fight global social injustices in places as different as Nepal and North Carolina.
Pearson, who was invited by the State Department to travel to Nepal last year, was struck by the similarities between its civil rights issues and American issues like the Trayvon Martin case and North Carolina’s “Moral Monday” protests.
She quickly realized that in societies with political systems dominated by wealthy elitists, social media is a means for the people to communicate and express their oppositions.
“In order to have democracy,” Pearson said, “you have to have a broad access to the public square.”
Even with Nepal’s nearly 29 million inhabitants being divided by language barriers and mountains alike, activists were still able to organize a protest in November 2012 at the Prime Minister’s home, demanding justice for a female gang rape victim named Sita Rai.
Even after a man was convicted and fined — notably, a measly sum of $506 U.S. — the protest turned to larger women’s rights issues, such as the continued practice of bonded labor.
If networking through social media in a country where only half of its inhabitants have Internet access has proven fruitful, it is no surprise that, in a technologically savvy nation like the United States, the keyboard has become a much-needed catalyst for social change.
Pearson went on to discuss “Moral Mondays,” a set of weekly gatherings in North Carolina protesting Gov. Pat McCrory’s new policies that cut jobless benefits, discriminate against voters without IDs, restrict early voting and student voting, and expand concealed weapons permits, among other issues.
Nearly 900 protesters have been arrested at their weekly gatherings at the state legislature building. Some protesters are young citizens, while many others are veterans of the 1960s civil rights movement. Almost all of which are communicating and organizing their protests through social media.
While protesters of the 1960s stayed connected through church groups, civic organizations and newspapers, modern-day civil rights movements gain momentum one tweet, post and message at a time.
Though Nepal’s infrastructure and communicative system still has a long way to go, Pearson believes that the shift toward a more technologically connected society, no matter how slow, will continue to give a voice to the voiceless in crucial civil issues.
Pearson, who studied political science in college, is greatly excited by social media’s new role in civil justice.
When preparing her presentation on the subject, Pearson truly loved “looking at what people created, and seeing the kind of debate that it generated,” she said.