Social Activism IRL

As UN Climate week begins, I wanted to write about this past Friday. What started as an idea from one person, spread online getting millions of people planning to come together on September 20th in real life. I’m not speaking of storming Area 51, but rather the #YouthClimateStrike.

It was just over a year ago that a Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg began walking out of school every Friday to push for leaders to take climate change seriously and move them to act. While some progress can be seen, she did get millions of people to act, by joining rallies and marches across the globe. It is a tremendous accomplishment, fueled by our new online connection. Her act was discovered by others that felt the same, but didn’t know where to start. People like Alexandria Villasenor, who at 14 has spent every Friday for the last 10 months outside of the UN.

The march in New York was near our office and drew over a quarter million people of all ages. It was one of thousands around the globe. It was likely they turned to the Parkland students and said, “hold my Hydro Flask.” That is not a critique of March for our Lives. That issue is more unique to the U.S., while climate change threatens all life. What we saw was how the act of an individual can spread through social media, galvanize others, and lead a teenager to testify before world leaders, meet former Presidents, and be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

For brands, trying to be part of these moments can be challenging. Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s closed stores on Friday in solidarity, and Amazon made a “climate pledge” to go carbon neutral. Our own client, Apeel Sciences made headlines with their growing distribution of fruits and vegetables less likely to end up in a landfill. I’m sure we’ll see more announcements throughout the week, as the climate crisis takes center stage.

Sometimes these viral phenomenon invite brand fun, like alien brews or tweets from condom brands for #StormArea51. With more serious subject matter, we typically see commitments to change operations or discontinue selling items. The brand that can motivate VSCO girls to turn what has become a trendy look into a purposeful commitment will slay the day. Scaring people of distant threats has shown little change in behavior. Making climate activism “cool” is what will rally people to action beyond shouts of “save the turtles”.

Social media has a way of showing the best and worst of humanity. It is hard to know what extent it changes people’s attitudes as opposed to revealing them. At times, it takes us beyond the minutia of our lives and brings people together to make a difference, which is pretty cool.

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