you-can-put-your-face-in-the-star-studded-oscar-selfieHow to take the #Selfie

A Step-by-Step Guide in Capturing the Selfie

Indulge in the vanity.

It’s time to stop to be in awe or in doubt of this new media. It’s here to stay. Get over it. Social movements in the Philippines have been slow in adapting to new methods and platforms for organizing. We are left with no choice but to use it together with our offline tools. This is the #Selfie Generation. They think about themselves, what interests them, what makes them likable. To be able to capture their attention, we have to indulge their vanity. The basics of organizing and principles of marketing dictate that we must know our audience. This is the time of the #Selfie audience. Social movements must therefore not only know them but also learn the ropes of digital media as the tool that shapes their attitudes, beliefs and culture.

In the #MillionPeopleMarch, we witnessed loads of Millenials posting their selfies in various social networking sites during the protest. They wanted the world to know that they were there. It was something they wanted to be part of and they will go to the extremes – from posting with colorful costumes to their nuances, just to let the online community know they were there. It is because they wanted their audience to know they share the same values with the rest of the Filipino people who are fed up with corruption and who put their taxes to waste. Sharing your selfie to the Millenials is equivalent to what their personal stand, to what they have to say.

The #MillionPeopleMarch appealed to Millenials because social media made it appear that everyone is going. The conversations that circulated online included everyone – the fist raising activists, the mom bloggers, the celebrities, the OFWs, eccentric artists, the church, businessmen, workers, social media savvy personalities, your classmates, – those in your Facebook friends, your twitter followers and instagram network. And when every one seemed to be going, why would you want to be left behind? Being excluded in the #MillionPeopleMarch would mean missing out on the social network fad of the day, perhaps the entire week. Being part of it brings a good positive image to their online identities. There is an improved self-esteem that comes from being part of a group. It is human nature to want to feel like we’re part of a social group.

Find your angle.

Often times because images are flat what works in real life requires a little tweaking in the camera. So, you need to determine which angles are most pleasing to your selfies. The Millenials are obsessed with the ideas of comfort because society has devised all sorts of mechanisms to make life comfortable for them in the advent of technological advances that makes everything possible through a click of the mouse or a tap on the screen. What appeals to the self-interests of this generation is the idea of comfort. And what makes the youth uncomfortable today is their incapacity to live and pursue a well-balanced lifestyle and the threat of an insecure future.

The condition of the Filipino youth is reflective of the state of the country struggling against poverty and it affects all not only the working class youth but also the middle class. The McJobs that define the kind of employment of the working class youth in the 90s have been replaced by the call center jobs that employ even young people coming from middle class families and private schools. The meager youth employment opportunities are unifying youth of different backgrounds in their concerns. In developing countries like the Philippines, most jobless youth face extreme poverty and those who have worked lived on “instant noodles” lifestyle because of job insecurity and underemployment. A majority takes the risk of migration joining millions of Filipinos abroad to seek greener pastures. However, nursing graduates face bleak future with the oversupply in their profession and are taken advantage by hospitals who exploit their need for 2 years of experience to be eligible for work abroad in the guise of no wage employment or training fee policy.

The high cost of education and cutbacks on state sponsored education have been alarming as well. For the working class youth, difficulty in access to education starts from basic education with the incapacity of their families to provide support even with free basic education in public schools and the inability of the state to provide sufficient funds for its education system. The youth who make it to college are faced with rising cost of tuition and budget cuts in state colleges and universities. The premiere state university’s admission policy on students unable to pay tuition sparked nationwide outrage when Kristel Tejada, a UP Manila student, was driven to take her life out of the depression of not being able to continue her studies because of poverty.

In the article by Zach Zill on Social Movements published at the International Socialist Review (Dimensions of the Global Youth Revolt, http://isreview.org/issue/81/dimensions-global-youth-revolt), he presented flash points of engagement of youth in the world. He identified that worldwide, the last 2 years, saw protests springing out from youth-led initiatives. What started as sporadic uprisings such as sympathy student strikes from France on the proposed 2 years addition to the retirement age to student demonstrations in Britain, Italy and Ireland on education budget cuts, gained momentum. Soon the Arab world caught fire. Tunisian revolution started from a poor college educated street vendor who lit himself on fire as an act of protest. While Tunisia’s trade union played a central role, the sustaining force behind the mass demonstrations was the hittistes, the unemployed youth. The Egyptian revolution began with demonstrations led by the April 6 Youth Movement. Massive protest also hit Portugal with the Geração à Rasca, the “desperate generation,” or literally, “the generation just scraping by.” Spain, Europe’s capital of youth unemployment, erupted, with young indignados and juventud sin futuro—the “outraged” and “youth with no future”—capturing headlines as they occupied Madrid’s Plaza del Sol. Chile’s students held street protests and school occupations to fight for more state funding for education and to make all schools public. Meanwhile, the unthinkable happened—a mass movement bloomed in the United States. Occupy Wall Street began with a small group determined to make a symbolic stand against the banks and their economic and political power. It has grown into an international movement that has also taken up key battles around police brutality, freedom of speech, and First Amendment rights. Occupy, like the upheavals in the Middle East, and Greece, is not strictly a youth movement, but the encampments in city after city have been undeniably held together by youth—often by unemployed youth and graduate students. [5]

In the Philippine context, prior to the #MillionPeopleMarch, the last uprising where youth participation was evident was in the 2001 Edsa Dos. Despite the gravity of the political situation during GMA’s term and the downtrodden economic conditions, there was little significant political actions participated by a vast section of the youth. The youth who participated in Edsa 2 are now part of the labor force and some of its key leaders have joined government, business or remained in development work. Those who are considered youth today were elementary students in 2001. Facebook spread in the Philippines in 2007. There is a relatively large gap between the Edsa Dos babies to those considered young people today but the issues surrounding them are still the same. And the questions remain, “What issues will the steer the youth to participate?” “What angle will disturb their comfort enough to drive them to take part in the change process?”

Disturb the comfort.

Taking a selfie was unimaginable years ago. In fact, the selfie trend has attracted a significant amount of criticism for their association with vanity and narcissism. Culturally, people are not supposed to self-promote or brag. In the conservative Filipino culture, bold actions such as taking your own photo in front of the public are generally frowned upon. With the emergence of social media, sharing of personal information and images are redefining the norms. In fact, the selfie is regarded as an expression of our online identity, one that we have control over whether it is silly or unflattering. For a generation obsessed with the idea of comfort, the proliferation of selfies while disturbing aspects of Filipino culture is gradually penetrating itself in the Filipino psyche. Now, this act of self-adoration does not require any apologies and the Millenials are in fact claiming it as truly their own.

Youth movements in the past have operated outside formal channels of political participation and organized according to principles they would like to see in the broader world. While the objective conditions shaped the consciousness of the generation, the channels through which the youth were reached and have participated were unprecedented and volatile. The hippie movement in the 60s played a vital role in spreading the anti-war sentiments worldwide. Nobody has predicted that the Occupy Movement will take a spontaneous form – leaderless and instead relied on horizontal communication networks – and operated without pre-determined political demands, strategy and tactics yet it grew across the world. The youth has long been heralded as catalysts for social change. They played an important role in giving confidence to different social layers in asserting their rights. History has proven that every movement has used as effectively as possible the means of communication available to it. No doubt digital media will become the generational tool both in radicalizing the youth and as their weapon of resistance.

Zach Zill, in the same article on global youth revolt, also warned that, “Because of fragmentation and isolation that is their existence, the youth move very quickly between passivity and militancy. When they do rebel they do so with tremendous force, inventiveness and spirit, rapidly generalizing and taking the struggle beyond grievances specific to their situation to a rebellion against the capitalist system. At the same time, once the particular struggle they are involved in is on the downturn, they can relapse very quickly into complete apathy.”

The challenge for social movements these days is not to actually identify the struggles that will mobilize the youth. Never before have so many issues affected the youth’s sense of comfort and dampened their future into a level that unified their concerns globally. The natural progression or deterioration of each society will determine what issues will be relevant to the youth. The possibilities of what issues will spark youth engagement are limitless.

Here in the Philippines, the death of Kristel Tejada was an issue that is closer to home of many Filipino youth but it failed to fuel their anger on the education system. However, the lavishness of the lifestyle of Jeane Napoles circulated in social media drove the Millenials to Luneta to call for the abolition of the pork barrel system. When Jeane Napoles posted her selfies displaying her lavish lifestyle while the ordinary youth can barely can keep up with school fees, the realization of the extreme economic gap between them and the daughter of the a scammer who stole the money that supposedly went to basic social services for them fueled their anger.

Social movements in the Philippines will have a difficulty predicting whether the rallying issue for the Millenials will be student’s rights, climate change, cybercrime law, the pork barrel scam, but hopefully not the break up of the Daniel-Kathryn love team. However, the point is not to predict but continuously and consistently involve them in the struggles by presenting to them the wide array of issues disturbing their comforts.

We are in a stage where struggles are in a downturn and youth apathy is rampant. Social movements are at lost on how to proceed. Following the failures of the past People Powers to bring about significant changes in the lives of the Filipino people, the grim and determined movement has failed to sustain the fervor of the past struggles. In order to win the youth, the movement must be able to break the existing mindset of the youth getting used to the comfortable notion of just how things are and their being powerless to do something about the situation. For this to happen, the social movement must also disturb its own comfort in traditional methods of movement building.

There are two essential things that should drive us in disturbing the comfort. First is to consistently present the power relations that frames these social issues and second is to creatively attack through the same culture that shapes the values and attitudes of today’s youth.

Take a snapshot. Repeat until desired photo is achieved.

“How to” articles on taking the perfect #selfie advise readers to remember that slow and steady captures the selfie. It urges amateurs to go slow and concentrate on the positioning. Continually pushing the capture button only results in blurry photos. So we must take time, explore all possibilities with in the photo and be as creative as we can. The same principles apply in capturing the #Selfie generation.

Millenials are averse to political struggles yet they show a great deal of concern in changing the world. There is hostility to organized left as proven by the recent #MillionPeopleMarch but they can be driven to protest both online and offline. Zach Zill pointed out that,

“The insistence on being “non-political” is not a new phenomenon for emerging youth movements. The American socialist Hal Draper, writing about student radicals in 1968, had this to say: “The new radicals are non-ideological in the sense that they refuse to, or are disinclined to, generalize their ideas and positions. They are inclined to substitute a moral approach . . . for political and social analysis as much as possible.”

Looking at history, youth radicalization in the 60s while taking into consideration the passive non-violence value perpetuated by the hippie culture became a potent social force as young people took on the streets to demand an end to the Vietnam war. Zach Zill further argued,

“This suggests that almost organic to any developing youth struggle is a process of education, or reeducation, in struggle in which people rediscover politics in a different way. There is no such thing as a non-ideological movement. Every movement needs a set of ideas to explain the world that it is trying to change and to articulate what it is fighting for, even if…that ideology is a combination of ideas that challenge the existing social system and others that accept many of the assumptions designed to maintain that system. Radical and revolutionary ideas develop out of the struggle itself, in the clash of ideas and strategies that emerge out of competing forces and tendencies in the struggle.” 

By creatively attacking the same culture that shapes today youth, we will be able to herd them into the struggle. Thus, those who are in the business of social change must make it their concern to know thy culture and attack this culture by promoting a counter-culture in the same platforms that shape the culture, in today’s case, digital media.

Richard Watson in his book, Future Minds, points out, “Anonymity in the web is eroding empathy, encouraging anti social behavior and promoting virtual courage over real emotion… We do not need minds that can react instantly. We need curious, playful imaginative deep minds that can dream of big ideas and express them crisply in a compelling manner.”

The Havas study pointed out that, “For the Millenials, social media is the new power of youth and consider it as a force for change, and that people, powered by social media is a greater agent of change. They also believed that change is a lot less political and a lot more personal since millenials see a myriad of ways in which they can make contribution to change on their own – through spending, eco-conscious behavior and persuasive blogging.”

Let us then use digital media to make the youth feel good on the small changes they can contribute but let us also be conscious in educating them that their contributions while helpful will remain insignificant in the larger sphere of things if political, economic and social structures remain unchanged. Let us enable them to use social media to unleash their force as agents of social change. Struggle will always be the best teacher. The process of the struggle will lure them to politics and organization. So, the point is to first lure them into the struggle. 

  1. Glamorize. Photoshop.

Having washed out photos is no longer acceptable these days, as technology has provided tools to correct mistakes and churn out the best photos – from filters to Photoshop effects. So social movements have no excuse not to make use of all the available knowledge and tools to get their important messages across to their public in the most effective way possible.

The Philippine Revolution would have turned out differently with out Jose Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere. What would have happened to the anti-war movement with out the hippies? Would EDSA be imaginable with out images of nuns giving flowers to soldiers? We have waged wars using every imaginable tool – be it the Montgomery bus boycotts for the civil rights movement, the monumental “We are the World” music video dubbed as USA for Africa that drew worldwide attention to famine in Africa, or even to the extreme as the suicide burning in Tunisia that fueled their revolution.

The Social Movements must continually seek imaginative, creative and innovative ways to get their message across. Digital media is creating spaces for everyone to participate and opening opportunities for exponential reach of our messages as never before. The new global infrastructures have paved way for radicalization that allows Social Movements to link together issues of climate, women’s rights, national liberation and fair trade, economic inequality and corporate greed. Thus, the responsibility lies in making all these issues attractive enough to catch the attention of these Millenials both offline and online.

Based on my recent experiences as part of the group, Dakila, the spur of the moment decision to use cyclists for our campaign against human trafficking through the Freedom Rides exceeded expectations in mobilizing the cycling community. It surprised us that the Freedom Rides turned out to be the biggest advocacy bike ride ever that is not environmentally themed. It ranked top 3 in the biggest bike rides being done in the country next to the more than 15 years experience of the Tour of the Fireflies and the internationally branded and corporate sponsored Live Strong. The Independence Day Freedom Ride was the biggest attempt for a nationwide simultaneous bike ride to date, mobilizing close to 5,000 cyclists in 4 key cities – Dumaguete, Iloilo, Zamboanga and Metro Manila and earning the prestige of being the biggest bike rides ever in those provinces. Amidst the discomfort of listening to more than an hour-long program that discusses the human trafficking issue before the ride, Cyclists who were not used to that, dubbed the event a Grade A ride. [6]

There is no pretension that the Freedom Rides have mainstreamed human trafficking in the consciousness of the Filipino public. We know too well that it will take more than the Freedom Rides to do that. However, what Dakila gained is a mass base of cyclists who checks our Facebook page for the latest update on social issues; who gears up for Freedom Rides or donates relief goods for Ride, Rock, Relief; or who will respond and follow our lead whether to join the Luneta Anti-Pork rally or not.

The same can be said on the TikTok Pilipinas experience.[7] By providing a platform for artists to engage in, Dakila now has a mass base of artists that can be engaged in social change driven initiatives whether to promote Brown Rice or call for the abolition of pork barrel. What struck us in our latest experience during the #MillionPeopleMarch is the overwhelming influx of calls asking Dakila what our stand is, if we are participating in the Luneta rally and where in Luneta will we position ourselves. And surprisingly, the calls are coming from cycling groups who joined us for the Freedom Rides, the Ateneo Medical School students who invited us to discuss Brown Rice in their school, UPLB professors who wanted to involve their NSTP classes, and Ten Outstanding Students Alumni community who have participated in our past projects. The predicament caught us off guard. Little did we realize that Dakila is now seen as a group the youth would want to follow in political actions.

Looking back, we think that because they can identify with us – with Nityalila, a cyclist like them; with Rash, a UPLB alumna; with Ayeen, a member of Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines community; with Dakila whose social media identity reflects their interests, their aspirations, and their culture. But if we break this down further, the weak ties we share with these people online were not enough to drive them to protesting with us in Luneta. What strengthened these weak ties was the on ground action that we commonly shared during our projects together. What gained their trust on Dakila was because with in their communities individual Dakila members moved with them and are part of them.

For all the hype that social media is perceived as an effective organizing tool, what truly moves people is the building of ties with in the community and not necessarily political in nature. Veteran activists must remember that building these ties is no different from the old organizing tactics used decades ago where organizers sit in their recruit’s classes, visit their homes, hang out with their barkadas. This strategy is no different from what the churches did during the civil rights movement – where the church is present when babies are born or members of the congregation are sick. Essentially, the building of deep social change entails building of relationships that turns into a community where in individuals care about each other.

It is no doubt that the free flow of information is impacting the consciousness of young people today. For instance, the reality of climate change is blowing their notion of comfortability as they are opening up to the possibility that they will live to see the changes that will make the earth they live on uninhabitable. Thus, we need to explore all possibilities to engage the youth. Let us try each available platform, enhance them, combine them and see what works. We must continue to disturb their comfort and provide them with opportunities to learn politics whether in the Internet, the performing stage, in schools, in cinemas or in the streets. Let us comfort this generation that their personal struggles are not theirs alone but are the same as millions like them, that their experiences are not their personal failure but a failure of structures and systems that they are a part of and can do something about.

  1. Caption. Share your story.

No one can resist a good photo. Good photos are those that tell stories – a duck face selfie, to some, projects sexiness, the “I’m having fun” or sad selfie is our way of telling the world how happy or sad we are, the “I’m standing in front of something cool” selfie makes us seem well traveled or on top of the social ladder. Each selfie tells a story about us.

Taj James, founder of Movement Strategy Center, and Marianne Manilov, co-founder of The Engage Network, in their article in the Huffington Post, (Movement Building and Deep Change: A Call to Mobilize Strong and Weak Ties, (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/taj-james/movement-building-and-dee_b_765362.html) shared some insights on movement building.

“We live by stories, by narratives that define and can shift our view of who we are alone to who we are together.  Regardless of the tools we use, what connects and inspires people are stories… Social media platforms offer new ways of engaging and sharing each other’s stories, with organizational stories, with national or global stories — yet they’re no substitute for face-to-face deep community building.  Our hope is that these stories and tools are of use to those committed to the deep and high-risk social change that Gladwell rightly calls for.”

The role of the social movement is to tell these stories to the generation of Selfies and in turn, hope that these Selfies will share these stories with their peers, within their networks. And when these stories are compelling enough, move them into action online and offline. Ultimately, the digital media is what storybooks are to children to this generation of Selfies. While the cover, the pictures, and the lay out will matter to them, it will never outweigh a good story.

The struggle for social change is a continuing story, one that we, in the social movement, help weave since time immemorial. Many of those who have read the story will be drawn towards it like how as children we learned that good always triumphs over evil. Along the process, many will be changed for the rest of their lives. So, we, in the social movement, must make it a point to tell a pretty darn good story.

 

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[1] For additional insights, see the Prosumer Report “Gender Shift: Are Women the New Men?” at http://www.prosumer-report.com.

[2] Future Minds: How the Digital Age is changing our minds, Why this matters and What can we do about it by Richard Watson, 2010

[3] The Condition of the Filipino Youth was a paper presented by Sanlakas President Wilson Fortaleza in a youth summit in 2006.

[4] The Digital Activism Program or #Digibak is Dakila’s training program designed to teach digital media tools and communication strategies to NGOs to further their advocacies both online and on ground.

[5] For additional reading, refer to the International Socialist Review (Dimensions of the Global Youth Revolt by Zach Zill, http://isreview.org/issue/81/dimensions-global-youth-revolt)

[6] Freedom Ride is a component of Dakila’s Stop, Look, Listen Campaign against Human Trafficking.

[7] TikTok Pilipinas is a campaign for climate action launched by Dakila and Oxfam in 2009.