Last year, young people joined political poles and influencers attracted them
A year that included a pandemic and social unrest pushed young people to embrace socialism more than recent generations
Jarrett Lowe spent a lot of time for himself when the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in March 2020, often browsing TikTok and Twitch. But that time was not spent watching viral dance videos.
ASU’s double major in History and Philosophy watched content creators such as Hasan Piker and Eddie Liger Smith meticulously analyze white supremacy, the failures of capitalism, and the intersection of these ideas in places like The System of criminal justice.
In a year in which an estimated 370,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19 and exposed pervasive inequalities with increased coverage of blacks killed by police, young adults have taken to the internet to understand a world whose center could not contain and was unraveling before their eyes.
Many young people like Lowe identified the American capitalist system as the heart of the inequality they witnessed in the country and, in turn, began to embrace socialism.
According to a Axios survey As of June, 52% of respondents aged 18 to 24 view socialism positively and 37% believe that the evidence for the effectiveness of socialism is stronger today than 50 years ago.
“When we have a crisis, people start to look for new ideas,” said Henry Thomson, assistant professor at the School of Politics and Global Studies at ASU which studies inequalities, mass mobilization and authoritarianism. “New ideas don’t come from nothing. They come from the academy or from political parties or political movements. So ideas that may have been floated for a long time suddenly take on new importance because they are picked up by a political movement or picked up by the media.
Social media has provided a platform for many influencers to provide responses to widespread pain and death in 2020.
And there was no shortage of influencers.
The lockdowns triggered by COVID-19, combined with the first stimulus payment, have given many people like Lowe the time and energy to examine their lives and those around them.
Lowe’s mother is a progressive, openly opposed to the Iraq war and a supporter of former President Barack Obama. He grew up in a liberal environment, he said, but watching Piker and Smith helped push Lowe to embrace socialism.
Piker and Smith share their content almost like a teacher’s assistant on Zoom, speaking to their audience but no one in particular, and educating their followers on racial and economic theories of justice, elite corruption, police brutality and the exploitation of workers in America’s largest companies.
In an April 13 YouTube video, Piker analyzed a newscast showing residents of Minneapolis jumping on a police car. “When that happens, it’s understandable that people are pushed to their last fight… they’re looking for justice,” Piker said.
Piker questioned the intention of those who focused on the damage to police property rather than the murder of a black man by police.
“They’re not going to protest the way you expect them to,” he said. “Especially given that this is an ongoing problem that has not been resolved.”
Videos like theirs helped Lowe realize “my place in this society, and realize that I won’t be the 1% and I never will be the 1%.” Many of his friends felt the same, he said, “but some still have the illusion that capitalism is benefiting them.”
Thomson said revolutionary ideas take hold during almost all crises and movements arise from them, such as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street after the Great Recession. He also added that these movements are usually always led by an influential group or person.
Content creators like Piker and Smith certainly do the trick as influencers. Piker finished 1.4 million followers on Twitch with an average of over 28,000 people watching its feeds. Smith has racked up over 16.9 million views on his TikTok account since February 2020.
With the increase in the production and consumption of content from creators such as Piker and Smith, local leaders have witnessed the tangible influence that content has created.
The red rocket
Rob Wilson, president of the Phoenix branch of the Democratic Socialists of America, had his own journey to embrace socialist ideals that began over four years ago.
The Iraq War and the Great Recession made him vote for Obama. But when Obama didn’t create the change he promised, Wilson said, he grew more disenchanted and looked for alternatives to Democratic politics.
He became even more motivated to seek answers after his mother, who worked as an outdoor parking attendant in downtown Phoenix, earning $ 11 an hour, passed away in 2017. While his mother died of the consequences asthma, Wilson felt his death was caused by more than one condition – capitalism played an equally important role.
He attended his first meeting of the Democratic Socialists of America after the 2016 election and joined a reading group called the International Marxist tendency to better understand Marxist theories and practice. Lowe also joined the group last year to further his knowledge.
Towards the end of 2020, Wilson began to see more and more people walking around the DSA meetings he held. He said the newcomers watched TikToks and YouTube videos that introduced them to the language and ideas of socialism and Marxism.
Lowe and other young people like him wanted to get involved.
“It is certainly true that these events like the pandemic are going to have an effect on voter turnout across the country,” said Thomson. “I’m sure the pandemic has had various effects that political scientists are likely to study for years to come.”
Young adults in 2021 are coming of age in yet another crisis, and the floodgates are once again open to solutions considered too extreme in the past.
Thomson said concepts such as a universal basic income are one of those policies that are now under more serious consideration due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Between 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang making Universal Basic Income his signing policy and stimulus payments to the vast majority of Americans, some wonder if Universal Basic Income could just continue.
But it’s not just the dissemination of ideas. It is the action taken afterwards.
Last summer, the biggest civil rights movement in American history came after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The Black Lives Matter movement has organized daily marches in American cities and around the world.
But with an increased fervor for socialist ideals, Wilson cares about more than just mobilizing. He is afraid to organize himself.
“Martin Luther King Jr. could be giving a Million Man March speech in Washington, but where were these people two weeks from now? Wilson said. “Are they part of an organization? Are they integrated? Are they part of the movement?
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