By PR & Company Intern Michelle Saipe
It’s been barely three weeks since Mitch McConnell silenced Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor, explaining succinctly – and now famously – that, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Unfortunately for McConnell, he succeeded only in amplifying Warren’s voice. Warren continued to read her statement in her Senate office and posted it on Facebook. The video quickly went viral with over 12 million views, significantly more than Warren could ever have gotten on CSPAN alone.
What would have been just another forgotten speech on the Senate Floor has now become another symbol of the resistance against the new administration. #ShePersisted and #LetLizSpeak exploded on social media, Reebok issued a line of t-shirts sporting the “Nevertheless, she persisted” slogan, and women have even raised money for Planned Parenthood by tattooing the phrase on their arms.
Warren gained attention from ever major news outlet ranging from Fox News to The New York Times and created a social media storm overnight. Still, the long term impact of political or issue campaigns based in social media like this one is still unknown.
After the tweets and memes lose momentum, and we turn our attention to new outrages, what are we left with?
The Senate still approved Sessions, and McConnell still banned Warren from speaking on the Senate Floor. While social media may have broadcast an otherwise unremarkable Senate speech and prolonged the story by a day or two, ultimately the lasting effect of these memes remains limited. Tellingly, during the time that this blog was drafted, a firestorm about now Attorney General Sessions communications with Russia is leading the news.
When every day presents a new threat to American values, most stories – no matter how outrageous – get lost.
Online campaigns have an incredible power to unite groups and encourage civic engagement. Memes do spur real life discussion and heartfelt posts, and they rally people around common themes and beliefs. They have the potential to make a longer lasting impact, but to be powerful, these movements must be able to mobilize their members on and offline to sustain engagement and create change over time.
While online engagement may be at an all-time high, voter turnout hit a 20-year low in 2016. To make an impact people need to get offline and do something active: call a representative and voice your opinions, go knock doors during campaign season, start activist groups, vote. In contrast to the questionable efficacy of #ShePersisted, constituent calls to elected representatives have seen great success. Public outcry even forced Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz to walk back a proposal to sell off parcels of federally protected land, for example.
While the effects of any single strategy may be unknown, one thing is painfully clear: hashtags, memes, and the social media firestorms they create – while useful in building movements – are simply not enough to sustain them. To push your agenda forward, your actions must be greater than a click of the mouse.