A Student Demonstration at the Yahoo Conference
On Nov. 12 the Yahoo Conference on Digital Democracy at Drake University was interrupted by a student demonstration. The demonstration was organized by a group of students, including Jacqui Branch and Brytani Cavil, with the help of Des Moines-area activist Kaija Carter. Branch, a senior sociology major at Drake described her and her fellow organizers’ vision behind the demonstration.
Branch said that the goal of the demonstration was to “spark discussion about Drake’s issue, and also stand in solidarity with Mizzou.” The University of Missouri (Mizzou) gained national attention for a series of threatening incidents, and the student organization Concerned Student 1950 is attempting to bring change to campus. Branch said her and fellow organizers wanted to take advantage of the national spotlight on Drake the week of the DNC debate.
Branch also commented on the unique position that she and everyone at Drake has being in Iowa. In this one week there were four presidential candidates on campus. Rand Paul was interviewed on stage during the Yahoo conference, and all three democratic candidates attended the debate. Being in Iowa and at Drake, Branch noted that the messages of the demonstration can reach presidential candidates. Branch herself wants the candidates to do more than acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement; she wants to see real solutions to reform the criminal justice system in this country.
Originally the demonstration was only going to take place in the dining hall during lunch. However, when Branch and Cavil learned of some of the panelists that were participating in the Yahoo Conference, they quickly came up with the second location.
Branch and Cavil were specifically excited about the final panel that was made up of moderator Leslie Sanchez of Yahoo News and former director of the White House Initiative on Hispanic Education; Morgan DeBaun the CEO and founder of Blavity; Diane Guerrero an actress and immigration reform activist; and Jamal Simmons the co-founder and CEO of CRVII Inc. The panel that these people were participating in was entitled “The Revolution will be Mobilized: Race, Ethnicity and Social Media.” Branch and her fellow organizers were drawn to the media attention that the conference was receiving as well as the opportunity to speak to the panelist about the best ways to further their goals.
A few of the Yahoo staff commented on how “polite” the demonstration was. All of the students that participated checked-in at the event and got credentials. They also waited until a break in the program so that they did not disrupt a panel.
The students circled around the lobby space while panelist, staff and attendees watched. A few students stepped forward one after each other and spoke. One demonstrator stepped forward to say “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Another told onlookers “This is your civil rights era. You no longer have to wonder what you would do.” To which the entire group responded “What side are you on?”
Then everyone participating in the demonstration chanted together “It is our duty to fight for our freedom; it is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other; we have nothing to lose but our chains.” They encouraged everyone watching to join in the chanting which they continued as they circled the room three times and then left still chanting down the stairs and out the building.
Many of the panelist were excited about the demonstration, and it remained a topic of conversation in the green rooms and on stage during the conference. DeBaun posted videos of the demonstration on BlavityFam Snapchat, which is followed by people across the country. DeBaun also spoke about the demonstration while she was on the final panel.
The panel touched on the impact that the millennial generation has on politics. Simmons spoke about millennials taking advantage of social media to talk about politics and create movements that become big enough that candidates must address them. All four panelists spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement specifically as an example of the power that social media can have. DeBaun acknowledged the demonstration that she witnessed in the lobby earlier that day as an example of how people visually tell stories and curate conversations. She acknowledged black and brown millennials specifically as groups that are using social media to push their stories out of their small circle and into a national conversation about race in our country.
The panelist and the Yahoo staff were excited for the opportunity to connect the demonstration to the greater conversation that the conference was attempting to address: How does technology affect politics? What was clear by 4 p.m., when the set began to come down, was that social media has an immense impact. As Simmons and DeBaun pointed out, not only does anyone get the opportunity to be a journalist, the stories shared over social media can be connected under one movement to tell a broader story. As we come closer to the conventions and to determining which two people will compete in the general election, it will be interesting to see how the campaigns and the voters continue to use technology in an attempt to influence the outcome.
Barbour is a junior political science and international relations double major at Drake. She spent last semester abroad in Amman, Jordan, studying Arabic and Middle Eastern politics. Follow her on Twitter.