Earlier this month, our news feeds were bombarded with stock market related headlines regarding GameStop, which left many of us scratching our heads wondering ‘what is GameStop’ and ‘why is this such a big deal’?
To quickly summarize, GameStop is a video game retail chain that was noticeably struggling financially, so Wall Street hedge funds placed stock market bets on it dropping in share value. If the value of GameStop shares declined, these Wall Street hedge funds would make a big profit. This legal tactic is called short selling. On the other hand, online day traders look for financial opportunities by identifying which companies these hedge funds have taken a short position on and join together — by organizing themselves on online platforms such as Reddit — to make sure enough people start buying the stock of these struggling companies to ensure the stock price is driven up, instead of going down. This action undermines what Wall Street predicted, and these day traders will, in turn, be the ones who make a profit.
However, the most notable aspect of this recent GameStop saga, the silver lining, was that it highlighted the incredible power of collective action; the impactful influence that individuals can harness when they work together, in union, towards a common goal, and exhibited the incredible mobilization capabilities of social media. If that same determination and organization could be harnessed and used towards saving our planet, our future would be blindingly bright.
Let's dive a bit more into the concept of Collective Action
The term “collective action” refers to a collaborative effort of a group of people powered by a common goal; mainly taking place in the social (the rights of women, racial minorities and LGBTQAI+ people) and environmental (conservation and protection of wildlife) areas. A collective action is commonly motivated by a group based emotion: it tends to be rooted in a feeling of injustice, where individuals come together as a means to adjust the inequality or imbalance that they feel has been imposed on them. When its size, vision, management and determination weigh in front of the politics or lobbyists, this collective dynamic can become an unstoppable force to be reckoned with.
Yes, we need a system change rather than individual change. But you cannot have one without the other (...) If you look through history, all the big changes in society have been started by people at the grassroots level. People like you and me. — Greta Thunberg
Collective action encourages global changes but also personal healing
In the past few years, we have seen an increased number of collective action initiatives come together in the name of environmental justice. When communities work together on environmental issues, positive impact can be made, not only for the planet but also on individual participants. A 2018 study that focused on the Ojnare environmental campaign is a great example of how collective action initiatives can create a cascading effect of positive impact. This campaign originated as a reaction to the Swedish government’s decision to grant the mining company, Nordkak, the permission to build a limestone quarry on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Locals wanted to protect the endangered plant and mineral species whose natural habitat would be destroyed by the presence of this new quarry. For months, individuals camped out in the forests surrounding Lake Bästeträsk, Gotland island’s largest freshwater lake, to physically block the mining companies’ excavation equipment from digging. They protested against their government’s decision which was subsequently enforced by police presence. After nearly a decade-long dispute, the local community persevered; they managed to not only stop the mining project, but convince the government to turn Gotland’s forests into a protected area. The study, which interviewed some of the people involved in the collective campaign, concluded that participation in a collective action can greatly impact an individual's personality and behaviour, which in this case, led participants to adopt an overall greener lifestyle and a more global worldview. So, not only did the group achieve their goal, but the individuals that partook in the collective action felt the positive impacts of their participation on a personal level as well.
Some positive effects an individual can experience from participating in a collective action:
-Increase one’s sense of community: collective actions frequently act as a catalyst for participants to create meaningful and long lasting bonds with others
- Increase one’s sense of self-worth and self-confidence: participation in a successful collective action initiative empowers participants by demonstrating that their individual actions have an impact
- Increase one’s sense of hope
A collective action can take many forms. It can be an event where people physically gather together for a few hours, a few days, or for an even longer period of time. It can even be a community getting together virtually through an app or a forum. Social media platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, have become fantastic tools that allow anyone, regardless of their location, to join a collective action. Nowadays, it seems almost impossible to separate the realms of activism and social media. Supporting a collective action on social media helps to mobilize these movements by empowering participants to promote awareness and show solidarity through individual participation.
However, genuine support of any online movement is legitimized through concrete actions. This is where the individual, social media, and a collective action initiative come together to create a significant impact. Without offline action, gestures like using a hashtag or posting a story, can come across as performative or inauthentic. An individual can use their social networks as a tool to reinforce their support for a collective action. For example, you can help raise awareness for your favorite NGO by posting on social media about their latest wildlife conservation efforts, as well as encouraging your online audience to donate to the cause, or make a donation yourself. If you are trying to implement a zero-waste lifestyle, join a Facebook group where you can ask questions, read about what others are doing or motivate group members by posting photos of your personal achievements. If you frequently post online about veganism, you can educate those around you by inviting friends or family over for a delicious vegan meal.
These examples and the recent GameStop saga help to remind us of the extraordinary influence social media possesses, and how we can use this powerful tool to incorporate environmental collective action efforts into our everyday lives.
How to join a collective action from home through social media:
- Follow your favorite environmental movements across all your social media channels (example: follow an initiative on Instagram and become a member of their Facebook group)
- Post about your offline achievements and always remember to tag the groups that inspired you
- Share information on environmental initiatives with all your social networks
- Show support for environmental movements through hashtags
From individual to collective action, no matter what form your involvement takes, you can belong to an impactful group of changemakers simply by putting your plastic bottle in a recycling bin, posting an Instagram story to celebrate your favorite NGO’s latest achievements, or simply bringing a reusable bag with you on your next trip to the grocery store; every single one of your choices can be meaningful. Make sure to connect with your community and remember: every action is a step forward towards a cleaner planet and a better future.
Photo credit in order - from the Unsplash platform:
John O Nolan