Millennials are protesting Donald Trump’s presidency, the patriarchy, and the status quo like never before. However, with all that protesting comes a lot of burnout.
In a recent op-ed from Stanford University graduate student Lily Zheng in the Stanford Daily, she proposed that with so many student activist groups forming on campus, activism has become harder and not easier.
The realm of what could be called “social justice work” is no longer characterized by a small number of vocal students and student groups pushing back against an indifferent campus; maybe now, our problem is oversaturation. Everyone is interested in activism (and in reframing what they already do as activism) — in finding the ways in which their interests relate to a bigger picture of social justice and address some of the many issues and inequities in society.
Zheng spoke to Red Alert Politics and mentioned that liberals and progressives doubling down on identity politics, activists, advocates, and allies are spread too thin.
“We’ve created this semi-sustainable (and I say this in a bad way) pipeline of incoming activists that’s led to burnout,” Zheng said. “I’m not happy about that.”
When asked if activists should consolidate rather than forming the roughly 600 student groups at Stanford, Zheng was in firm agreement.
“One of the biggest successes and failures of the last couple of years has been the rise of intersectional identity politics,” Zheng explained. “And by that, I refer to the organizing around different combinations of identities. For example, Asian American activism is different from Queer Asian American activism, which is different from Queer Trans Asian American activism, which is different from Queer Trans Muslim Asian American activism.”
Zheng explained that while these identities are crucial for academic understanding in activism, they’ve had the “harmful effect” of dividing up the student body into fractions.
In response to a high school student, Ziad Ahmed, who was accepted to Stanford from in essay in which he wrote “#BlackLivesMatter” 100 times, Zheng expressed pleasant surprise for the first “five minutes” of hearing the news. After those five minutes, however, Zheng said she felt his essay was entirely unnecessary given his already impressive credentials.
“He could’ve left that section blank or drawn a picture of a cat.”
Listen to the whole conversation below: