There is a growing linguistic phenomenon for internet-powered American hyper-liberals aiming to challenge the Trump Administration, conservatism, and capitalism in general. After finishing a brief platitude, tweet or satirical statement on the current state of politics or economics, a user adds the word RESIST, adorned with the #, or hashtag, which looks like this: “#resist”.
A very direct imperative for those reading, to resist something. However, it is unclear what one should be resisting. If it is the target of the user’s criticism (Trump/conservatism/capitalism), then we fall into a quagmire of issues that this electronic utterance represents, including signification and political (in)action.
#resist as a signifier of meaningful action
There are one thousand ways to place the word “resist” on a t-shirt or poster and one thousand ways for “resist” to signify an act that transcends its own base definition. Take for example the phrase “Hanya ada satu kata: Lawan!” (There is only one word: Resist!) that would have been heard with repetition in 1980s Indonesia by activist poets like Wiji Thukul against the authoritarian government.
These activists and protestors tapped into the transcending definition of “Resist!” as the performance of organized, visible protest against the powers that be, peaceful or otherwise, successful or otherwise, safe or otherwise. Activist figures found harsh consequences (Thukul hasn’t been seen for 19 years) yet continued organized movements against their oppressor.
But “Resist!” was spoken, it was professed through art and diction. Indonesian students felt reduced into action and to only one word. The monolithic meaning of “resist” was thus directed and solidified by the consequential actions of the individual and the group.
Three decades later and we arrive at #resist, and supposed symbol of action but instead we arrive at…
Political (in)action and posterboard activism
Remember Kony 2012, a documentary and campaign attempting to mobilize American youth to post in their suburbs and cities various graffiti and posters that highlight the deplorable actions of warlord Joseph Kony. Compassion was built among high schoolers and college students on Facebook, not angered by the video itself but by its synopsis by one of the few viewers of the video. A date was established to paint the town red. Kids bought their spray paints and rolls of paint and posters.
Yet by the time that date came around, the fervor died out. Perhaps people forgot to market on their calendars, or the next crisis came around, or maybe they did some research and found it wasn’t a particularly well-founded campaign. Whatever the case, #Kony2012 lived and died as the embodiment of activistic ephemerality: the idea was enough to entertain the senses, especially when these almost-activists were not even affected by the Ugandan rebel leader.
#resist is a summary of Kony 2012’s blunders. It comes from a sincere place in the heart, that these aphorisms and bold statements mean something to the overall anti-Trump/conservatism/capitalism debate. Yet the object itself is hollow and toxic to its historical significance as it emphasizes a meaninglessness of the word: it is now an electronic utterance, to be tacked on to faceless statements and forgettable social media posts. Also tragic is the misconstruing of a social network tagging feature (#) as a tool of rhetoric and change. “#resist” has been converted into a niche category and quietly filed away on servers, like the rolled up poster of a raised fist waiting in an Amazon warehouse.
The satisfaction gained from utilizing #resist is one of the many ingredients to produce complacency. The word’s vagueness should not appear monolithic, but rather highly contextual: it should only be used when paired with visible, organized action. Liberal activism cannot be headless — or worse off, faceless — when attempting to highlight the ideological and moral issues of their opponents. #resist should be plastered on the vocal chords of changemakers instead of the mass-produced t-shirts, posters, and tweets.