By Gene Demby
Phillip Agnew was blindsided by the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. The decision came down late on a Saturday night. Agnew was expecting the neighborhood watchman who killed Trayvon Martin to be found guilty.
Agnew, 28, leads a group of young activists called the Dream Defenders, which formed in Florida last year in the weeks following Trayvon’s shooting death. It was one of the many groups that sprouted up in cities across the country in response to the shooting.
These new organizations relied on social media to amplify their calls for charges to be brought against Zimmerman, who initially was not held for any crime. Thousands of people showed up at marches, while many more signed online petitions or changed their Facebook profile pictures to shots of themselves sporting hoodies like the one Trayvon was wearing when he was killed. It was the latest demonstration of a kind of hashtag activism — think #STOPKONY — in which people used social media to lower the barrier of entry for civic engagement. That was especially true for people who hadn’t previously thought of themselves as activist types.
Because so much of the activism was Internet-based, it was both loud and diffuse. But with the trial over, all the protest energy inspired by the case suddenly lacked a discrete focus or goal. Some groups are trying to redirect the energy of disappointed activists toward changing laws like the ones they say contributed to Trayvon’s shooting. And that means taking on the stand your ground law in Florida and around the country.
It’s hard to imagine a tougher target.
Agnew decided to stage a sit-in at the Florida Capitol building. The goal: to press Gov. Rick Scott to call a special session to consider what the Dream Defenders call Trayvon’s Law. One of its major pillars is repealing Florida’s stand your ground law.
After the killing, Daniel Maree, a New York advertising strategist, started a group called A Million Hoodies. He used Twitter and social media to organize a rally of thousands of people in Manhattan in the spring of last year. He said that activism had been “updated for a social media generation that is more aggressive, more outspoken.”