Say No To Hate: Ryan Vizzions
Apathy towards injustice is toxic. We have become so entangled in conversational clouds on social media that we honestly feel that ‘shares’ and ‘likes’ are making a direct impact. This helps to a certain degree, but it does not solve the problems plaguing our nation today.
Ryan Vizzions is an internationally recognized independent photojournalist, activist, and artist focused on human and civil rights. Ryan's work has been included in 2016’s best photos by People Magazine, Mic.com & Artsy.net. In 2017, his work again placed in "Photos of the Year" by ABC News and Guardian, and his photography was highlighted at the Nobel Peace forums. Two-time winner of Creative Loafing's "Best of" awards, Vizzions’ work is represented by Monroe Gallery of Photography in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Ryan Vizzions: Questions like this have no single answer. We face a myriad of issues that impact a wide range of people across the country. Answering this question requires a broader approach.
Apathy. Apathy towards injustice is toxic. We have become so entangled in conversational clouds on social media that we honestly feel that ‘shares’ and ‘likes’ are making a direct impact. This helps to a certain degree, but it does not solve the problems plaguing our nation today.
To stop injustice and defend what’s right, it takes boots on the ground and people pounding the pavement. The Civil Rights Movement was effective because the oppressed banded together, took to the streets, and refused to be silent. They made their voices heard.
Currently, our country is devolving into a pseudo reality show, much like the one that our president was birthed from. It’s a false notion that internet dialog will directly impact change. However, it does help bring awareness to the issues that require our attention. It gets people mad, but too often, within a week, people move on to the next issues to be upset about.
Dedication is the key to the game. We have a very short attention span that tends to only focus on the latest hot-button issue. When the spotlight shifts, those issues still exist, but lack the support system it previously had.
Change takes dedication, commitment, and sacrifice. People feel that they are doing something by sharing information, but in reality, most are sharing with the expectation that someone else is going to pick up the slack and step up to confront issues. Unfortunately, this rarely happens. Social media becomes an echo chamber. We need to bring that outrage out of the social clouds and into the streets where it can be effective.
Ryan Vizzions: Get involved. It starts with the youth. In a decade, they will be the new generation of young leaders. We need to nurture that. Pull them away from the internet. Encourage them to go outside and play, interact with other children, and understand how to communicate face-to-face. Let them be children. Let them get dirty, make mistakes, solve problems, work together, and build vital confidence for the future.
As adults, we need to become more involved as well. It’s overwhelming to consider every problem facing everyone. Nobody can take them all on. Find something you are truly passionate about. Find something you want to improve and dig your heels in. You don’t need to dedicate your entire life to it, but if everyone gave a little, a lot can get accomplished. Whether it’s police injustice or your school’s lunch program, dedicate yourself to learning, understanding, and changing that with which you are unhappy.
Ryan Vizzions: I am a huge fan of grassroots campaigns. Over the years, I have put less and less faith into our elected officials and more faith in the power of the people. Politicians are fallible and can certainly be bought. No matter what they say, everyone has a price when it comes to individual leadership and the insatiable quest for power. Lobbyists push their corporate agendas, valuing profit over people.
I was able to witness the true power of a leaderless movement when I was at Standing Rock. Parts came together as a whole. Collaboration is the power of true democracy. One singular person cannot and should not unilaterally decide for the collective. A community can decide what’s best for itself.
Now, with that said, it’s important to understand the nuance of grassroots activism. Protesting in the streets fosters community involvement and brings awareness to issues. However, protesting itself does not enact change. True change comes from frontline activism of non-violent direct action. Want to impact a bank funding American Indian oppression? Encourage people to divest from that bank. Take the money out of their hands and lessen their power. Not happy with ICE deportations? Lock yourself to the front door of the Immigration Detention Centers. Force them to deal with you.
John Lewis and the Freedom Riders were front-liners. Harriet Tubman was a front-liner. Those who sat at “whites only” counters and drank from “whites only” fountains were front-liners. The marches provide much-needed support, but it’s those who face consequences who shift the tides of momentum for a movement and inspire the marches in the first place.
Ryan Vizzions: Now, for those who have read this far into this interview, this is where I get to explain a little bit about my experience with social media’s role in activism. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to cover the #NODAPL (Standing Rock) movement in North Dakota in 2016. I worked hand in hand with the tribes to help stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. I was placed in charge of media check-ins and ran one of the most successful social media campaigns for the movement.
Through photojournalism, my work reached the eyes of roughly half a billion people. A Facebook page I created to share photos of the movement went viral and climbed from 400 followers to over 250K followers in less than two months. During the movement, my page alone reached over 91 million people. It helped spread awareness for the movement. People all around the world, thanks to my page and others, began to stand up. Bank divestment campaigns were started, and people protested in the streets. It really fired folks up.
Despite all of this exposure, none of it was stopping the pipeline. What was stopping the pipeline were the front-liners, the warriors, those locking down the pipeline equipment, those being shot with rubber bullets and being sprayed with tear gas for holding their ground. They were the people that created awareness in the first place. Articles and photos are all good and well, but it takes actual people taking actual risks to make those stories worth telling and sharing. Despite the six months I spent covering #NODAPL, the government sold out the people’s interest in favor of the pipeline company.
Ryan Vizzions: To be honest, I have been fairly out of touch with Atlanta activism over the last couple years. I have been on the road for the most part until recently. After six months at Standing Rock, I traveled through the country to various resistance camps, touched back home for a minute, then took off to Puerto Rico in October of last year to cover the island after hurricane Maria devastated it. I’ve been back in Atlanta for a few months now, but it has been more of a recuperating period. I’ve been working on a couple projects, but they mostly relate to the Midwest.
I was able to get involved with a few anti-ICE events here in the city that I heard about through friends who do a lot of great work here in Atlanta. If you want to learn more about the challenges facing immigrants, I would recommend the Atlanta-based group Southerners on New Ground (SONG).
Ryan Vizzions: Physically get involved. Every action makes an impact. Whether it’s marching in the streets or making sandwiches and giving them to those in need, every act of kindness helps form a stronger sense of community. Atlanta has a legacy to uphold and we must ensure that legacy stays intact. Get off your phone on occasion and put those feet to the ground. Get to know your neighbors or visit a neighborhood you don’t often visit. Spend your money in communities that need your support. Shop local, spend at small business, buy bottles of water from the children on the side of the road, etc. It’s the culmination of many small actions that eventually erupts into impact.
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