Monique Flores Ulysses is a former Landscapes of Injustice research assistant now in the first semester of her PhD. I interviewed her earlier in the year, knowing of her interest in activist and grassroots movements historically in addition to her engagement with conversations around oppression and inequality today.
As a characteristic millennial, I often encounter such conversations on my social media news stream. I appreciate Monique’s reliable voice on these platforms; she brings her own critiques and opinions to contemporary events and highlights the importance of historically-rooted understandings of our present.
Before our conversation, I easily would have considered her social media engagement as a form of activist work. Was it not one way to engage in, alter, or rebuke (for example) heteronormative patriarchal discourses? Yes, I said, perhaps idealistically.
But Monique chose to define her activism differently. Despite her social media presence and scholarship, Monique explained that she did not feel comfortable taking on the activist label. Her relation to activism lay, Monique said, in her indebtedness to the thought that has developed out of activist fields. It has shaped and inspired much of her scholarship.
I was surprised. Respecting that people might define what an activist is differently, Monique explained,
“The reason I wouldn’t describe myself as an activist is mostly because I think that is a label that needs to be earned and given to you by a particular community, or communities, and not a self-appointed one. I think often times there is a self-glorification that because you say ‘I am an activist,’ suddenly you are some sort of social justice elite and you forget that we are all on different paths of unlearning.”
Monique supports an inclusive vision of activism and emphasized the importance of being grounded in community: “It needs to spring up from […] a place of communal respect and engagement.”
She pointed to the various kinds of labour—both emotional and physical—that goes into activist work: “If you are out protesting, who’s at home taking care of family? Or who’s making lunch for everyone? Who’s the person that you come home to talk about the protest with?” She explained the importance of acknowledging all those roles–and all the ways that our own labour is restricted due to all sorts of interlocking oppressions— when discussing activism.
Monique’s definition marks an important limitation of ‘social media activism.’ Sharing and reposting may demonstrate support, but successful activism often requires an ongoing—and at times inglorious—commitment that is rooted in a broader community.
This all being said, Monique made clear that she is a huge fan of social media and a supporter of social media activism. In addition to her love for Twitter, Monique co-authors a blog, Historical Hotties, to holds up rabble-rousers with aim to broaden conceptions of beauty and question our assumptions of who we deem worthy of our praise:
– Kaitlin Findlay, spring 2016