Before I spoke to Adam Eli, I had seen his neck on my explore page. Resting lightly on it was a pearl choker, a chain with Hebrew lettering and a Jewish Star. Already in love, I fell eagerly into his Instagram page, wide eyed at the bright rainbow array of colors, beautiful community of friends and his message of resistance.
In this age of social platforms, online activism is omnipresent and political engagement often ends at its inception — with a lone tweet or Instagram story, Adam stands above with his commitment to real world action. Adam is the founder of Voices4 (“When you mess with one queer, you mess with us all.”) and before that, was a key part of Gays Against Guns. He has marched, organized, lectured and empowered on a daily basis, reaching over 32.6k people. HisInstagram platform is an extension of the energy he has in life, a powerful hope coupled with immense strength. I spoke with him about how to start a movement and how to avoid falling into clicktivism.
Q. What does it mean to be an activist in today’s world?
I believe that people care and want to show up but just don’t know how to do it.For this reason, whenever I post on social media, I’m trying to make action accessible. For example, right after the Orlando Pulse shooting, I posted on Instagram saying, “if you’re feeling angry or desperate meet me at my apartment and together we can head to the Memorial Rally.” About 30 people showed up just from that Instagram post!
Q. Do you have any advice for young people trying to be activists? It’s so easy to become overwhelmed by the world. How do you weaponize your emotion in an authentic and productive way?
My rule is, “Don’t post unless it is hopeful or a direct call to action.” The goal for everything I post on social media is for it to have an equal reaction outside of social media, meaning it has to generate action or hope offline as well. People dismiss clicktivism as something useless or something that doesn’t generate change, but social media is a huge platform and in terms of accessibility, it’s where everyone looks.
Q. Can you define clicktivism?
It’s all of the sharing and posting activism, sign this petition or share this link. Clicktivism alone isn’t enough. Sharing a link around the internet probably won’t translate into change. Of course, if you cango to a rally/protest and post about it, you absolutely should. It’s a privilege. There are so many people who can’t go to protests because they’re undocumented or not out to their family or in a place where it’s just not safe to protest. If you’re able to post about protests you attend, absolutely post about them. You’ll never know who you will inspire!
Q. How do you navigate the contradictions in your life? Personally, I know that a lot of times my faith (Judaism) doesn’t align with my queer identity. How does Judaism play a role in your activism?
I used to hate beingJewish and love being Gay. One day, I sat down and made a list of all the things I love about being gay — the community, the history, the perseverance —and realized that I had all of the same things in my Judaism.
This isn’t somethingI acknowledged overnight though. It’s taken a long time to figure things out and get here. This is just my experience; I don’t want to generalize and speak to anybody else’s. That said, one of the best parts about being gay is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Whatever you’re trying to do, chances are someone has already confronted it, fought with it and worked their way through it. I’m always looking back at my Queer heroes. For example, I recently posted about Willem Arondeus on my Instagram. Arondeus was an out gay man (a writer, poet and artist) who spent his life fighting the Nazis. He wasn’t Jewish, yet he was willing to risk his life to protect others.
It wasn’t that I woke up one day and felt like posting something and then contrived something to post about. I had already known about Arondeus and wanted to offer him as guide to others. Everything has to be authentic.
Q. In addition to hope, calls to action, and authenticism, what are your other central beliefs?
I have three more that I try to practice every day:
1. The biggest misconception about activism is that people do not care. People want to show up and fight for what they believe in, they just do not always know how.As an activist I seek to provide easily accessible ways for people to take action and contribute. Then I use social media to publicize these opportunities. I never convince, persuade or cajole. I simply try to create a space for action.
2. TheLGBTQIA+ community has two responsibilities: to show up for each other and other persecuted groups. It is imperative that we leverage whatever privilege we have to help less privileged members of our own community. I am my brother, sister and gender nonconforming siblings’ keeper.
3. “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
[We are one of 30 global youth platform partners in the launch of an initiative by @ChimeForChange (CHIME FOR CHANGE) and @weareirregular (Irregular Labs) to explore gender and our fluid future. Check out the other content and partner platforms in this link.]