Modernizing a movement takes a good hand at social media, a working camera, and a bit of luck.
Keegan Stephan began in 2011 with Occupy Wall Street in New York City, where protesters took Zuccotti Park on September 17, 2011 for their own and held off police and impending weather to make a statement on the current affairs plaguing the millennial generation in the US.
Stephan has become better known on social media, recently being seen as a source of information on current actions and recording police brutality to post on his Twitter account from the time when he was an organizer. When the Black Lives Matter movement started to take form, Stephan took a step back from his organizer role and instead became the support for the movement. RATSmagazine asked him questions about how he became involved in the movement and his ideas on social media’s effects on activism.
RATSmagazine: So how did you start contributing to the Black Lives Matter Movement? Did you have previous ties with the Black Lives Matter organizers before this all started or did you just begin the twitter account and start posting?
Keegan Stephan: I’ve had my Twitter account since Occupy Wall Street, which I was pretty involved in, I was an organizer and since then I’ve been working with some media collectives, so I had ties with those. And when the Black Lives Matter movement started it was obviously a black/ brown movement so I didn’t have a role, but I went to the demonstrations and started taking photos and posting them on Twitter for the first time, so I got a lot of my connections that way.
RM: You have also been very involved in the collective #ShutItDown, with posting photos and relaying information to the public from them, how did you get involved with them?
KS: They started organizing around the time that the cops had killed Eric Garner, and I just started going to their regular events in Grand Central Station every Monday so it was easy to go every week, and we knew who each other were (I wasn’t one of the organizers). Then some things happened and I was able to help them out, with brutal arrests and such, and I had also worked with the National Lawyers Guild so I was able to help them out on that front and I’ve been talking to them so I’ve been able to help out with the organizing as well.
RM: Since you have started helping out in the movement was there a fear of being arrested like there is now? I understand that since the Baltimore Uprising police officers have now increased in their tactics.
KS: Yeah, I think there has always been a fear of being arrested, even at small actions that are entirely legal like the ones in Grand Central, we’ve never relaxed because you don’t know what the police are going to do even though they shouldn’t be doing anything. The difference between from when Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson to when Eric Garner was killed, was that at some point the police stopped letting us out into the streets after Eric was killed, they started shutting us down on the sidewalk and arresting us immediately.
RM: If we go back to the earlier days, when you joined this movement, was there a moment when you realized and decided to risk arrest and wanted to help out even if it meant facing police?
KS: In terms of getting involved, when Mike Brown was killed and everything started to erupt in Ferguson, I think everyone could feel how important that moment was. I knew there was going to be demonstrations in New York City, organized by people I haven’t worked with before and new black and brown leadership, so I had just planned to go out into the street and support them. And I saw how social media became really important, Twitter especially, for the Black Lives Matter movement than the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The people documenting from all over the country of the protests and how large they were and the police brutality they were facing, and the chaos in Ferguson as a result of that brutality, knew how important it was to document that. So when I stepped out to the first demonstration in New York I was there knowing I wasn’t a part of the leadership and probably most helpful thing I could do was to document what was going on and spread the news of those demonstrations on my social media accounts.
RM: Yes I understand what you mean, do you have any advice for people who want to join and help these movements?
KS: I definitely think that getting out into the streets is and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement with your body, especially if you are a white person who is less likely to be assaulted by police and get longer jail time, would be more helpful.
RM: Speaking of spreading information, there have also be criticism of ‘Arm-Chair activism’ of people who spread the word online but do not go into the streets, do you have any ideas on that?
KS: I don’t discourage anyone from “Arm-Chair Activism” because not everybody can go out into the streets to help out. I do think the social media is a secondary way to spread the message that the Black Lives Matter movement is saying, because you can’t speak to everyone directly. When were out on the street we do talk to a lot of people directly, were taking photos and videos and spreading the in person about what we are doing, and it important to help move that message wherever you are and show that it is worth it to take the streets is just as helpful as being out there in the streets with us.