Demonstrators protest Thursday near the White House over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. (Associated Press)

Demonstrators protest Thursday near the White House over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. (Associated Press)

Our collective vocabulary grows as civil rights protests march on

From redress to hashtags, the words and phrases in our protest lexicon change with the times.

The English language is fluid and changes constantly. Here’s how the right to protest was described in the First Amendment back in 1791: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Did you notice the vocabulary? “Redress” is a word we don’t often use anymore, but it was important enough to the Founding Fathers to use in the Bill of Rights.

Flash forward two centuries, and phrases were invented to describe baby boomers’ protests in the 1960s, such as “draft dodgers,” “bra burners” and “flower power.” Gen X added “save the whales” and “take back the night” to our collective consciousness. The millennials and Gen Z have contributed words to our protest lexicon, too, and learning the new terminology helps us all advocate for civil rights.

What is a hashtag and how do people use them to protest?

A hashtag is the pound sign followed by a word (or a string of words with no spaces) describing what you’re talking about, such as #Injustice or #BlackLivesMatter. You’re most likely to see hashtags on Twitter or Instagram, where they are used as keys to conversations, but people use hashtags on Facebook, too.

This past Tuesday, I typed #Snohomish into the Twitter search bar so I could follow what was happening on First Street. When I also saw the hashtag #ProudBoys next to Confederate flags and white power hand signs, I knew that I was seeing armed white supremacists. It made me nervous for my niece, who was part of the peaceful assembly protesting the murder of George Floyd.

What are bots and trolls, and what do they have to do with social unrest?

Bot accounts are fake social media profiles that bolster up someone’s social media status by making it look like they have more followers than they actually do. Bots sometimes send automated messages, so that it looks like a real person is commenting when in reality it’s a fake account.

A troll is someone who antagonizes, belittles and harasses people on social media. This is where it gets a bit complicated. There are real-life trolls who don’t mind if the whole world knows they are a jerk. You might have a cousin like this, who spouts his mouth off on Facebook. But there are also fake troll accounts. There’s a website called thispersondoesnotexist.com that scoops up pictures on the internet and makes a composite image of someone who looks real but isn’t. Trolls use these pictures to create fake social media profiles so they can harass people anonymously. If you encounter someone on social media who only has one profile picture displayed, it might be a fake account designed to stir up trouble.

What do POC and BIPOC mean?

POC means People of Color and includes anyone who is not white. BIPOC means Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and is a term that acknowledges that not all people of color face the same depth of injustice. More information can be found at thebipocproject.org.

What are microaggressions?

BIPOC deal with daily behavioral, verbal and environmental communications with racist connotations that many white people may be oblivious to. Think about Aunt Jemima pancake syrup. Do you remember what the label looked like when you were little? The brand was based on a stereotype that originated from a racist minstrel show. That’s an example of an environmental microaggression. Here’s an example of a verbal one, that I’m horribly ashamed I committed when I was 14 and attending a sleepover. My friend put on her pajamas and wrapped her hair in a scarf, and I mentioned she looked like Aunt Jemima, not realizing how racist that was. Ignorance was no excuse! My friend called me out on my comment, which was brave of her. It’s my job to educate myself about racism.

What’s the difference between doxing and swatting?

Doxing means publishing identifying details about someone on the internet with malicious intent. It usually involves encouraging your social media followers to use that information to harass someone.

Swatting is when someone reports a false crime or bomb thread to the police, knowing that it could have deadly consequences. Last August, someone swatted Ijeoma Oluo, the author of “So You Want to Talk About Race.” She was on a business trip and her teenage son was home in Shoreline asleep. Thankfully, nobody was hurt. More recently, swatting was in the news when Amy Cooper called the police in New York City and lied to them, saying that bird watcher Christian Cooper was threatening her, after he calmly asked her to follow the rules in Central Park and put her dog on a leash.

Back to the Bill of Rights: What does redress mean?

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines redress as “relief from distress,” and “the means or possibility of seeking a remedy.” The Bill of Rights was ratified 229 years ago and the need for redress continues to burn. There are grievances everywhere in our country, especially about racism, and the sooner we can achieve relief from distress, the better.

Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal. Email her at teachingmybabytoread@gmail.com.

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