Victoria Hammett was goofing off while watching a live broadcast of the Met Gala on Monday night when she saw the news.
Politico released a leaked draft opinion stating that the Supreme Court would strike down the constitutional right to abortion enshrined in Roe v. Wade.
Within minutes, Hammett, 23, deputy executive director of the nonprofit activist group Gen-Z For Change, was planning how she and others might fight back. The group is made up of members of the Gen-Z generation, which Pew Research defines as anyone born after 1997.
“We were all texting each other immediately,” Hammett said. “We set up a Zoom call…then immediately got to work figuring out what we could do to help.”
Since its formation in 2020, Gen-Z For Change has been part of a host of youth-led activist groups and movements to challenge what they perceive to be the disenfranchisement of their rights and protections.
In recent years, groups like March For Our Lives, which advocates for gun law reform, and The Sunrise Movement, which seeks to raise awareness of climate change, have been led by Generation Z, also known as name of zoomers, to create the change that young progressives feel will create a brighter future. These organizations, which have a strong social media presence, are more adept at using the internet in ways that their older counterparts are typically less experienced.
Between Monday evening and early Tuesday, Gen-Z for Change had already posted three TikToks about the draft notice, telling followers what the news entails and how people can get involved with the protest. These three videos have accumulated over 2 million views collectively.
News of the draft notice didn’t come as a complete shock to Gen-Z For Change, Hammett said. After closing arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case at the heart of the draft notice, she said the organization is already gearing up for June, when she thinks Roe v. Wade could be officially overturned.
The organization first plan of action: educate their more than 1.4 million TikTok followers on what the news could mean for abortion rights. Next: Recruit coders to help build systems that could automatically overwhelm future anti-abortion watchdog websites with false information — even if those websites haven’t been built yet.
“As these lines of advice appear, we hope we remove all of these lines of advice,” Hammett said.
Hammett said Gen-Z For Change anticipates that if abortion is outlawed, a flurry of websites will be used in some states to report women having illegal abortions. While these websites aren’t currently active — and likely haven’t been created yet — the organization is preemptively recruiting coders to take them down if they appear.
The websites that Gen-Z For Change plans to target include watchdog websites and tip lines designed to report people who are having abortions to authorities, in case abortions become mostly illegal. The programs their recruited coders could create range from imaginary reports automatically submitted en masse to images of cartoon characters, which can overwhelm servers and cause a site to crash, rendering it useless.
Sofia Ongele, digital strategy coordinator at Gen-Z For Change, has used this tactic many times in her advocacy.
“Our community recognizes that injustice anywhere breeds injustice everywhere,” she said. “Every time we see a whistleblower line, we have the technology to help people blast them. [with messages].”
Previously, she coded a site that users could access to send an auto-generated message to members of Congress, calling for representatives who appeared to support the Jan. 6 insurrection, and a bot that spammed a California city council to support a decision to commemorate two victims of the school shooting.
In January, she created code that allowed people to spam an email tip line in Virginia, set up for parents to report if their students were learning critical race theory. Ongele’s code allowed people to spam the e-mail advice line with the “Bee Movie” film script and song lyrics like “WAP”.
The tools’ success, Ongele said, hinges on following Gen-Z For Change, who actually uses the tools, which she says makes protest accessible to those who don’t know how to help the cause.
Gen-Z for Change was formed around the 2020 Presidential Election to motivate young voters and inspire people of voting age and younger people to get involved in electing Democrats and promoting progressive policies.
The group began as a TikTok account, where members could post informative content about the election and issues dear to some zoomers. Today, Gen-Z for Change, is a nonprofit organization offering internships, specific guides for young people, such as tips for talking to parents about vaccinations, and office hours to meet followers.
Since its inception following the first presidential debate of 2020, it has amassed more than 1.4 million followers on TikTok.
Recently, Gen-Z for Change made headlines when the Washington Post reported that the group had been briefed by the Biden administration on the conflict in Ukraine and was helping to advise the administration on the platform’s top influencers to broadcast. informations.
The organization has also taken on groups of anti-abortion whistleblowers.
We’re all incredibly upset, but we all want to know what we can do to help
-Victoria Hammett, deputy executive director of Gen-Z For Change
In September 2021, Zoomers, including members of Gen-Z for Change, flooded a hotline set up by the organization Texas Right to Life (intended to receive anonymous advice on its website to help enforce the state’s recent anti-abortion law) with Shrek porn and other intentionally false information in order to make the line inaccessible to its creators.
“It ended up being extremely successful,” Hammett said. “The website ended up being unavailable for a while and then…GoDaddy, the website provided, decided to no longer host the website.”
Gen-Z For Change’s position that abortion rights should be protected is not a fringe belief among the age group. According to a September 2021 NBC News poll, 65% of Zoomers and Millennials ages 18-34 think abortion should be legal.
The overwhelming advice lines have been a growing protest tactic among Zoomers and social media users. Progressive activists have requested tickets to a June 2020 rally for then-President Donald Trump, which they say resulted in low turnout for the event. Other factors, like the pandemic, likely played a role in the low turnout.
Since then, this strategy has become a common form of protest.
Ongele said so many Zoomers engage in these online protests because they feel pessimistic about the future and find comfort in how little they are able to do to fight back.
“It’s really easy to get discouraged and be a bit nihilistic and I don’t blame people for that because it can be really dehumanizing to see your rights on the chopping block,” she said.
Hammett said she hopes what young people are feeling now will motivate them to register to vote and, eventually, get them to the polls in November.
“A lot of people are feeling helpless right now and they want to know what they can do, and the silver lining in all of this is that they can do a lot.”
CORRECTION (May 3, 2022, 5:03 p.m.): A previous version of this article misrepresented the age of Victoria Hammett, Deputy Executive Director of Gen Z for Change. She’s 23, not 21.