“Each generation…imagines the contours of a more just society…”
– Todd Wolfson in Digital Rebellion: Birth of the Cyber Left
NJ Spark was born in the halls of Rutgers University in 2014, but its existence is the result of a hundred years of social justice activism in the United States. Like other organizations in the state, NJ Spark is the result of people seeking to make their voices heard and trying to lift up the voices of those that find themselves left out of the conversation defining what is just and unjust.
The historical context under which NJ Spark and like-minded organizations emerged is chronicled in Digital Rebellion: The Birth of the Cyber Left. In his book, Rutgers professor Todd Wolfson places organizations like NJ Spark on the most recent end of a timeline charting the emergence of organizations seeking to reimagine the definition of social justice. The most recent evolution is what Wolfson calls the “cyber left”. The cyber left is defined by creative use of new media and social networks, the desire for meaningful democratic participation, the occupation of virtual and physical space, and the leadership of young people.
From the struggle for workers’ rights in the early 20th century to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s, Wolfson writes that these movements for social justice were the precursors to the 21st century social activists’ reimagining of what could be. These include occupations like Occupy Wall Street, #BlackLivesMatter, the fight for marriage equality, as well as the digital rights movement. All of these battles for social justice over the last century are, as Wolfson puts it, “the negation of ‘what is’ in an attempt to create ‘what ought to be.’”
In learning from the past, NJ Spark seeks to teach our student media makers the mistakes and successes of previous generations of social justice media makers. In remembering the work that came before us, NJ Spark can contextualize the stories we tell about New Brunswick, Atlantic City, Newark, or Camden. NJ Spark seeks to share our perspective on what’s happening in New Jersey so that we can grow the community seeking to make positive change. As we see it, the more sparks igniting change, the better.