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Now more than ever, we want our voices heard.

Although our country was founded on protests and activism, these acts have gained traction since November’s election. Marches and movements are entering the spotlight, sparking both positive and negative responses.

We see it in our own backyard: Students stand in Red Square, hold old cardboard scribbled with thick lines of Sharpie and utilize their ability to freely voice their concerns.

Protest, and the fundamental guarantees protecting our right to do so, should be celebrated. So why did Pepsi’s new commercial miss the mark?

The almost-three-minute advertisement follows a crowd of millennial activists walking to end injustice in the United States. Every scene change showcased a spectrum of identities, as if the casting crew went down the list and checked every box. With a knowing smirk and head nod, the attractive 20-somethings convince Kendall Jenner to leave her photoshoot and join the blanket movement of the common people.

The happy-go-lucky protesters are practically skipping down the street, not a whiff of violence in the air. At the police barricade, they’re met with stern faces instead of tear gas. Jenner, a rich white woman, offers the olive branch. Handing an officer a can of Pepsi, the crowd erupts in cheers. All of their problems are solved, right?

Not quite.

Illustration by Shannon DeLurio

The lighthearted mood of the commercial minimizes the very real and valid feelings of danger and frustration protesters can feel — especially when up against a police force. Protest is sparked when participants have exhausted all other forms of getting their voices heard. It’s not trendy like Pepsi is leading us to believe. It’s a last resort to ignite change.

In a statement released on April 5, the company said, “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize.”

Pepsi took imagery from Black Lives Matter protests and the movement as a whole. Although aimed to promote unity, Pepsi exploited social justice to turn a profit instead of for the greater good. If Pepsi truly wanted to spread the message they claim, they’d do more than create a tone-deaf ad.

Trivializing the plight of a historically and systematically oppressed group of people, while tokenizing the members of the group, is the opposite of promoting unity. In order to be successful, they needed to explicitly and genuinely support the movements which were ripped off. There’s zero authenticity.

Keep that in mind with the growing social movements you support. Check your privilege, which I even struggled with while writing this. Know that you can do more. When you see a protester in Red Square, have a conversation. Figure out how you can join the movement and truly help the cause.

Go beyond the retweet button and a can of soda.


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