Victoria Hammett was goofing off while she was watching a livestream of the Met Gala on Monday night when she saw the news.
Politico published a leaked draft opinion indicating the Supreme Court would overturn the constitutional right to abortion enshrined in Roe v. Wade.
Within minutes, Hammett, 23, the deputy executive director of the nonprofit activist group Gen-Z for Change, was on a call planning how she and others could fight back. The group is made up of members from Generation Z, which Pew Research defines as anyone born after 1997.
“We were all texting each other immediately,” Hammett said. “We set up a Zoom call … and then immediately we hit the ground running figuring out what we could do to help.”
Since it formed in 2020, Gen-Z for Change has been among a host of activist groups and movements led by young people to combat what they perceive as the stripping of their rights and protections.
In recent years, groups like March for Our Lives, which advocates for reforming gun laws, and the Sunrise Movement, which seeks to raise climate change awareness, have been led by Gen Z, also known as zoomers, to create the change young progressives feel will create a better future. The organizations, which have strong social media presences, are more adept at wielding the internet in ways their older counterparts are typically less experienced in.
From Monday night to early Tuesday, Gen-Z for Change had already posted three TikTok videos about the draft opinion, telling its followers what the news implied and how people could get involved in protesting. The three videos have racked up more than 2 million views collectively.
The news of the draft opinion was not a total shock to Gen-Z for Change, Hammett said. She said that after oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case at the heart of the draft opinion, the organization was already preparing for June, when it believes Roe v. Wade may officially be overturned.
The organization’s first action plan: educate its more than 1.4 million TikTok followers what the news could mean for abortion rights. Next: recruit coders to help build systems that could automatically overwhelm future anti-abortion rights watchdog websites with false information – even if those websites have yet to be built.
“As these tip lines pop up, we’re hoping all of us take these tip lines down,” Hammett said.
Hammett said Gen-Z for Change expects that in states where abortion might be outlawed, a wave of websites will be used in some to report women having illegal abortions. While the websites are not currently active – and they likely have yet to be made – the organization is pre-emptively recruiting coders to take them down if they do pop up.
The websites Gen-Z for Change plans to target include watchdog websites and tip lines intended to report people having abortions to the authorities in the event that federal protection for abortions disappears. The programs its recruited coders could build vary from automatically mass-submitted imagined reports to images of cartoon characters, which could overwhelm servers and cause sites to crash, rendering them useless.
Sofia Ongele, Gen-Z for Change’s digital strategy coordinator, has used the tactical multiple times.
“Our community recognizes that injustice anywhere begets injustice everywhere,” she said. “Whenever we see a tip line, we have the technology to help people blow them up” with messages.
Previously, she coded a site that users could access to send an automatically generated message to members of Congress who appeared to support the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, as well as a bot that spammed a California city council in support of a decision to memorialize two school shooting victims.
In January, she created a code that allowed people to spam an email tip line in Virginia, which was set up so parents could report if they believed their children were being taught critical race theory. Ongele’s code allowed people to spam the tip line with the script of the movie “Bee Movie” and lyrics to songs like “WAP.”
The success of the tools, Ongele said, rests on Gen-Z for Change’s followers, who actually use the tools, which she said makes protests accessible to those who are not sure how to help the cause.
Gen-Z for Change was formed around the 2020 presidential election to motivate young voters and engage those of voting age and younger to get involved in electing Democrats and promoting progressive policies.
The group began as a TikTok account, on which members could post content about the election and issues that some zoomers hold dear. Today, Gen-Z for Change is a nonprofit organization offering internships; specific guides for young people, like tips on talking to parents about vaccinations; and office hours to meet with followers.
Since its inception after the first 2020 presidential debate, 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 top influencers on the platform to disseminate information.
The organization has also taken on anti-abortion rights whistleblower groups.
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, zoomers, including members of Gen-Z for Change, flooded a tip line set up by the organization Texas Right to Life (intended to receive anonymous tips to help enforce the state’s recent anti-abortion law) with Shrek porn and other deliberately false information to make the line inaccessible to its creators.
“That ended up being extremely successful,” Hammett said. “The website ended up being down for a bit and then … GoDaddy, the website provider, decided to no longer host the website.”
Gen-Z for Change’s stance that abortion rights should be protected is not a fringe belief among the age group. In an NBC News poll in September, 65 percent of zoomers and millennials ages 18 to 34 said they believe abortion should be legal.
Overwhelming tip lines has grown as a protest tactic among zoomers and social media users. Progressive activists requested tickets to a rally for President Donald Trump in June 2020, which they claimed led to low turnout. Other factors, like the coronavirus pandemic, were likely to have played a role in the low turnout.
Since then, the strategy has become a common form of protest.
Ongele said many zoomers engage in such online protests because they feel pessimistic about the future and find solace in the few things they’re able to do to fight back.
“It’s really easy to become discouraged and a little nihilistic, and I do not 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 feel now will motivate them to register to vote and, eventually, get them to the polls in November.
“A lot of people feel helpless right now, and they want to know what they can do, and the silver lining in all of this is there’s a lot they can do.”
CORRECTION (May 3, 2022, 5:03 pm): A previous version of this article misstated the age of Victoria Hammett, the deputy executive director of Gen Z for Change. She is 23, not 21.