Occupy Wall Street, in its general critique of unfair wealth distribution and unchecked corporate power, sort of echoes the hunger marches of the 1930’s. The protests have borrowed themes and tactics from social and political activist rallies of the past, although there have certainly been some differences. The occupy movement is both familiar and yet pioneering.
The movement’s tactics were reminiscent of the passive sit-ins and vigil demonstrations of the civil rights era. Although this time they weren’t organised by phone trees and worth of mouth, the movement was spread through the use of social media. The use of social media has been successful in creating hype and numbers for uprisings in the Middle East (just see Arab Spring), and it was again successful in the Occupy movements (Asenault, 2011).
Just how much Occupy America can accomplish is unclear, however with the help of social media the speed at which the movement is multiplying (similar protests are breaking out across Europe and East Asia) is already affecting political discourse, as the issue of economic inequality is drawn to the forefront for the first time since the 1930’s. Gary Gerstle (Vanderbilt University) says, “It has the potential to change the fundamentals of American Politics (Asenault, 2011). Occupy Wall Street; the movement’s flagship (based in Manhattan) has spread to over 150 cities in the US.
Social media makes communication move much faster and without the need of street marches and fiery speeches. The new protest trend may bring more people onto the scene, although something does seem to be missing. With it now being so easy to contribute to a cause (or feel as if you are contributing), it’s a little obvious that not all those that protest have the passion, especially in Western countries (Jimeno, 2011).
In the years before smartphones and social networking text messaging was the primary mobile tool for protest coordination. Nathan Freitas says “Most mobile social media tools didn’t exists, so we were rolling our own” (Gahran, 2011). Freitas, an open source software developer, says in 2004 he helped the Ruckus Society build a text alert service, which had the ability to transmit tactical texts from organisers to more than 10 000 protesters on the ground. Freitas believes that this relatively closed communication channel may have had more impact on protests than open networks like the social media channels used today. There was “less noise and competition” the phones were used to “organize people”. Freitas believes “social media is more about spreading news and opinion” (Gahran, 2011).
The idea of social networking and revolutions or protests being intrinsically linked is one that seems to be in constant debate. I believe social media is great as an organisational tool and can certainly spread news, ideas and events quickly. However the people who are on the ground have and should always be where the attention is focused. This topic has so many factors to be discussed, and it will be interesting to see what social media can change around the world in the next decade.