DIGITAL AMERICA

This is What Democracy Looks Like

// Posted by on 02/23/2014 (8:03 PM)

After reading Jeff Sharlet’s article, Inside Occupy Wall Street, it is obvious how much power and influence technology has in our society.  The product of a simple yet powerful tweet, the Occupy Wall Street demonstration proved itself to be much more than a mere protest as it inspired a media awareness that lead to Occupy movements worldwide.  After observing the movements growth over the period of a few months, Sharlet, someone whose spent years immersed in the right wing, refers to the OWS movement as “an incredible display of political imagination”.  Indeed, the movement was one-of-a-kind as it united diverse groups of people through technology, promoting a kind of shared voice while simultaneously creating a community that was truly unique.

It is not uncommon for one to as what was that something protesters were fighting for?  As Sharlet mentions, Adbusters had proposed a “‘worldwide shift in revolutionary tactics,’ but their big ideas went no further than pressuring Obama to appoint a presidential commission on the role of money in politics”.  Although they had initiated the beginnings of the protest, they were unaware that they had begun a movement that reached unimaginable heights.  What amazed me was the progression in size of the movement and protesters that loyally followed.  It had begun with around 2,000 individuals but quickly grew, attracting people from all over.  With the creation of a public clinic, library, and kitchen, the Occupy Wall Street movement had created a new whole.  It is almost as if they created a world within a world.  People committed to the cause considered this home and seemed to have this sense of shared generosity and spirit.  People were, undoubtedly, attracted to OWS for different reasons.  As protester Jesse Legraca admitted, he was first drawn to the park after seeing a topless girl.  And the addition of free food did not hurt either.  Fellow protester David Graeber, in contrast, was a radical anthropologist and anarchist who was committed to the cause and even created the theme to the overall movement.

This idea of unification is what drove Occupy Wall Street and allowed it to function for as long as it did.  As previously mentioned, Graeber created a theme for the movement, “we are the 99%”.  This movement was particularly different than past ones as there were no designated leaders or speakers.  People, rather, functioned as a large group and were excited by the idea that they were taking true advantage of democracy.  Thus, this feeling of genuine democracy is a significant aspect of the OWS movement.  As Shalret states, many Americans view “democracy as little more than an unhappy choice between two sides of the same corporate coin”.  With minimal agency, the chance to be part of a real decision—to make a change—is an exciting prospect. With no defined reasons or statements telling people why they needed to come to the OWS demonstration, it created this sense of liberation and open communication.  People came to the cause to decide as a whole what their aim was and what decisions to were to be made.  OWS protesters had one voice, literally, as they adopted a new form of amplification—the human microphone.  This only emphasized the idea that every individual could be heard and served only to further unify the community.

For a leaderless movement, Occupy Wall Street was an extremely unique demonstration of the power of technology in our society.  The movement in itself was created and further perpetuated through technology and media.  It is obvious that a movement like this could not have existed even twenty years ago and just highlights how quickly technology has progressed throughout the past decade.  The question is, what will come next?  How will protests or social/political movements function in a decade? How will technology continue to shape our world and will it be for the better?


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Comments:


Cassaundra said...

The themes we noted in regard to the role of technology after reading “Inside Occupy Wall Street” reminded me a great deal of our discussion after reading Wasik’s article in Wired entitled “#Riot.” The concept of riots/ protests is hardly new- they usually involve a group of people uniting under a shared belief or goal speaking out as one. While they can sometimes get out of hand, protests are a true display of democracy. Advances in technology have helped the way these protests assemble to evolve, as well as increased the impact these protests can hope to have. The rise of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.) and messaging on smart phones has allowed instances of assembly to move past a local level to a global level. This means that people around the world will easily learn about riots or protests in various countries, and have just as much knowledge about them from halfway around the world as the citizens of the country in which they are occurring. For example, many people keep themselves up to date on the protests in the Ukraine and Thailand through social media outlets. Thus, technology allows protests and riots to bring people of different cultures and backgrounds together as social media spreads awareness about the cause of a group, thus uniting more people around the cause on a global scale (or unites them in disagreeing in the reason for the protests). Technology also brings a sense of immediacy to protests and riots in two ways. First, it allows protestors to shift the location of their protest easily and quickly if authorities come to break up the protest. A new group of protestors can easily begin assembling close by after receiving a simple text message. Secondly, technology and social media sites allow common civilians to become journalists in that they can take photos of videos of recent developments in protests and post them to social media, making their posts likely to be seen by the vast majority of people before an official story released by the press. While all this makes it seem like technology has increased the power of protests, it is important to note that it can also produce misunderstandings. Transitioning the information from a local to global scale makes it easier to miscommunicate information, or for people in different countries to interpret the protest wrongly.

// 02/23/2014 at 11:28 pm

Claire said...

The idea of technology and unification is a theme that keeps reoccurring throughout this course. Without technology, there would be no way for ‘the occupy of wall street’ to spread in the numbers that it did. It is interesting to note however that the media attention that the movement first got was one of mocking. It proves to support the statement all press is good press. These New York Times mocking reports allowed the occupation to gain to publicity it needed. It also seemed to enrage a good many citizens and cause them to join to movement. You never know what piece of information will go viral and cause a world wide sensation. Through technology, we are better able to connect with people who share similar views, and it usually turns out to be a lot more than we expect or would ever believe. Last semester I had a speaker talk with one of my marketing classes about how the Geico camel ads started out as a joke and become one of their biggest marketing campaigns, next to to the Gecko. What can start out as a joke with a couple of coworkers can gain momentum with the right angle and so can someones personal belief. They simple need to make the information known and there will inevitable be a large number of people who feel the same, or simple want to get involved in something bigger than themselves. It would be stupid if the protestors didn’t take advantage of these ‘revolutionary tactics’ regarding social media as well. We look back on ‘occupy wall street’ and we see how technology can change the way people gather, how they form opinions and how they incentivize people to join merely for the numbers.

// 02/24/2014 at 7:50 pm

Sarah said...

While reading this post I also made the connection to the article #Riot that we have previously read. The changing role of technology in group protests can definitely be seen in both Occupy Wall Street and the Enfield riot. From twitter to black berry messenger the word is being spread faster than ever and over a larger, broader group of people.

The point you bring up is interesting–what comes next? Surely twitter and messaging is the now, but what is the future? I think our discussions of civil disobedience with Anonymous may be the indicator for the future. While Anonymous was a huge group and did serious damage with some of their protests, I think this type of protest may grow in the future. Witnessing the power of this group, and the power of computer programmers in the case of Stuxnet, it’s almost impossible for me to imagine what could come next.

// 02/24/2014 at 7:54 pm