#4 The Foundations of a Protest
// Posted by Brendan on 11/03/2014 (1:30 PM)
The most recent section of our class focused on counterculture as it exists in the more modern digital age. For the past few weeks, we have foucsed on the #Occupy movement, Anonymous hackers, 4Chan and digital pranking. We have found that activism in the new age takes on an entirely different process than what was seen in the 60′s and 70′s. The most glaring part of the new era is how digital media has become both a necessity and a limitation to the fundamentals of counterculture.
For our 4th class experience, the group of Damian, Elizabeth and myself decided to stage a protest of the high levels of E.Coli found recently in the Westhampton Lake on our campus. Our protest had two separate but intertwined elements that included the launching of an online campaign as well as a physically staged protest that took place outside our campus Library on a Wednesday afternoon.
Before we could get started, we needed to decide on a rallying cry that would act as the forefront of our initiative much like #Occupy became a term that represented its entire movement.. We came up with the moniker CleanURlake, using our university’s abbreviated name as a pun that also represented our goals for the protest. The name would serve as a handle for our protest’s initiative and would be instrumental to our online campaign.
We began our protest with a online media blitz, creating accounts on Gmail, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to promote our CleanURlake movement. We also posted a message to the anonymous posting app Yikyak, which gained notoriety for its.We began the blitz by posting information about lake and its years of contamination including the recent Collegian article that brought to light the Lake’s ridiculously high E.coli levels. We hoped to attract as much attention to our cause as possible, but found we could not gain followers if no one knew about our cause. So, each of us began reaching out friends, asking them to like the respective pages across platforms while we engaged in our physical protest. The tactic gained us followers and likes, but the results were inconclusive within the class hour.
Due to time constraints, our physical protest could not last longer than 30 minutes, but within such a short amount of time, our cause generated more interest than we would imagine. As we stood outside the library entrance, holding signs bearing hashtags like #IspyeColi and displaying our @CleanURlake handle, we garnered the attention of passing students who seemed almost shocked by our presence. I was surprised to see that many students had no knowledge of the recent report claiming high levels of E.coli in the lake, and that we were the first to bring the issue to their attention. Our display even gathered the attention of two Collegian reporters, who posted a picture of us to The Collegian’s Instagram account and dedicated an entire story to our protest (the article can be read here: http://www.thecollegianur.com/article/2014/10/e-coli-levels-in-westhampton-lake-inspire-protest). The physical part looked to be the more encouraging aspect of our protest.
For the next few days, I monitored and sporadicly updated our various online pages for our protest to keep track of the traction our movement had gained. As of this post, Our Facebook page generated 18 likes, our Instagram 18 followers, and 1 twitter follower. Sadly, we failed to gain a lot of online attention as most of the likes or followers were members of our class. The results proved that our physical protest by far had more impact than our online campaign.
So What does this all mean?
When we came up with the idea to stage a digital protest, we had hope to provide a further look in the counterculture movement. Despite our time constraints, I thought the experience succeeded in displaying the contradictions that have arisen in the counterculture era through the presence of digital media. We had sought to create a digital campaign, but found that our campaign would be fruitless without our efforts in our physical protest. The experience leads me to believe that one cannot simply prove to be a “netizen” through efforts to like or follow pages online. These things are merely arbitrary and provide no traction to the movement’s real cause. Sure, protests can certainly be organized online as was seen through Anonymous’ worldwide displays against Scientology, but it is the physical nature of the protest that as seen in the Anonymous protests and #Occupy that serves as a method for counterculture. These physical demonstrations maintain the values seen in the early days of Counterculture with it’s hippie movements, sit-ins and obscure protests. In short, the values of early Counterculture are still present today, but the advance of digital society does little to make them more powerful.