// Posted by Joe on 11/03/2014 (1:19 PM)
Sure, I am not afraid to admit it. I was extremely hesitant most of the day leading up to our experiential protest in front of Boatwright Memorial Library. I had already decided that I would not wear a mask or create any sort of anonymity going into the protest as I felt that if I were supporting a cause that I actually do believe in such as the contamination of Westhampton Lake, I should put myself out there and truly establish a position on it. As I walked from my previous class to the library however, to start planning our protest, I felt a deep sense of imminent embarrassment and fear. Putting myself out there and protesting for the lake, with six other classmates, right in front of the library where hundreds of students who I see every day would pass by, was an enormously embarrassing and awkward thought to me.
I was appeased early on in the beginning of class as I realized we would first be heavily planning out our strategy both physically and cybernetically before we went out and started physically protesting. The beginning phase of our class-long protest was to create a presence online. We discussed in our strategic planning what made protest movements like ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and ‘Kony’ so successful and wide-reaching. We needed to know what the key ingredients were to create a successful movement. We realized that we needed short, catchy embodiments of our movement that could be easily recognized and would resonate with people. The first step needed to be the creation of this small message that people could remember and would associate with our cause. We realized that hashtags were clearly the the most effective and simple tool for accomplishing this goal and making that first step in establishing awareness of our movement, as well as allow connection and curiosity to our online presence. After much deliberation, we decided we would name our movement ‘cleanURlake’ using the hashtags # cleanURlake#URecoli. We wanted to use a combination of catchiness with rhyming or a play on words to make our message memorable, and somehow incorporate UR to establish a clear connection with our movement and the University of Richmond.
To make proper use of these hashtags that we had designed we needed to create our online presence that these hashtags would connect to. We designed our hashtags and online presence with the goal of virality in mind. In the age of digital protest that we have entered, virality is essential for a successful and widespread movement. Almost everything successful in the digital world survives through viral content that gains a presence across different domains throughout the web. Considering how much time people today spend on different social media platforms and the way we digitally consume information, a viral presence would increase a movements awareness and effectiveness drastically. Like memes, a viral video, picture, song, or even idea clearly becomes a strong digital cultural object and in turn make the associated movement a more vague cultural object as well (Viercant).
We realized however that with the time and resources provide that virality was a most unrealistic goal, though it was good to have in order to simulate the creation of an activist movement in the modern digital age. To create our online presence we needed a sort of infrastructure across multiple platforms through which people at Richmond access and consume information. We needed tools within the cyberworld to make people aware of our movement and the issue we were protesting. We assigned group members to create spaces for our movement on the most popular social media platforms, all called cleanURlake and connected with the created hashtags. We made a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Yik Yak post, and I was tasked with creating a Tumblr blog page. Tumblr allows the blogger to be more creative so I wanted to make our blog look as official and competent as possible. To create a base I posted a few articles from the collegian about the lake pollution and I also made a text post telling followers to also follow us on other social media sites and I added a picture of people skating on the lake in the 60s to diversify the blog. I also changed the format and theme of the blog page and put in a picture of the lake as a permanent background page. I felt quite proud of the page and very comfortable as I was creating it behind the screen of my computer, and once I had finished, it was my turn to replace one of our group members in the physical world to protest outside the library with the protest signs and hashtag cards we had made. I had to leave my safe zone on the web and physically protest where everyone I know could see me. I realized however that this physical aspect is absolutely necessary. It is at its very least the initial spark that is needed to actually force people to look at you and your movement, and maybe go look up that catchy hashtag on instagram.
This combination, while in our case on a very small scale, is clear to me as the real effective way to protest digitally in the digital age. We had a clear message, a short goal and succinct reason for our protest that people could latch onto, and read more about if they wanted to in many domains over the web. Hacktivists like the group Anonymous use a different method, cyber-jamming and pranking in the digital world (albeit on a fairly large and impactful scale) to superficially send a message, using their power in cyberspace to disrupt the physical world. This is their form of activism. This does not, however, incorporate the majority of people for which the issues they are protesting even effects. These people are not being informed or allowed to join the cause and put their voice into the movement.
We ended in our set proest time by putting up a few signs on the bulletin board within the library, and attached a couple hashtag cards to it, so that people would see it and maybe keep looking us up, gaining more awareness.