For those of us who experienced one of the most horrible nights of our lives on November 8, 2016, who either tried to sleep with or woke up to the unthinkable horror that one Donald T. Trump, a loutish gas bag, was going to be President, the Women's March on Washington on January 21, 2017, just a day or two post-inauguration, was nothing less than a dream. Thousands, millions, around the country and around the world, were not one bit taken by what was just that morning beginning, "the Trump era." The women's march breathed hope into defeat--perhaps there could be life after Trump.
The dimensions were almost beyond belief. Wikipedia summarizes the size of things like this:
The Washington March drew 440,000 to 500,000 people, and worldwide participation has been estimated at five million. At least 408 marches were reported to have been planned in the U.S. and 168 in 81 other countries. After the marches, officials who organized them reported that 673 marches took place worldwide, on all seven continents, including 29 in Canada, 20 in Mexico. In Washington D.C. alone, the protests were the largest political demonstrations since the anti Vietnam war protests in the 1960s and 1970s, with both protests drawing in similar numbers. The Women's March crowds were peaceful, and no arrests were made in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and Seattle, where an estimated combined total of two million people marched.Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest, a new book by Zeynep Tufekci, chronicles a sad reality--to wit, that technology is a tremendous aid in spurring organized protest. It conjures crowds like nothing else. In a matter of minutes, seconds even, announcements with the right spin go viral and just like that thousands are introduced to the movement and take a place in line. Social media an ordinary telephone medieval.
But, Tufekci and others have noted, like the Occupy Wall Street protest/movement, or even what we've come to call "Arab Spring," protests created by social media have a lousy track record because they die almost as fast as they grew, In a review of Twitter and Tear Gas in the Washington Post, Carlos Lazada summarizes Tufekci's claims this way: "The technology that helps modern movements organize high-profile protests. . .can also keep them from developing the staying power to achieve their long-term goals."
The differences between protests that affect change and social-media-generated protests are understandable: when sweat equity is not essential to drawing a crowd, sturdy organization never develops. Long ago, when movement sympathizers had to work to build a crowd, that work was elemental. The organizational power required to mount a protest meant that protest was already in shape to carry on once the crowds diminished.
Simply put, technology--specifically social media--is both blessing and curse to protest movements.
So what else is new? We get blessings and curses with just about any shiny object we hold in our hands for the first time. Unimaginable technological power stimulates people to action but, Tufekci says, stifles longevity, as we begin to chase the next shiny thing.
What powers human beings have in our hands at any specific moment can change the way we live, but not who we are.