Social media tools are transforming activism, and ushering us into a new age of protest. Over the last year, I’ve watched, written about and participated in street level direct action. In a new post to Firedoglake I wrote about a three ways modern movements are spreading the civil disobedience meme:
When I glanced at the #IdleNoMore hashtag recently, I was disheartened to see someone suggesting that the movement should cease civil disobedience and instead organize around cleaning up trash on the roadways and beaches of Canada and the United States. Obviously, some statements like this come from a position of racism (or at least privilege) — there’s a long tradition of telling the oppressed to just settle down rather than engage in troublesome free speech. Even taken charitably, such statements are ridiculous — the Adopt-A-Highway campaign is hardly a hotbed of revolutionary change.
Yet some of these statements come from genuine ignorance about the effectiveness of direct action as part of a movement. The same mainstream media that happily spreads anti-activist propaganda is loathe to share stories of the effectiveness of mass movements; when they do show up at a protest they are notorious for highlighting “weirdest” looking, least articulate protester they can find in their sound bytes. Before last year’s #NoNATO protests, police deliberately kindled fear of widespread disruption among the city’s people and business owners. Chicago peace activist Sue Basko told me that, because she was a public organizer of the protests with her name on march permits, she fielded many calls and emails complaining about public transportation delays and disruption, even though most or all of this disruption was caused by the NATO conference and its security apparatus.
Some people will always be “inconvenienced” by civil disobedience, mass protest, and other forms of nonviolent direct action. It’s the job of the activist to educate the public about the necessity of free speech in all its forms, even when it makes some people late for work. What follows should not be taken as another white guy telling Idle No More or other new activist movements what to do, but rather highlighting some of what I think they are doing right.