I recently attended an activist rally that was one stop on a national tour. The stops, all organized locally on various social media fronts, were college towns and metropolitan centers. My intention was to observe. I went also with the intention of talking to people after they had engaged in conversation with the protesting group.
When I arrived at the protest site I noticed five activists gathered for the two-hour-long demonstration. Most wore all black while one, presumably the tour ambassador, dressed in a suit. They talked among themselves and eventually donned placards to illustrate their point. They passed out a pamphlet to any who passed, but seemed uninterested in soliciting conversations.
At points they all looked bored and uninterested in their own cause. As for the passing pedestrians, they also seemed ambivalent. It struck me that this method of protest, in today’s online, social media world, just doesn’t get the attention it used to. Whether the target is corporate America via shareholder resolutions, or other, more finite targets, it seems to me that I see traditional protests of some kind roughly once a month. The more we get the chance to compare the traditional—or old-school—mode of protest the more effective the social media versions are becoming.
The original invite for the protest I attended mentioned t-shirts and an evening screening of a film, but I would not have learned about any of that from this group. The t-shirts were nowhere in sight and the viewing wasn’t mentioned in the materials provided. That said, I later visited the group’s blog, which touted the success of the event.
As we continue to follow the actions of those who wish to move us to their point of view, waging a battle with feet on the ground seems less valuable these days than the actions of a social media campaign.
There was a time when it was simply smart for organizations that could become targets of social media activism to adapt to this new (not so new anymore) wave of communication. Now it’s a requirement.