In the week since the Occupy May Day General Strike, I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of the event.
Friends who were in New York City that day say it was tremendously exciting, especially the permitted march from Union Square to Wall Street, which apparently stretched out strong over some 30 blocks.
As far as I could tell, mainstream media reported only the arrests that occurred, and that fairly grudgingly. There has been little effort to explain or explore the anger and frustration that propelled hundreds of thousands worldwide out into the streets on May Day.
Maybe that’s because it’s an old story. Yesterday’s news! We know that students are unhappy about being $1 trillion in debt; we know that millions of homeowners are unhappy about being “underwater” with their mortgages, or losing their homes due to foreclosures. We know that there aren’t enough jobs to lift our economy out of the doldrums. It’s old news, people! Tell us something we don’t know!
So the question becomes, is a protest effective if it is ignored by the mainstream media?
I would say yes: the fact that the MSM treated May Day as unimportant is more revealing of how out of touch the editors are than of whether or not the protest was real and meaningful.
On social media, May Day was well covered, especially at interactive, citizen journalism-type venues like Livestream and Twitter.
And if you go on the Occupy Wall Street site now, you’ll find that the organizers are already bounding on to the next action.
May Day was just one in a whole series of protests planned. It was an opening volley of what promises to be an intense, engaging spring.
But it opened up a question that is not likely to go away any time soon.
How important is it to actually show up, in the flesh, for a protest?
I was berated by one reader for choosing to stay in my classroom on May Day rather than joining the protests.
Other readers expressed their support for my decision to “occupy my classroom,” where my individual presence was perhaps more important than it would have been as an anonymous member of the crowd on Broadway.
I have been pondering this question in the past week. As someone who is deeply involved with new media, I have to say that I believe that what happens in cyberspace is at least as important as what happens in physical space.
Maybe it’s even more important.
It is no exaggeration to say that millions of people participated in the May Day protests online, via Facebook, Twitter, Livestream and so many other interactive platforms.
The protests spread around the world, just like the May 5 “Connect the Dots” climate change awareness events.
Through the magic of cyberspace, we were all united in a common goal: expressing our outrage over the cynical manipulation and impoverishment of the 99% by the 1%, and demanding that the interests of the 99% be taken into account in matters of political and economic policy.
Although I have no doubt that face-to-face General Assemblies and marches are important, it is ridiculous to discount the impact of what goes around and comes around in cyberspace.
Are we approaching the weird tipping point when our cyber-selves will be more important than our physical selves?
As I keep reminding people, cyberspace is totally dependent on electricity for its existence.
So if we want to preserve cyberspace as a place of radical openness, communitarianism and oppositionality, it behooves us to pay attention to the real 99% in the current equation: the natural world that has been providing us with the means to create the current that runs the virtual world.
I might be tempted to buck my agoraphobia (fear of crowds) and make the leap from cyber-protest to physical protest if the goal were defending not just jobs or homes or social equality, but the underpinning of it all, the great mother herself, our beloved community, our Earth.