One of the earliest well-known instances of populist, organized protest in the United States is the case of Coxey’s Army in 1894. A contemporary New York Times article covering its genesis emphasizes the presence of “tramps,” including a “colored man” locked up before “his comrades [could] attempt to invade the town”; suggests that Jacob Coxey is disreputable; and uses the term “well-informed” to describe people denigrating Coxey’s efforts. Part of all this is arguably due to the generally spontaneous nature of the march–Coxey’s uncertainty of when people will show up is mocked and the comparatively sudden massing of people is played down as a threat to the establishment.
Similar elements can be seen in responses to the Occupy movement and its organizational kin. Bill Wasik describes how today’s easy access to instant communication technology makes spontaneous popular protests possibly more effective than before such technology existed; tools such as internet/text/BBM messaging allows for better coordination (cf. the Enfield riot) and are seen as largely unstoppable due to how wide-ranging they can be, which contributes to public fears. The internet in particular helped to rapidly spread Occupy’s Tumblr images, “the visible symbol of the giant, subterranean mob of Americans struggling to get by,” and Wasik’s use of “mob” here is telling–the danger he describes as seen in “a disconnected group getting connected” is not so different from the danger seen in Coxey’s Army.1
1: Wasik, 10-11.