Social Responses in Historical Context

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

CVC

1: Wasik, 10-11.

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5 responses to “Social Responses in Historical Context

  1. coffeeshoprhino

    Any specific examples you can share re: rapid image dissemination and the power it wields?

    • Kurt Andersen discusses Khaled Said, an Egyptian killed in police custody after he stole a video that revealed the corruption of police officers. Said’s postmortem photo, showing the brutality of his beating, went viral on the internet – including the creation of a Facebook page memorializing him and calling for a “Day of Rage” in Tahrir Square, which is generally accepted as sparking the larger Egyptian protests. (Andersen doesn’t specifically mention the postmortem photo, but Preston of the New York Times does here.)
      Another example he gives is that of a video recording of Tunisian protests uploaded by Madji Calboussi that “got half a million views in a day,” followed shortly by President Ben Ali’s self-exile in Saudi Arabia, using this connection to illustrate how putting visual media on the internet accelerates the attention given to a subject.

  2. rebeccabarbush

    Even with the example from Anderson, it is important to define from where the social reactions are coming, for example whether they are the occupier’s responses to “the man” or non-occupier’s reactions to the movement. I would look into articles that address these stances such as http://theweek.com/article/index/220535/occupy-wall-street-world-reactions and http://www.wnyc.org/articles/its-free-country/2011/oct/03/what-we-know-about-occupy-wall-street/.

    Even though they originate in early and mid October, the reactions that are brought up could be insignificant at this point in the development of the movement or they could have developed in their own way. Also since you have referenced a contemporary NY Times article for the Coxey’s Army protesting it might be interesting to look into how reputable media sites differ in opinion or coverage from the social media sites that put the news in the hand of the majority population. The strict ethics question and other regulations that are stipulated by news organizations do not apply to people with access to Facebook and Tumblr, etc., so make sure to connect the perspectives of the social reactions with current examples.

    • I was examining official or establishment news sources, hence the emphasis on print/mainstream/”reputable” media, but even so your observation about news as created by social media without ethics concerns is a relevant one. With established news sources, the response is by default that of the “non-occupier” because of concerns about partiality, even though there may be sympathy for OWS. As the record of historical protests has been largely shaped by third-party perceptions, that is what I was intending to focus on and compare/contrast with the current coverage of the OWS movement – but I will endeavor to take into account the first-party news you highlight.

  3. Pingback: Occupy Wall Street is Nothing Special | Occupy Wall Street Analysis

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