*- I've linked to a great article at the bottom of the page. It helpfully amplifies some of what is already here.
Occupy Wall Street is an interesting manifestation of a new recognition of increased people power. Part of what excites me most about it is that I believe OWS is just one indication of how (many) things are changing in American life.
Two examples: Last month, Netflix announced that it was shelving the revolutionary new business model they’d been trumpeting. Not because the business model made too little sense but because the backlash against it was so strong. People didn’t care how much sense it made; they balked. Similarly, Bank of America has ended its proposed debit card usage fee. Bank of America could have weathered the storm of negative feedback better than Netflix but it recognized that the brand damage the fee generated was coming to dominate every story about the bank. Had these same changes been instituted five years ago, I’m convinced that the public response would have been a brief gasp of distress followed by a long, boring sigh.
Now that sigh does not seem to be enough for us. I don’t want to make any grandiose statements but I do believe that there’s a quickly increasing sense of agency among regular people. While most would probably trace this change to the Arab Spring movements, I think that it goes back a bit further. I am convinced that the 2008 Presidential election was a critical turning point in developing populism for the 21st century. After all, much of the early work of the Arab Spring seemed to take important cues from Barack Obama’s campaign.
Most critically, each of these populist movements created a broad enough range of connection points to transform individual interests into a perceived network of shared values. Social media was widely credited with the successes of both the Obama campaign and Arab Spring. What I believe to be more true is that both movements used social media as a formation tool. Eventually, the networks grew large enough and loud enough to be perceived as an authentic voice of the people and achieved enough momentum to become virtually self-sustaining.
As much as they’d hate to acknowledge it, the TEA Party has used much of the same style to launch itself as a viable national brand. Much like Obama, the TEA Party presents itself as the representative of the regular person fighting against ‘The System’. They’ve made good use of some pre-existing networks but have built their own communities too as they continue to work outside the existing infrastructure. Preserving their independence provides them autonomy and credibility with their base.
All these movements have rooted themselves in the belief that individuals and small groups of people can make the behemoths of the world yield power. At least in America, we’d forgotten about the ultimate source of that power. For too long, we’d neglected our own strength. I’m excited to be living in a time when we’re beginning to reclaim our voices and use them.
I’m determined to be one of those voices.
Here’s an intriguing article that addresses some of the issues I wrote about in this post, namely, some of the ways social media is changing the organizational possibilities of broad based movements. The author also suggests some of the ways groups like Wikileaks make information sharing more dangerous.