Occupy the Internet
Some of the people I saw gathered in Dewey Square in Boston fit the stereotype that has been cast on them in the media. I saw dreadlocked college kids, veterans—perhaps war veterans, but definitely protest veterans—playing folk songs, as well as a few less obvious peaceniks. In snippets of conversations I heard oft-repeated refrains, "Because of the media . . ." and ". . . then we'd have all the energy we need!" And I sympathized. I agreed. But I didn't join.
It occurred to me that all the criticism of the movement, both from people like me who are sympathetic to their general cause, as well as from those on the right, is rooted in the sad fact that the protesters are trying to be something that they are not. Take a look or a listen to the consistent criticism. Many point to the fact that the occupiers are inconsistent. There is an image floating around online contrasting the anger they direct at corporations with the plethora of brands that the protesters are wearing and using. On the other side, the occupiers are accused of not having a clear goal, and thus causing disruption without providing any way to satiate their concerns.
Both of these criticisms stem from the fact that Occupy is a mid-20th-century protest staged in the 21st-century. Sure, it incorporates social media, but aside from that, it is very much an imitation of '60s protests—another piece of nostalgia from a generation that loves to look back almost as much as we like to look inward.
Their concerns are right on, and no one is really unsure as to the kinds of things they would propose, if they got around to proposing things. But they aren't telling a compelling story because chants aren't a very good storytelling medium. Neither are tweets. In fact, Twitter is a natural partner to protests such as this one (not to mention the Arab Spring) because tweets work in much the same way as chants: short, pithy, and most effective when repeated by a number of people. But, ultimately, tweets and chants function like bumper stickers; they allude to a greater story but fail to tell it. In the 21st century, we need stories, not slogans.
In the '60s, getting the attention of the national media was the only way to get your message heard by people across the country. But this is no longer the case. Rather than sitting in tents, holding handmade signs and occasionally chanting, the occupiers should be occupying the internet—using the countless avenues that technology has made available to them to tell compelling stories. Fortunately, some are doing this as a companion action to the physical protest, "We Are the 99 Percent," for example.
At Occupy Boston I noted that many of the young people there are around my age. This is my generation's time to speak up, but we're doing it the way our parents' generation did. In the 21st century we have better options than pitching tents in public parks and getting arrested.
Take to the internet. Take to the airwaves. Let's get out of the tents and onto the web. We know what we want and we have the means to say it. We have 21st century problems that need 21st century solutions. I would love to see my peers in the Occupy movement join us here.
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald is the managing editor of Patrolmag.com, and writes on the various manifestations of Christianity in culture. Follow him on Twitter or at his website, www.jonathandfitzgerald.com.