How protests moved from the street to the Internet - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

How protests moved from the street to the Internet

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

In the 1960s and 1970s millions of people young and old were propelled by the issues of civil rights and the Vietnam war to take to the streets in mass protest marches and rallies.

But while the spirit of protest may still be alive, the method that's served as impetus for many in recent years has been generated by the global reach of the Internet. The global reach has created a means of "virtual protest" without leaving the comfort of home.

"A lot of people will nowadays think if they see a Facebook page protesting something and they click 'like' they've done their duty," says University of Memphis law professor Steve Mulroy.

"We don't take to the streets because there's so many issues that are affecting our community and it's hard to mobilize around one particular issue," added Mississippi NAACP Vice President Charles Hampton.

"Social movements are the exception," said Rhodes College history professor, Dr. Charles McKinney. "They're not the norm. The norm is no movement. The norm, for lack of a better term, is apathy."

Perhaps, when it comes to protest in America, it sometimes feels like we've historically come full circle from the overtaxed revolutionaries of the infamous Boston Tea Party to the "back to the future" conservative philosophy espoused by the Tea Party.

Yet, in between, we have witnessed remarkable social and economic changes derived when people unite behind a common cause or share the indignation of perceived governmental or human injustices. Decades ago, as captured on memorable black and white films, the iconic national civil rights movement then laid down a bloody, prolonged, but successful blueprint for those determined to bring about sustained systemic change.

"Revolutionary patience. I can't ... I can't go down to some community on Friday and expect everybody to be up in arms with posters on a Sunday," Dr. McKinney said. "That's arrogant and silly and more than little bit stupid. It doesn't work that way and it's never worked that way."

What is often lost is giving credit to those grassroots organizers in the '50s and 60s, in communities large and small, who laid the groundwork for those enormous rallies and street protests.

"We got to pass on the history that you spoke of earlier about the civil rights movement," said Chad Johnson, former Memphis AFSCME executive director. "People forget all those folks, who were getting out there moving people, were trained to do so."

"The fact that people are going door to door, knocking on doors, building relationships with people in organizations and telling them, 'Look, in order to effectuate the sort of changes that we want to effectuate, this is going to be awhile,'" added Dr. McKinney.

What's happened to those types of protest organizers? Many simply grew older and retired. Some changed their focus to lesser issues that eventually became more important to them. Thousands of people, once spurred by fervent passions for a "cause," have turned more inward. Those who took great pride in being "tuned in" simply have "tuned out" from being politically active.

"I could go out and maybe make some changes and help kick some dust a little bit," Dr. McKinney said. "But, I'm a little nervous about that. I got me and mine to worry about now."

"A lot of people don't really know exactly what's happening," added DeSoto County NAACP President Thomas Punkett. "Don't know what we have lost as a minority people. So, I think the energy is somewhat decreased."

"Public protest is only one tool in the tool kit - to insure that the community and the disenfranchised have a voice," Johnson said.

However, as proven by the "taking it to the streets" political upheavals which erupted in the "Arab Spring" revolutions, most notably in Egypt, the power of social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter has brought new energy, strategies, a sense of global consciousness and most importantly given youth a "voice" for advocacy.

Memphis public relations company owner Deidre Malone credits social media's role in generating national furor about the Trayvon Martin case and its outcome.

"Facebook, Twitter, blew up as a part of that," Malone said. "People were incensed when that judgment came down and a lot of those folks were young people. Think about all of the young men and young women who put on their own hoodies, took photographs of themselves in protest."

But, while no one denies the potentially explosive power of blogs or tweets, can social media create and sustain its "virtual protest" quality long enough to see "change issues" come to their total fruition? Can sitting on your couch or at your desk ever take the place of grabbing a picket sign to express dissatisfaction or support? Those who've been in the trenches of protest, think it'll always take more than the "click" of a mouse to bring down the walls built by ignorance or bigotry.

"It's easy to connect across the country, across the world through social media," Johnson said.
"But, we're still not connecting at the neighborhood grassroots level."

"Young folks do realize that the more people that you touch, the better off you're going to be," Malone said. "So, I think a little bit of new, a little bit of old really kind of moves a message forward and I think that's what you're seeing now today."

"You can't get around the work," Dr. McKinney said. "If you want to change a community you've got to be willing to put in time in the community."

"We'll get back to thinking more about 'we,' and thinking more about community-based values and activism," said Prof. Mulroy.

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