A Tale of Two Protests

One was waged from computer terminals in coffee shops, bars, homes and offices. It was extremely effective, moved the needle in a big way, and helped change the system almost immediately.

The other was waged in public parks and spaces, involved a lot of yelling, pepper spray, annoyance of people just trying to get to work. It was not effective at all, and has become something of a punchline; hippie kids in North Face coats re-living the ’60s by “taking it to the man.”

The first example is the Stop SOPA/PIPA protest. For one glorious day, many high-traffic sites went dark (ours didn’t; I said “high-traffic,” not “high-Tebow-mention”) including Wikipedia and Reddit — the former causing much grief and consternation in the academic community, as kids couldn’t research and teachers couldn’t put together lesson plans — to simulate what a world under SOPA/PIPA could look like. It had a direct focus. It had a reason for being.

Those two things that the hobo collective known as the Occupy Movement has never had.

The Occupy folks have been camped out in parks and street corners for months now. In places like Denver, where the weather turns frigid and starts getting all blowy (not the good kind), numbers have gone from large to small. This is due in part to the weather, sure, but it’s also a deeper, more fatal flaw for the movement: Nobody knows what the fuck they’re doing out there. They’re not focused. They’re trying to get consensus out of 1000 people or more. Each occupy city site is plagued by n00bs who are either bored or unemployed, homeless, or all of the above.

It was a good but undisciplined and undefined idea whose time is up.

Sorry, Occupy. I’d love to say you had a good run, but that wouldn’t be truthful. Your relevance has gone with the wind, and Stop SOPA/PIPA just gave everyone a how-to on the ways to run an effective protest. Maybe you can glean a few tips from them.

– History will remember Stop SOPA/PIPA as a one day protest. It wasn’t.
The bones of this movement have been in place for weeks, and the hints that the blackout was coming were wall-to-wall in the tech community. It finally made national headlines a few days ago when the national and cable news outlets began reporting on the blackout. Suddenly, everyone was all-in.

See, there was this one big, bad enemy at the door called censorship. Nobody wanted to let him in. So the community reacted, and it was more than just tech folks. It was everyday people on Twitter (2.4 MILLION TWEETS) and Facebook, changing their profile pictures to display “CENSORED” messages, sharing the petition to Congress on their Facebook walls. Because the organizers of the protest found common ground with like-minded folks who also didn’t want information to be restricted by the government.

– History will see these protests as fundamentally different movements. They weren’t.
Occupy and Stop SOPA/PIPA (which will now be referred to as “Stop Sopaipilla” for the rest of this column because it’s hilarious) actually have some things in common. They both had ideas that large, influential groups of people could get behind and support fully; for Occupy it was to address the growing income disparity between the ever-enriched upper class and the ever-shrinking middle class, and Stop wanted to end the tyranny of bad Sopaipilla legislation.

Stop Sopaipilla focused, made their case, asked people to join, and gave them a little taste of what life would be like under SOPA/PIPA.

Occupy went to a park, hung out, smoked cigarettes and yelled at passing motorists. Occupy blocked traffic. They gave people a taste of anarchy, and they actually got some traction. But outside of donating money passively or going to freeze in the dark, there was no way for ordinary folk to join in. There was no direct action that the movement was taking. There were a million different petitions to be signed, going to a million different places. And suddenly, the original idea was lost amid the shouting and name-calling and desperate attempts to get noticed.

Want to have a successful protest? It’s going to take more than just hanging out on Capitol steps and holding signs. You’re not going to be taken seriously if you look like an outtake from PCU.

Want Occupy to be taken seriously? You must take it seriously yourself. Get organized. It’s an important movement, but it has become part of the wallpaper of every day life. And if you’re not breaking through the clutter, my friends, you’re not breaking through.

Occupy is entirely unorganized. Originally, this was part of its charm. But the movement went from protesting income and opportunity inequality to protesting everything under the sun, including local protests which were all about not getting kicked off of public property by mayors and city managers. Suddenly, that was the focus.

Time to get organized. It’s not too late, but it’s time to get out of the parks and get into some serious work.

Standing around yelling at me while I’m sitting in traffic you’ve created for me as I try to go to work isn’t effective.

The hard work starts now. You’ve gotten attention. Now turn it into something tangible.

Image VIA

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