The revolution will not be tweeted.

Been wondering why  I’m much more passionate about the nonviolent direct action of the #PoorPeoplesCampaign than electoral politics.  About lobbying and planning actions to assist immigrants under threat.  About the retail action of tutoring immigrants in ESL and literacy.

Don’t get me wrong.  One of the lessons to take away from @Zeynep Tufeckci’s book Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest is eloquently stated in this button that was given to me recently.

In order to build and sustain its momentum, a movement for change has to be able to demonstrate its power in ways such as using the ballot box to punish those who are taking the country backwards.

Granted, but I grew up politically in the streets of the 60s and 70s.  I saw what massive nonviolent protest could achieve in getting the U.S. out of Vietnam and in forcing Lyndon Johnson and Congress to pass civil rights legislation.

I’m not feeling just nostalgia for the exciting times of my youth.  Times have changed.  I’m also skeptical about the bureaucrats and careerists who control the political party and the labor unions that should be doing a better job.  I’m also concerned that much of the energy unleashed by the 2016 election will get swallowed up in the miasma of corporate and social media.  If I’m on the street with my comrades (as my 60s self would call them) and my sangha (as my current Buddhist self would say), I feel that we are doing something real, something concrete, something to which the number of “likes” is irrelevant.

Zeynep Tufecki brilliantly analyzes how the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century was much more grounded and resilient than the movements that have flashed by in recent years, such as Occupy.  Technology makes it really easy to bring together large numbers of people for an event.  That ease can be a trap.  The dogged efforts of years of building social networks, of creating structures to maintain the organization of the movement, of negotiating profound political differences among elements of the movement took much more work than just assembling a flash mob on Twitter.  Because it sees itself as a continuation of Martin Luther King’s struggles, the Poor People’s Campaign focuses on face-to-face working together, even as it uses 21st century technology to get the word out.

Long before Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, probably before Zeynep Tufecki was born, Gil Scott Heron skewered the enticements of modern technology and media in his song The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.  (Please excuse his one anti-feminist crack.  This was 1971 and the movement was just beginning to address its patriarchal attitudes, or more precisely, the men in the movement were on the verge of getting smacked upside the head.  My ears are still ringing.)  Whatever it’s shortcomings, the song still reminds us of the truth.

You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and drop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip
Skip out for beer during commercials
Because the revolution will not be televised

So yesterday I didn’t stay home to watch the first day of the 40 Days of Moral Action on streaming media.  Because I need to stay flexible to respond to whatever develops with my son Joe, I did not engage in “moral fusion nonviolent direct action,” aka, civil disobedience.  I supported our moral witnesses as a marshal.  That’s me in the yellow vest under the street sign.  At the other end of the line of moral witnesses blocking State Street in front of the New Jersey State Capitol are the Mughal sisters, Ayesha and Fatima, with whom I work on a number of other projects.  I must admit to getting emotional when I saw a state trooper taking a bunch of yellow plastic ties from the trunk of his car, and looked back at the sisters.  They were arrested, along with 17 others.  Fortunately, those arrested yesterday in Trenton were released with just a summons for violating a municipal ordinance.  But the tall state trooper in charge gave all 19 a stern lecture threatening criminal charges if they come back.

We’re on for next Monday in Trenton.

 

3 Comments

  1. Kenneth, I am so proud and happy to have gotten to know you in the past year. Fatima and I are always saying how much we love seeing you at meetings and how much we learn from you.
    I echo your thoughts about feeling much more empowered by planning actions and lobbying than I do with electoral politics- it’s too easy for politicians to say that they agree on issues but not back it up with action.

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