Recently I've been struggling in my exploration of the topic of protests, and more specifically, what am I really questioning about protests? Something that's always been present in the back of my mind was about the success of protests and how the public can communicate through them. What's the purpose of a protest? Do they ever really succeed in affecting change? What are the pieces of the communication process within a protest?
According to Oxford Dictionary, a protest is as simple as "a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something". Upon looking up the definition I was actually quite surprised to find that there isn't any inclusion of asking for change. All that's required is the statement or action. This of course makes sense, as anyone participating in current social media trends can tell you, people are more than willing to express their disapproval of something in every tweet or Facebook post. Additionally, I believe protests can take many forms and don't only need to be an assembled group of people, as in the case of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee. But I did think that an inherent part of protest was to ask for change. Have I been bringing more layers into protest than need to be there? Are they just for bringing awareness? And does protesting work?
With the current atmosphere in the US, teenagers are marching and calling for gun reform and the last couple of years have seen bigger protest gatherings than ever before. At least from the sidelines, it's looking like change must be inevitable. Is it though? In my recent memory of protests, it has never led to marked change and that terrifies me a little. What is a normal citizen supposed to do when voting has failed, and will likely continue to fail, us? In my search for answers on the success rate of protests, I found this article in the New Yorker discussing if protesting is even really worth the hassle. "Is protest a productive use of our political attention? Or is it just a bit of social theatre we perform to make ourselves feel virtuous, useful, and in the right?"
This is one of my biggest fears; participating in something you believe to be meaningful and worthy of your time, but in the end is really just keeping the elite up and everyone else in their place. How then will our voice be heard?
The article takes a brief look at protesting in the mid twentieth century, and looks at the changes the act of protesting has gone through. Protesting between the 60s and 70s went through a significant shift, evolving from organized demonstrations to a more quick-and-dirty type of assembly. "Authority, in the new tactical model, arose from the number of people who showed up. It swept away the need for common principles or precisely coordinated strategies; the choices behind public protest could be personal and private."
"The recent studies make it clear that protest results don’t follow the laws of life: eighty per cent isn’t just showing up. Instead, logistics reign and then constrain. Outcomes rely on how you coordinate your efforts, and on the skill with which you use existing influence as help." Social media has only continued to shape how we gather, easily creating a virtual mob and sometimes even a real gathering. Information spreads so quickly now, and as the article argues, that rapid spread actually dilutes the potential power for a protest and discards the art of patience, knowing when to play your hand to your greatest advantage.
So where does that leave me? I've tried many different tactics through animation and sound, and even a little print/augmented reality, in exploring protests, but perhaps the power is in the performance? I'm not ready to give up the animated or sound elements, but I might try my hand at something more performed. Reflecting on the difference in reception of flash mobs and protests, I did a little research. Flash mobs are of course generally light-hearted entertainment, but that got me thinking, why? According to wikipedia 'flash mob' cannot refer to a political gathering, but instead that is termed a 'smart mob'.
At the heart of this whole exploration is the hope that people engage in meaningful discussion around polarizing topics. So in thinking of this smart/flash mob and protest juxtaposition, perhaps I can combine the light-hearted flash mob with the empowerment of protest participation... time will tell.