The revolution WILL be on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
In 1970, when the late Gil Scott-Heron first recorded his poem, “The Revolution Will Not be Televised,” he could not have imagined how media technology would change. By the time he died earlier this year, Scott-Heron knew that digital technology had already changed how information is shared instantaneously across the globe, as in Tunisia and Egypt.
If we had waited for the network news, we might never have known what was happening in Tunis or Cairo. But, thanks to the democratizing “new media” anyone can send photos and video around the world. No journalism degree, no media job or credentials necessary. Just an iPhone or a Flip camera and the whole world can know what is going on. While there’s still a huge digital divide where millions of people have no access to this technology, no powerful media conglomerate can control all the information all the time.
While he may have been waxing about the evils of the Nixon Administration and useless products that are sold on TV, Scott-Heron was right: “the revolution will be no re-run, brothers (and sisters); the revolution will be LIVE.
And, live it was last month, when Occupy Wall Street started. The mainstream media didn’t cover it until millions of people learned about these daily demonstrations from Democracy Now! (KBCS, 91.3 FM locally) and Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. By week two, with teachers, labor unions and many Americans in support, the networks and daily newspapers began to cover the fact that Occupy Wall Street had blossomed into Occupy Boston and Occupy Portland (the largest in the Pacific Northwest with 10,000 people) and yes, Occupy Seattle at Westlake Center.
Occupy Wall Street started when the Bank of America announced that it would charge $5/month to customers who use their debit cards. Wait a minute. Debit cards, by their very nature, use only money we already have in the bank. So, while millions of Americans were grousing around at the water cooler or dinner table, some took action and went to Wall Street.
But, it sparked anger far beyond debit fees and banks, per se. Something is wrong with the system when a bank gets bailed out by taxpayer’s money, then summarily forecloses on millions of home owners and thousands of businesses. Something is wrong when CEOs get multimillion dollar bonuses for laying off thousands of workers. And, something is wrong when corporate after-tax profits is at an 81-year high when the 99 percent of us are without a job, underemployed, under water on our mortgages or spending sleepless nights just worrying that we are one paycheck or medical crisis away from ruin.
Like the TV anchorman played by Peter Finch in “Network” (1976), enough is enough: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” And, it no surprise that young people didn’t take the time to wait for others to decide to go to Wall Street. They’re smart, but swimming in student loan debt and can’t find a job.
Why has this series of demonstrations captured people in a way that is different from other actions and movements? “This is an incredibly significant moment in U.S. history,” Dorian Warren, Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University told Democracy Now! “It might be a turning point, because this is the first time we’ve seen an emergence of a populist movement on the left since the 1930s.”
Democracy isn’t easy, and it can get messy, like when lifelong civil rights leader, Congressman John Lewis was denied the opportunity to speak at Occupy Atlanta. Some strange interpretation of “everyone is equal” meant that Lewis wasn’t to be given any special consideration. Special consideration? John Lewis nearly lost his life being beaten in the streets by bully police, yet with grace and dignity, he devoted his entire life to non-violent action to work toward making America the democracy it claimed to be.
But, messy or not, getting out of our comfort zone and getting our hands dirty is a necessity now. The Tea Party and others, financed by the billionaire Koch brothers and cohorts, are systematically dismantling everything that Congressman Lewis, activists of color and progressives have been fighting for over the past 50-60 years.
If we sit back now, we might not even be able to use the internet to see the fall of American democracy. Then, it will be too late.