Using tech in protests: does it reinforce perceptions of privilege? | MIT Center for Civic Media

Using tech in protests: does it reinforce perceptions of privilege?

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer writes this morning in the Washington Post:

To the villainy-of-the-rich theme emanating from Washington, a child is born: Occupy Wall Street. Starbucks-sipping,  Levi’s-clad, iPhone-clutching protesters denounce corporate America even as they weep for Steve Jobs, corporate titan, billionaire eight times over.

These indignant indolents saddled with their $50,000 student loans and English degrees have decided that their lack of gainful employment is rooted in the malice of the millionaires on whose homes they are now marching — to the applause of Democrats suffering acute Tea Party envy and now salivating at the energy these big-government anarchists will presumably give their cause.

Except that the real Tea Party actually had a program — less government, less regulation, less taxation, less debt. What’s the Occupy Wall Street program? Eat the rich.

And then what? Haven’t gotten that far.

Despite Krauthammer's consistent/intransigent libertarianism, these arguments read lazy. (The line about $50,000 loans is odd given that conservatives would be the first to say a high school education can't cut it anymore, all while knowing that there exists, for many, no alternative to taking out loans. Or the fact that "eat the rich" is a program: more transparent government, better regulation, fairer taxation, short-term stimulus.)

But, he implies a question...

Does Occupy Wall Street's organizing via new technology reinforce a stereotype of protesters as privileged American kids?

Technology needn't equate to privilege. But tech-driven protests, like any other, still need a strong contrast of characters to tell a compelling story to those not entirely engaged, lest it be too-easily maligned by those like Krauthammer. Our own Sasha Costanza-Chock has worked with migrant workers, whose use of technology was not only effective but a compelling story — exploited people pushing back against exploiters by figuring out new, self-reliant tactics. New tech for a new age.

Elsewhere, Libya not only had camera phones but a pure villain in Qaddafi. (And note the waning interest now that Qaddafi is underground, while his generals retrench.) Our country's own civil rights movement was built on strong organization, and the narrative contrast between white and blacks, between marchers and fire hoses, but most successfully by leveraging a hero like Martin Luther King vs. a villain like Bull Connor.

Compare that with Krauthammer's perception of Occupy Wall Street protestors — an echo of criticisms of Vietnam protests — that these people can't possibly comprise a legitimate protest movement because they're the sons and daughters of the people they're protesting against. Or my own feeling, as a communications person, that "Wall Street" is simply too squishy a rhetorical target.

In short, does using new technology reinforce a narrative of privilege?

Who is OCW's individual villain? Who is its galvanizing hero?

Does tech-driven organizing make it less likely an MLK will rise? Is someone like him required to win over middle-of-the-road voters, the ones who, in MLK's time, eventually became so disgusted by institutional racism that national policy change became legitimate and seemingly inevitable?

Or in purely marketing terms, how can OCW use technology to root for someone in addition to against a system?