Just the other day, I came across this useful post from Jill Walker Rettberg, which is also discussing this useful post from Mike “Rortybomb” Konczal, both about the use of social media and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Walker Rettberg is more or less summarizing Konczal’s analysis of the Tumblr site We Are the 99 Percent and also of the site Occupy Together, which is a sort of hub for all things “Occupy-ish.”
The point here with Walker Rettberg’s post and these (and other) sites is that these sort of events are perhaps only possible nowadays with social media of the sort you are reading right now, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. I’m inclined to agree, and I’ve been thinking about all that lately because I have been fiddling around with finally getting off my butt and doing something book-like with my dissertation. I don’t want to make promises here; saying that I am going to write this book is a little like saying I am going to stay on this diet, both the kind of things that are probably wise to bet against.
In my diss, I used the term “immediacy” to suggest both the profound sense of intimacy that can happen in these situations from proximity (albeit electronic proximity at times) and chaos that results in the immediate speed of these situations playing out. The Arab Spring uprisings are another good example of this, of course. The other aspect of the Occupy Wall Street movement (and the Arab Spring, for that matter) is that there is a lack of a singular rhetor/leader offering a single message. This is probably more true with Occupy Wall Street, though that’s the point of Konczal’s post: he’s trying to analyze the text on that Tumblr site to ascertain the concerns of the movement as articulated there. And in brief, those concerns are student loans, children (which I also think might be interpreted as “the future”), unemployment, and health care.
As for my own thoughts about the whole Occupy Wall Street thing: I am very torn. On the one hand, I am sympathetic to the broad concerns about student loan debt, jobs, taxes on the rich (or a lack thereof), health care, and I guess what I would describe as the just general frustration that makes people think “nothing else is working; I’m going to go out into the street and beat a drum.” On the other hand, the lack of a unifying message and leader(s) makes it unlikely that this group is going to get a lot of traction in the analog and very traditional situation of government: that is, I don’t think the federal government is going to pay a whole lot of attention to these folks until they are able to swing elections.
The other issue I have is the “99 Percent” depicted on Tumblr and other places is that who is in that group is a little problematic to me; or maybe a different way of putting it is there is a certain level of inequality regarding who has it worse. Most/many of the folks on that blog have legitimate “that sucks” kinds of stories, but there are also many that frankly look like college kids looking for something to protest/join.
Of course, I suppose all of that is just normal and is not a reason to not be frustrated. I mean, I’m not in the 99 percent of most of the people depicted here– that is, I’m securely employed, I’m not worried a lot about debt, I have decent health insurance, etc. At the same time, I want to help folks not as lucky as me, and I do worry about the future for my son and his generation, I worry about stupid government cuts in taxes to rich people, etc.