Social media are often thought of as the new ground for political and social activism. But while it’s easy to create a social movement on Twitter or Facebook, translating that into actual policy change is very different.
Before the internet changed the speed at which the world moves, movements were slower-growing. A year of organizing and directly advocating for change led to the 13-month-long Montgomery bus boycott that began with Rosa Parks’s act of resistance. The civil-rights movement took a decade to get to the March on Washington—time that Martin Luther King Jr. and his colleagues spent forming and deepening social connections, strengthening and testing the fiber of their movement.
By contrast, mass protests such as Occupy Wall Street formed rapidly but then, lacking that underlying resilience created over time, often lost focus, direction, and, most important, their potential to effect change. The Gezi Park protests in Turkey grew from nothing into a massive movement within days, demonstrating the power of organizing using digital tools, according to Twitter and Tear Gas, a book by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor Zeynep Tufekci. “However,” she wrote, “with this speed comes weakness, some of it unexpected … The ease with which current social movements form often fails to signal an organizing capacity powerful enough to threaten those in authority.”
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Society is run as a communal act, something we form together even when we disagree. Community is both possible and necessary because of our evolutionary interdependence, but also because we share space: air, water, soil, roads, towns, cities, landscapes. In particular, our physical communities are made of spaces in which we interact, mingle, and strive to get along. Public spaces are where we greet our neighbors, watch out for kids on bikes, walk to work, give strangers directions, and bump into people because we’re typing “<<hugs>>” in response to a friend’s breakup news.