Thoughts on mass mobilization and the reduction of public spaces

August 11, 2015

Today August 9, 2015 marks a year anniversary since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Exactly one year ago, the 18-year old black man was gunned down by 29-year-old, white police officer Darren Wilson. Four-and-a-half hours passed before Brown’s body was removed from the street, the summer sun rapidly decomposing his body, his blood marking the pavement. “Negligence” said some, “public punishment” replied most others.

The anniversary of an event such as Ferguson that sparked mass mobilizations across the country made me think back on the lecture given by Dr. William Arrocha. During his talk about the politics of development, he addressed the problematic of intending to build peace and having to deal with the reality of public spaces being reduced and in opposition, private spaces being on a dramatic rise. Dr. Arrocha said “the public spaces, are where peace could be negotiated and yet they have been severely reduced”. What does this really mean though? Mass protests are still occurring throughout the country and around the world. In fact, not only are mass mobilizations still occurring but some have even claimed that Social Media is a game changer in the way we organize in the 21st century. It appears to be the case that we are entering a time where mass mobilizations in terms of participation will be beyond anything the world has seen before. So, then if mass mobilizations are not decreasing, and are in fact unapologetically overtaking private spaces, perhaps a more pertinent question would be: Are mass mobilizations an effective strategy for transformation and change in the 21st century?

Mass mobilizations nowadays appear to spark from anger; they are the visceral response to inequality and violence. However, as Mr. Kazu Haga said, anger is short-lived and can’t sustain a movement by itself. Today’s mass mobilizations are filled with young people who decided to leave their couches and attend a rally they saw published on Facebook or Twitter. Arguably, even if one could say that there is a considerable risk of bodily harm in many of these mass mobilizations, the information and the ties to the cause they are protesting for is low. Organizers in Social Movements now a days should be very careful of quality of participation vs. numbers of participants. Recruiting civilians for a mass mobilization is the easiest part, creating committed activists with strong ties to the social movement is the real challenge for organizers.

Weak-ties with a Social Movement can not only undermine the validity of the whole movement but can also jeopardize any ability the movement might have to dismantle hegemonic structures of oppression. Strong-ties to a movement is the only way to ensure its long-term success and achievement of its goals. If the Black Lives Matter movement for example, fails to see the importance of collaborating with other CSOs, if it fails to educate people in ways to reform the juridical system and make black and brown lives a priority of the political and economic agenda of this country’s leaders, it will not progress as a movement.

Anger, will only spark demonstrations in Ferguson here and there, while other young men like Michael Brown will continue to bleed in the streets of this Nation.