We have known that on-the-ground activism coupled with online amplification could be powerful. Anyone who’s seen NPR’s Andy Carvin’s curation of revolutionary tweets from the Middle East and north Africa knows how hard it is to figure out what’s happening from 140-character bursts in real-time. But the Occupy protests are the first time we’re seeing government-citizen confrontations on Twitter in all-English. The full glory of distributed leadership and communication are on display.
This is a very, very far cry from the streamlined protest narratives that we remember from the civil rights or anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960s. As any historian knows, the actual events are nearly infinitely messier than the stories we tell about them, but that convenient elision is getting ever harder to maintain. From now on, we will record every blurt and cry from protesters, observers, supporters, and detractors. The medium will allow the people to be heard with an immediacy that can generate a ton of energy, at least more than white papers from think tanks or sociological treatises on inequality.