With the understanding that contemporary political projects are material and offline in some sense and that they leave digital and online traces at a minimum, what kinds of resistance efforts exert transformative pressure on structures of oppression or contribute to our release from them? In my own work, wrestling with this problem and this question has yielded several approaches to engaging the commons.
Embedded Advocacy Livestream Journalism
Environmentally catastrophic practices of extraction and neo-slavery and corporate conglomeration have made it possible to record and broadcast very high-quality video through platforms such as Facebook Live, Ustream, Livestream, Periscope, and others. After being trained to stream in during the Ferguson protests, I began to contribute to protests by participating in them while also streaming for broader audiences. In addition to simply “documenting,” this form of media production has helped to make the reality of ongoing protest more widely visible. This is particularly valuable in locations that are thought to be singularly acquiescent, or reactionary in the dominant narrative.
#NoBanNoWall Rally Against Trump’s Travel Ban in Greenville, South Carolina
For Livestream Link Click Image
However, relatively quickly I realized several limitations of this form of journalism as political engagement. While my streaming was appreciated by those who watch and by the protesters themselves who like to have a record of their work. I began to see these televisual productions, the comments, and discussions that surrounded them, and the physical protests themselves as deeply vulnerable to critiques such as Jodi Dean’s analysis/warning regarding a set of conditions that she calls “Communicative Capitalism.”
Dean (2005) worries about a phase in late capitalism where there is a proliferation of political utterances with many worrisome qualities. First, these utterances exert little if any counter-leverage against oppressive practices of resource distribution and governance. Second, the digital versions of these utterances that are exchanged and distributed on an unprecedented scale provide the illusion of deliberative democracy and resistance. This warning, written twelve years ago, continues to haunt and inform my media, and social media production. Partially as a result, I began to think about how to connect to more sustained and strategic efforts of resistance and embed myself with them in a more committed and tactical fashion.
One example of this was my participation in a series of #ShutDownBlackFriday shopping interruptions in St. Louis Missouri in the fall of 2014. Broadcasting in this context required a longer process of offline relationship building, more process planning about when and where to film, changing outfits, and the decisions about the extent of my civil disobedience.
More recently, during Trump’s 2017 inauguration in Washington D.C., I embedded with a group of Palestinian rights organizers that staged protests and blockages at several checkpoints.
#DisruptJ20 Inauguration protests
Click for Livestream Link
Transforming Campuses into Sanctuaries for resistance away from and in front of the keyboard.
In the wake of the Trump administration’s war on science, reproductive rights, voting rights, public education, religious freedom etc. and other unethical and unconstitutional efforts at governance, scholars must use our skills and our privilege to draw a line. We must transform our campuses into sanctuaries, and nodes of resistance. Resistance work on our campuses provides the added benefit of allowing us to escape the random, expressive, episodic, tourism approach to activism and to instead commit to longer sustained strategic campaigns that can move beyond awareness building to other kinds of long-term institutional and societal changes.
In the spring of 2016, several students occupied Sikes Hall a key administrative building to demand that the administration draft approach to issues of diversity., acts of hate, and other problems. http://seestripescu.org/history-today/
This nine-day occupation and the arrests that resulted from it provided numerous opportunities for faculty and community solidarity through, legal support, digital storytelling, networking, archive building, and physical presence.
Currently here at Clemson, we are in the midst of efforts to encourage our university’s administration to make a stronger statement denouncing Trump’s Executive order/Muslim ban.
This effort began professors Todd May, Mike Sears and I committed to a six-day #FastAgainstSilence during which we didn’t eat any solid food.
In these protests, our bodies and the bodies of those that joined us were the primary media. But we attempted to used our bodies as a form of nonviolent coercion and as an act of solidarity to draw our community closer together in struggle.
Social media like Facebook and Instagram were ancillary. We primarily used them to invite other forms of solidarity and pressure.
We also used Tumblr to collect and display letters to our administration other from faculty, students, alumni, community members, and other prominent scholars.
Dean, Jodi. "Communicative Capitalism: Circulation and the foreclosure of politics." Cultural Politics 1.1 (2005): 51-74.