Using Social Media to Stage a Movement

I wanted to organize a lil protest against BP and offshore drilling. It had been exactly one month since the oil spill began. One month of non-stop poison continuously flowing into the Gulf, making its way toward the Loop Current and Florida’s Keys and beaches. In the history of history, this is undoubtedly the single worst thing we’ve done to our planet. It’s like someone ventured to your parent’s house and pissed all over your mom, nonstop, for thirty straight days. The problem with the spill is unless you’re Aquaman, could you really do anything about it other than watch idly?

Of course you could. You don’t have to be Che Guevera to express yourself.

Here’s what we did. It’s pretty formulaic. First, gather artist friends and get supplies. Brainstorm. Make signs. This in itself is healthy. Next, come up with an idea. Ours was easy: let’s wear black hefty bags, carry our freaking signs, march on down to the busiest BP, and post up. But first, we had to spread the word, gather the tribe. There’s music in the masses. After a Facebook update, a tweet, a few reposts and retweets, phone calls, e-mails, you’ll have a crew, like we did, just make sure someone has a good camera for still shots and video.

We stood outside the BP on 10th Street and Biscayne in Downtown Miami for two hours. No yelling, megaphones, or chants. Just a silent protest, a gesture of discontent and unity.

Thousands of cars drove by, many of them beeping in fleeting solidarity, each beep of their horn sounding more like BP BP as time went on. Did the cops come?? Yeah. They asked how long we’d be there, wanted to know our plan, and “suggested” the next time we do it we go by the special event station to get a “suggested” permit. Were some people upset?? A couple. Did it rain? It rained like it does in Miami during the summer, and it felt great.

The whole experience felt great. We took tons of pictures. The goal was not to disrupt the ebb and flow of traffic, or waste anyone’s valuable time. The goal was to heighten public awareness of the disaster in the Gulf and how it could affect our quality of life in Miami. Also, how this pertains to the larger social issue of offshore drilling, and the larger issue of corporate power.

Sure, the opposing viewpoint may be that our demonstration in the end might’ve only hurt small local business and not the corporate entity behind the logo. In our case, we did indeed stand outside a BP owned by a small business proprietor, and not the corporation. BP the corporation is bigger than you think. We could hardly hurt BP, no matter how hard we tried. But so what?

We made our point. We had our images and memories and we left. But that was just the beginning. You see, in 2010, you can be the media you want to see. So that night we went back to our social networking sites and after a few FB posts and re-posts, we brewed the pot, stirred the gravy, and had created our own story. The next day our local NBC station contacted us for an interview. When asked how they found out about what we did, the reporter said Facebook. The next night we we’re on the eleven o’clock news, in a market with 7 million people. We did it our way, and so can you.

And that’s the bigger point. Make memories. Gather. Increase awareness. And as time continues, as we evolve, as our generation gets older and more conscious, maybe we actually have a chance against the corporate machine we operate under. Maybe we can subvert the dominant paradigm!!

J.J. Colagrande is the author of Headz, a novel. He is currently an Adjunct Professor at Miami Dade College and Barry University.

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