By now, we have all at least heard about the killing of Ferguson, Missouri teen Michael Brown. When we examine the events that followed the tragic event, we can see how in a very short window of time a social movement came to life. Whether justified or not, the action of police using lethal force on citizens of this country was brought to light again after Brown’s death. This has been an issue in society for quite some time, but this particular incident made waves quickly throughout the country and led to many different forms of protests.
In class we discussed some ideas from Manuel Castells “Networking Minds, Creating Meaning, Contesting Power." In the text, he shows us how a fundamental injustice in our society can be the root to a social movement. He continues on by saying that the theory of affective intelligence shows that two emotions, fear and enthusiasm, are most relevant to social mobilization. Fear can usually carry a negative affect that can lead to anger and outrage, but enthusiasm is directly related to hope that can have a positive affect towards the movement.
Many people were outraged by the killing. Protests all over the nation broke out in the following weeks and months, some peaceful and many violent. Castells tells us how the anxiety of individuals can lead to fear, which in turn can lead to anger. He also mentions how when individuals feel ignored or misrepresented they are ready to put that anger into action. People of the Ferguson community took to the streets, threatening police, looting and destroying local businesses. They claimed to be in fear of their safety as most believed that the justice system is corrupt. Castells tells us that in order for a social movement to form emotional activation of individuals it must connect with other individuals. He also says that empathy in the communication process is determined by experiences similar to that of which the original emotional outburst was motivated. Many others around the country could relate to the feelings the locals had because they too have seen or heard of police on citizen violence in their communities.
On the other hand, there were also peaceful protests that occurred as well. Many people demonstrated the “hands up don’t shoot” action that became the popular symbol of supporting the movement. Castells says “the faster and more interactive the process of communication is, the more likely the formation of a process of collective action becomes, rooted in outrage, propelled by enthusiasm, and motivated by hope.” In class we also learned about clicktivism, which is when a person promotes a cause by using online outlets such as social media. Some believe that clicktivisim is actually just slacktivisim, when someone promotes a cause to uphold their social image but is less likely to be actively involved by donating, volunteering, etc. I think it was apparent there was quite a bit of both. A lot of people took to sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share their opposing thoughts and support. Many people came together in mostly non-violent protests all across the country as well. We also discussed in class how digital media often times creates weak ties and that there needs to be strong ties in order to create real social change.
I think at the very least this social movement encouraged people to be more aware of their actions and the actions of those around them. Whether you believe the action taken by the officer to use lethal force on Brow n was justified or not, we can see how people in society related to the movement in some way. While the looting and destructive or violent behavior was not the best way to contribute to the movement, it does show that social movements most often times fueled by the emotions of the individual. It also demonstrates how people use social media to express themselves when it comes to events such as this.