Today’s Activism: Spontaneous, Leaderless, but Not Without Aim
In the sea of hundreds of protesters who gathered one evening near the intersection where George Floyd was killed, a lone voice rose from the crowd.“Everybody sit down,” it urgently ordered.Others chimed in — “Sit down! Sit down!” — scolding those, even journalists, who were slow to comply.
A few minutes later, Tony Clark, wearing a black face mask and an earring with the inscription “Not today Satan,” bounded toward the center of the circle of seated bodies and took the megaphone.“Everybody stand up,” he commanded, contradicting the earlier speaker’s instructions.The crowd rose.
“The moment y’all sit down, the moment they’re going to step on y’all,” Clark, 27, said to rousing applause. But a half-hour later, he reversed his stance and told everyone to sit down again.
“Stop barking orders,” said Davi Young, a Marine veteran, twisting his face. “You’re not the police.”
Welcome to 21st-century activism, where spontaneous and leaderless movements have been defined by their organic births and guided on the fly by people whose preferences, motivations and ideas may not always align.
But the absence of organized leadership does not mean the movements — from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter — are rudderless.
Leveraging technology that was unavailable to earlier generations, the activists of today have a digital playbook. Often, it begins with an injustice captured on video and posted to social media. Demonstrations are hastily arranged, hashtags are created and before long, thousands have joined the cause.
At the core is an egalitarian spirit, a belief that everyone has a voice, and that everyone’s voice matters.
But leaderless movements have their challenges.It can be difficult to keep protests from spilling out of control, and difficult to maintain a clear and focused message. Disputes over the best strategies can easily emerge.
These days, social media is the strongest, most prominent leader. Young activists announce the location of an action or protest on Twitter or Instagram, and within an hour, scores of people are there.
“I think it kind of does make it hard to manage because you don’t know who’s coming,” said Maryan Farasle, a 17-year-old high school senior who lives in the Minneapolis suburbs and is an activist organizer. “You don’t know the people showing up and what their intentions are.”But at the same time, she added, “I think it is a way to get a lot of people together quickly.”
But today’s young activists also avoid singular leaders. “We’ve seen what happens to people in the past when they’re the lead of anything,” Farasle said, referring to civil rights leaders who have been slain.
文／John Eligon and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura 譯／陳韋廷 核稿／樂慧生