event-summary-changing-infrastructure-of-protest-in-the-21st-century

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EVENT SUMMARY: Infrastructure for protest in the 21st Century.

The evening was anchored by 3 great speakers:

1: Dr Shireen Walton (University College London)

2: Dr Red Chidgey (King’s College London)

3: Iris Andrews (Purpose)

and amongst these anchors was a very broad group including a programmer, ex-banker, mathematician, cyber warfare specialist, UX designer, music teacher, journalist, business development manager, visual artist and computer scientist.

We kicked off with the main question: Is protest between people and parliament a natural thing?

An interesting debate spread from this question, perhaps immediately misunderstood at the same time as well. From the off we had a questioning of defining a protest but perhaps we should have looked harder at the question itself and realised that to protest against a parliament is one of the truest signs of democracy? Protest against a government is hard in locations such as Turkey, Philippines, Myanmar, and Zimbabwe which result in persecution. The question therefore implies the notion that protest is a democratic process that exists when democracy fails to represent the will of the people in total. In these ever increasingly difficult times, differences are spreading through groups who may have stood alongside one another therefore to represent the majority of the people is a misnomer as representing an ever-splitting society is to represent nothing at all, you fail to represent anything at all other than your own power. Following this theme it was referenced that protest had flipped. Protest typically by the minority agains the majority but Brexit & Trump have shown that in fact it was the majority protesting against the minority in a protest vote that in the past centuries could have manifested in a revolt.

Is the influence that social media is having on politics is that politics is being more like social media rather than it’s use as a tool. The culture of social media is its ephemerality and immediacy, what here is now is great, what happened is too far down the timeline of importance? This was phrased in the light that protest and politics is a lengthy process, as characterised by Northern Ireland and Tibet, therefore how does a demographic who are becoming accustomed to a totally different way of thinking, living, working and experiencing deal with the slow moving world of politics – is this perhaps the reason for such short turnouts at the polls to cast votes? Voting in its own right is a protest, its the ability to say NO or YES to something. As brought up, not every form of protest has to be violent.

Our perception of a protest continued to be debated. Understanding at what point we are an activist or at what point we say no. Historical, foreign or distant views of protests, or supposed protests, can influence the impact we perceive it to be happening when in reality be something quite different. Shireen discussed how through her studies of the Iranian revolution in 2011 that “it wasn’t a revolution, it was a Twitter moment”. We must be careful that social media noise doesn’t become a marker for a protest’s success. 

A fascinating point raised in the evening was that one change brought on by social media is that it creates a real time form of documentation, a Twitter feed of events happening with sentiment exuded hasn’t occurred in history before – how will this look in the future when historians interpret the event?

Is the sharing and circular economy the ultimate form of protest to parliaments? This economy gives you the ability to lead a more agile life, to keep funds within a peer group and to not be “slave” to the corporate structures that have such great influence over government. Uber is how city dwellers travel en masse but BMW have political swing. AirBnB is how city visitors sleep at night yet the Hilton chains hold political sway. Through sharing you arguably prevent a structured transaction from occurring.

How do we structure protest? Technology is one of our greatest tools yet access to protest groups can be often secularising. If something is truly of public benefit then its ideas must be understood and structured in such a way. To access the darknet via browsers such as Tor is actually quite hard and to join forums even harder, but how is this applicable to demographics that aren’t aware of such technology? Should technology be seen to therefore improve local discourse over local topics, should our technology enabled citizens pool together to understand better platforms of communication for or against a particular topic. When debating this topic we were referred to an online tool called LOOMEO that is used for bringing a wide range of people to help vote topics, democracy through filtering rather than playing binary games that end up being the political version of Strictly Come Dancing. We were also referenced to simpler ways in which technology is enabling a way for disparate citizens to combine under one voice which was Reddit and the particular feed was Bad Cop No Donut.

The evening brought up many opinions, ideas and questions. Given the topic the evening was certainly one of the more “alive” Brainplays that have taken place. Whilst no immediate answer was given, and that’s not the aim of Brainplays, it certainly helped frame the questions better that we are looking internally to get answered.

The Revolution will not be Tweeted.


THECUBE is a coworking space in East London founded under the belief that through collective questioning and discourse can we innovate. We started with this rhetoric over 7 years ago and keep it strong today in our work.