Blackout Reflection: No One Hand Should Have All That Power

We live in the age of uploaded insecurities and weaknesses in the name of forming community.  And yet, somehow our tangible feelings become lost in the experience of impersonal expression. Social media coddles an individual’s expectation for recognition and a false sense of connection through that recognition. 

Even with the ability to reach others at the push of a button, we see many examples where Social Media makes us hyper aware of our isolation, distance, and longing to be a part of a collective. Although the internet is marketed as a democratizing tool, it has also normalized a surveillance state of existence and mimics the ills of systemic violence by corporate interests.  It is intensely individualistic, apathetic, and naïve to the joys of being fully present in a moment.

Let us question it’s distinction as a “great democratizer.”  Unquestionably, it has opened the door for millions of marginalized to be heard and seen by allowing for the stories of scores of once invisible people to be elevated.  That is a power previous generations could only hope for.  Yet, a true democracy weighs both the power of individual identity with the responsibility to the collective.  There is no responsibility or accountability in the online arena. (Save for Twitter feeding frenzies launched when someone goes afoul).  There is an anonymity that shields many from the repercussions of lies, faux leadership or hateful rhetoric; allowing for many to enjoy the fruits of freedom without the labor of accountability.

Millions of our youth are internalizing the notion that democracy is the ability to say and do as you please without the responsibility of consequences or to a collective greater than oneself.  It is a Right Wing Pipe Dream: a generation poised to ferociously defend individual liberties under the banners of a “Freedom” and “Democracy” that is inherently individualistic and American.

Our movement must attack this belief at every turn.  Democracy is work.  It challenges selfishness and greed and is the building block for an alternative conception of society. We must think of our responsibilities to others in everything that we do and build.

Movements and communities are built and sustained through deep personal relationships which challenge dominant narratives of success, opportunism, and exclusionary tactics.  Social media is a tool toward building transparent forms of relating and articulation but cannot replace the work organizers must do in order to demonstrate other modes of positive radical communication. We have to continue to create and imagine ways to resolve conflict and affirm each other’s voices.  We should challenge the notion that Social Media can do any more than serve as a gateway to organizing in the here and now.  Anything less than a strong on the ground accomplice to this virtual reality will surely doom this burgeoning movement moment nurtured and developed over time.  We have to embrace this necessary truth or else fall victim to distraction and deception. 

Let’s examine its position as a barometer of a movement’s power.  There are many definitions of power. To use a concept coined by American Political Scientist, Joseph Nye, I propose that social media is an expression of “soft power”.  It is appealing and attractive. Culture becomes an ambassador and infiltrates where an individual can become a movement onto oneself without accountability or collective support. It attracts and coopts instead of coercion. It is a process of lobbying through less transparent channels for political or non-political influence. Social media’s power lays in how powerless people are and society becomes more prone to control or persuasion.

As organizers contending with clear and present exertion of “hard power”: “the use of military and economic means to influence the behavior or interests of other political bodies”, we cannot grow comfortable here in our capable wielding of Social Media “soft power.”  Our opposition relishes our reliance on online tools and forums to measure, guide, and direct our movement.  They crown online leaders (they tried us for a minute) with the obvious goal of co-optation and the subversive goal of teaching our people that individuals with millions of followers are the drivers of change.

More telling, many crowned “leaders” openly advocate against building grassroots organizations (with some valid critiques, yet painted with brushes far too broad) in lieu of online engagement and refuge. More sinister, there is a growing fear amongst many liberal circles to contend with and grasp hard power. This fear has evolved into outright aversion.  This activity reveals itself in the reactions by many to #blacklivesmatters tactics and can only be described as counterrevolutionary and anti-movement. 

Soul is produced through struggle and a resistance to live and become, not through the passive witnessing of spectacle and speaking. There is warmth in human intimacy and sincerity that can only be mocked by Social Media but can never fully be replicated or experienced. Soul is made through the tension of life’s obstacles and one’s many methods of overcoming. It is what feeds and nourishes our invisible realities. 

The Dream Defenders “blackout” was quite illuminating for me. It highlighted many of my own contradictions and compulsions.

Maybe it was the act of putting the phone face down that forced me to see the people in front of me or maybe the silencing of all the commenting that made me listen to the actual voices of people around me. I could hear my own voice more clearly. It was a fasting of the spirit. I was no longer overwhelmed with newsfeeds of death, pain, politics, and posturing—at least for the time being. I gained some solace from the numbness and cynicism growing from the constant posts on my timeline.  I became more connected to the people around me. I actively participated more in every day events.  There was a Newness again.  I was reunited with a time before we knew what everyone ate, who everyone loved, where they vacationed, how their day went--all before meeting them. I was meeting people outside of other’s interest in them.

I saw me again.   For quite some time, Social Media was my public Hall of Mirrors.  Judge and jury to every action and movement.  It inebriated my ego and courted my insecurities. I was off-center; my self-perception self-curated online.  Without it, I began to recognize the “little things”— the tiny triumphs coming to comfort me in the dark times.  Ego and genuine political disagreement were weighed in the balance and I discovered that, really, I just be hatin’ sometimes; or that “hate” comes from unresolved conflict with imaging self and relationships around me. I looked in the mirror and saw my deep desire to be known, remembered, and valued.  I recognized the lengths I would go to keep hold of Social Media’s illusionary embrace. 

I recognized my most vicarious nature.  I how used my timeline to escape the stress, isolation, or perceived shortcomings of the present. 

The most painful part of the experience wass confronting that you’ve succumbed to the very disease you warn others about. I began to question my preaching against mediums that loomed so large in my life but in actuality the relationship was one way, my abstinence from Social Media virtually posed no risk or threat to the tool itself. It was not a relationship. It did not care if I felt or did not feel it. It did not wish to listen to me or speak to me. It merely mocked my desire for genuine relationship and communication, the want to be heard and to listen. I had become cynical, distrustful and dismissive.  I was passively skeptical of each performance of resistance I saw on my timeline. Human actions became perverted caricatures. Surely, a lived experience cannot be felt solely by a post being shared but somehow not actually being a part of the moment posted created a distance of speculation and encouraged the projection of ego.

So what is our duty as a movement with a powerful tool such as Social Media?  We must build organizations, actions, and practices that have mass educational appeal and also transform intimate relational presence or engagement. 

I am encouraged and challenged to encourage our community organizers toward true and “hard” exhibitions of democracy, community, and power. Not followship and diffusions of responsibility.  We must ferociously challenge the notion that any one of us is more important than all of us. We must re-embrace the great strategic value in everyone not knowing everything you do, when we do it, and whom we do it with.  We have been conditioned to be complicit in compromising our best strategies, delivering our plans publicly.  We must envision new strategies in this ‘1984’ reality. …. of misinformation.

We must bask in the magic of the here and now, encouraging our communities to reunite with all of their many selves—not just the Avatar with the most likes.  We must get lost in conversation with our innermost thoughts and idiosyncrasies.  We must seek out the “why’s” and the “how longs”, and once again be amazed and embarrassed at ourselves.  Then, and only then, will we truly hold our future in the palms of our hands.



check out the video below to see my talk at the recent Black Radical Tradition conference in Philly where I got an opportunity to touch on some of the things from above.