Soundbitten: The Perils of Media-Centered Political Activism

Soundbitten: The Perils of Media-Centered Political Activism

Soundbitten: The Perils of Media-Centered Political Activism

Soundbitten: The Perils of Media-Centered Political Activism

Synopsis

Sarah Sobieraj presents an ethnographic portrait of 50 diverse organizations over the course of two campaign cycles, revealing that while most activist groups equate political success with media success and channel their energies accordingly, their efforts fail to generate news coverage and come with hurtful consequences.

Excerpt

During the 2000 Republican National Convention (RNC) in Philadelphia, a network of activists from across the country used human blockades reinforced with pvc piping and steel to close down five major traffic arteries for nearly two hours during rush hour. As I observed, a school bus filled with police officers in combat gear arrived, a gas truck rolled in, and loud, low-flying news helicopters hovered overhead while officers worked to dismantle the human roadblock. Activists who were not part of the blockade filled the streets and faced the barricade of protesters, dancing, drumming, and playing makeshift musical instruments in the hot, late afternoon sun. Some entertained the crowd with offbeat political street theater. Still others threw confetti and lent exuberant voices to familiar protest chants. the classic activist refrain, “The whole world is watching! the whole world is watching!,” was imbued with a new layer of meaning as it came from the mouths of activists brandishing camcorders, indicating to the police that any brutality would be documented. Amid the revelry, some participants were designated to provide medical care (one offered me sunscreen), and others disbursed bottled water to those embroiled in the lockdown. a handful of reporters crouched in front of the conjoined activists, posing questions and taking notes. Others watched from the sidelines, updating editors via cell phone, as they peered around the bystanders who filtered through, despite police efforts to disperse the crowd and secure the surrounding area.

Riot-gear-clad police, marching rhythmically in long lines with military precision and demeanor, worked to contain the boisterous crowd. the marching officers transitioned seamlessly into four rows, took the shape of a square around the intersection, and then turned to stand shoulder to shoulder, physically enclosing the protesters and supporters in the intersection. If this confinement bothered the activists they certainly didn’t show it, but I felt trapped. the once-celebratory . . .

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