People spend a lot of time questioning the value and influence and usefulness of social media these days. I know this because I am one of them. As a fairly avid user of social media technology of my own accord, and a teacher being constantly reminded of the need to bring technology into the classroom while simultaneously corralling all of my students mobile devices every minute of every day (in spite of the fact that I teach in a complete dead zone, they remain resolutely undeterred in their efforts to get some sort of signal – sigh) there is a lot of mental energy directed towards a consideration of our relationships with social media.
Having also had my fair share of mishaps with the interwebs – special shoutouts to Wavefunccollapse: resident Knoxville jackass, and the Coffee denier – I find myself increasingly skeptical at the very same time I see my internet presence expanding. When my parents ask why they should be on the FB, I have as many positive answers as negative. I recall looking across the desk at my former principal as he read through MY ENTIRE Twitter feed, which he had meticulously (though without any apparent logic) highlighted, and had to explain to him that he had identified a conversation between a friend (in Hong Kong) and myself, of which he was only reading one side [DUH]. No matter what, he just could not grok, no matter how plainly I explained it, that Amy wanted me to bring Twinkies to the 852 and we were joking about the effects of sugar. He remained steadfast in his opinion that I was talking shit about my job in the East Bay [don't ask, it really is impossible to explain] and as I remember this, I do rethink the benefits of internet absence.
But, I also think that internet absence is no longer a reality. And I think about what about what another [internet] friend said a while back that he simply did not trust a person who did not have a Facebook anymore. Not that he expected to be on a person’s FB just for knowing them but… you know, why would they not have a FB? Interestingly, this person is the ONLY person on my FB who I do not know personally. The Force is strong in that one.
So, for all of you out there who are considering this conundrum out of fun, futility or peer/professional pressure, here is a story for you:
A year or so ago, (could be more, I am unsure) after the Iranian revolution began to really take over the Western media as a direct result of the reliance on social media – Twitter specifically, I began to follow a Twitterer called OakFoSho. Aside from hailing from the same part of the world, I had little to connect myself to this person, save for his politics. He was one of the people I relied on to tweet news I
wanted needed to read (along with another neo-Young Turk, Degringolade, who ended up a casualty of the evils of the interwebs). These guys kept me in the loop, and they inspired me as young people with a passion for politics and political action.
I did not know them.
I did not endeavor to meet them.
I engaged with them as internet resources and kindred spirits.
I watched each of them have pretty hideous internet soap operas (no need to rehash, you can watch the movie Catfish if you wanna know how they both went.)
I saw how they dealt with being smart, educated, liberal-minded young men in circumstances that prevented them from finding employment that reflected their talents/skills/intellects.
I watched one succumb and one survive these series’ of un/fortunate events.
And then I watched as the country seemed to suddenly embrace the ideals that these two young men had earnestly been promoting throughout their internet lives, at least so far as I knew them.
The Occupy Movement emerged. And the world of social media was waiting for it.
As I have amply detailed, this movement has a tremendous amount of relevance to my students, especially the seniors as they find themselves poised to stumble upon a world far less inviting than it ever has been for any future generation. Additionally, being walking distance from what would be one of the epicenters of #OWS action, we suddenly found ourselves not only studying current events, but IN the current events. I turned to OakFoSho to keep me apprised of events.
And then the first violent injection of OPD at the Occupy Oakland camp went down. And who was there with his smart phone on video? That’s right, OakFoSho. FO SHO. It is in Wiki, so you know it’s true.
As he tells it, a stranger watching him told him he could download an app to live stream his video (yes, there always is “an app for that”.)
And I watched it. Along with 60,000 other people (give or take) around the world.
Through the convergence of location, timing, politics, and social media, OakFoSho was suddenly a sort of celebrity beyond that of his own Twitterverse. The San Jose Mercury News picked him up. HuffPo used his images. Al Jazeera picked him up. People from around the world began to follow his live streams of the activity at
Frank Ogawa Oscar Grant Plaza and downtown Oakland. Oak. Fo. Sho.
His batteries could not handle the job.
A couple of tweets about dead batteries and people were organizing to provide power to the Citizen Journo they had come to rely on in a few short days as the only reliable, (hell, at times the only full-stop) media source on the ground at Occupy Oakland.
We got to see live streams of the tear gas and pepper spray incidents (we learned that a wash of liquid Maalox and water would remedy the tear gas… still unsure if it takes care of the pepper spray..) We saw lines of police, from every town and village in the greater Bay Area (“Belmont?” a bewildered OakFoSho says as he walks the line of riot geared police reading their department badges) poised to “hold back” the peaceful protestors.
We felt like we were there.
We saw footage from Occupy SF, Occupy Cal, and the streets of Oakland.
My students, along with thousands of others were mesmerized.
I made a call.
“Hey, Spencer, I know we have never met, but how would you feel about coming into talk to 60 high school seniors about Occupy and your role in it?”
He was down. After a couple of reschedules due to raids and beatdowns at Occupy Oakland and Occupy Cal, OakFoSho was front and center in A-205 at Berkeley High School. He came equipped with his professional grade live streaming equipment, donated to him for indefinite use by UStream after a Twitter movement to gear up our main man on the ground caught their attention. He told the kids about who he was – like them. Where he was from – like them. He asked them what they thought of the movement. Had they been involved? Why? The dialog began where someone with an authentic perspective that can only be a product of being “in the field” offered explanations to complex questions that my students had:
Why Oakland? they asked.
Do you know the history of Oakland? he replied. He explained how the 24 divided the city, explained white flight, economic imperialism at the local level, a history of policy violence, and intentional divisiveness in terms they understood: their neighborhoods, their schools, their community, their future.
What next? they asked.
What is necessary? he replied. He explained how foreclosure rates in his hometown, their hometown, were the highest in the country. He explained how the lack of funds for basic public service contributed to all of the problems they saw everyday in the news.
He tried to live stream the discussion, but the dead zone that is A-205 stymied him as it does these same students everyday. In stead of looking for bars, he kep the conversation going… what was it like out there? Why did he get involved? Did he think it would make a difference? Would he keep working at his other job or was he going to use this opportunity to focus on developing his Citizen Journo journey?
Of course, it would not be BHS without a fire drill to interrupt… and as it went off the regular suspects packed up to bail a.s.a.p., but the majority of the kids asked if they could stay, “It’s not a real fire,” they said, “Can’t we stay and listen?” I am not sure if Spencer knows what high praise that is. But we had to evacuate.
Back in the class we wrapped up by showing the video that started it all. They were engrossed.
As they exited they handed me their guest speaker response sheets. Looking back through them a week later I still smile. Here is a sample of what they had to say:
- That guy was the s**t!
- I thought it was really cool to get to hear someone who is so involved with the Occupy protests talk passionately about them. It was interesting to hear is reasons for occupying
- So fascinating! Wow! What a mouthful!
- “The police are the 99% but are the tools of the 1%” “The 60s didn’t happen overnight” “Occupy your home!” “The homeless man incident connects lack of healthcare to loss of homes to problems in Oakland” “The mayor didn;t know the police were there” The notes above are quotes and stories Mills told us that thought were really interesting. It was really nice to have someone 1st hand come and talk
- He explained it in a better way and told me a lot that I hadn’t thought about
- I think it is so good to participate in these protests
- This helped to get a better idea of what is really going on with the movements. I felt very confused about this issues to begin with, but Spencer helped me understand so many of them
- It was so interesting to learn about all the ways America is corrupt that I didn’t already know
- He was so passionate and SMART
- This guy is incredible
- The government sucks, it’s up to us to make a change
- Very interesting, I feel like I learned so much
- Very well-spoken, he has a lot of anger but with ideas
- I love the Occupiers and what they stand for
- It has been my experience that activist groups for the poor have always questioned the 1% and no one else would listen until the economic damage was so grave and everyone middle and lower was affected
- I sure learned a lot about camera phones
- He answered SOOOO much
- I thought that video was awesome!
This entire experience was only possible through the reach of social media. Sure gives me something to think about.
Thank you to Twitter, and especially to our new favorite Citizen Journalist: Spencer Mills.