As a person who is too young to have experienced the protests of the 60's and too old to be an anarchist today, I am a fascinated observer of the NATO protests in my private life, but also a somewhat-involved player in my professional life. As I watched things develop prior to the National Nurses Association protest at Chicago's Daley Plaza on Friday, I started to gain appreciation for the work and strain of those whose jobs include controlling the protests and protesters. Then, as I walked through the Plaza I saw the determination and dedication of the nurses who are seeking more funding for health care and less funding for warfare. A message that I think we all can support.
Unfortunately, as the weekend has worn on the message of the protesters seems to be getting lost amidst the pushing and shoving that they are engaging in with the members of the Chicago Police Department. Whether you are in favor of or against the protesters as a group or individually, it would be difficult to argue against the fact that it takes a certain amount of courage to challenge police officers who are dressed in riot gear and holding wooden batons. In contrast, whether you approve of the CPD's tactics or not, you should have empathy for officers who are wearing several pounds of riot gear, standing in 90 degree heat, staring down an angry mob, and being required to maintain their composure.
What is the true message of the protesters? Does it matter? Does the majority of the voting public - those whose votes can, theoretically, make a difference - care? As far as I can tell, the message seems to be that NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) spends too much money on war and not enough on the people who the governments represent. A noble and legitimate concern. However, what I will remember, after watching the protests from a number of different venues through the eyes of an observer, parent, and supervisor of affected employees, is that everyone has a camera. In fact, it appeared that everyone on the front lines of the protest had an iPhone - taking either still shots or video.
Weapon of Mass Communication
I have three observations about the use of the iPhone during the NATO protests and the corresponding immediacy of communication in our "need it now" society:
* A person's bravery is significantly increased by the ability to photographically document what is going on around him or her. A protester who can immediately publish on Facebook, Twitter, or other media a photograph of a police officer shoving someone, regardless of the provocation, establishes a prima facie defense to any accusations he or she may be forced to endure.
* iPhone or other videos allow viewers to see the protests live - wherever they are. Streaming of live video make it possible for those at the protests and those of us at home or at a comfortable restaurant or riding in a car to see and hear the event real-time. While this satisfies the general public's 21st century need for immediate updates and news, it also provides what may be an unintended bonanza for law enforcement by placing informants in a crowd without their assent.
* Looking at a line of people facing off with police in riot gear, most of whom have cameras raised above their heads, makes me wonder if they are there to protest and deliver their message or are there instead to document and publish the "evils" of the CPD.
Whatever the message and the intent of the protesters, the use of the iPhone and similar devices make today's protests a far cry from what was going on in the streets of Chicago in 1968. The whole world is really watching now.