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Protest By Flash Mob: The Web Reinvents Econ-Political Unrest from Cairo to Cleveland

From Egypt to the streets of suburban Cleveland, the Internet is reshaping how the young, from the disenfranchised to the bored and angry, gather, vent their rage and express themselves.  

Law-enforcement officials in cities from Washington to Las Vegas have struggled to control flash mobs here in the United States.  Meanwhile in England, The Labour Party, Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative-Liberal Democrat government have used water cannons and plastic bullets in an effort to curtail what they are labeling as rioting. It is more than that, though.

What is a flash mob?  It’s a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and often pointless act for a brief period time, then disperse. The flash mob concept is usually staged by a group or even a mall as a promotion, or a fundraiser, but these events have taken on more of the mob than flash over the last few months.  

An art fair in the Cleveland Heights neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio in June turned ugly when a flash mob broke out that reduced into brawling. Sixteen were arrested. [1]  

Rapper Machine Gun Kelly called on Twitter for a flash mob event at a suburban mall without clearing it with the mall management.  What happened instead was a staged event that lead to their immediate arrest for trespassing and disorderly conduct:

Events in Europe have been political.  Thus far, most of the flash mob incidents in the United States have been more social, with some added senseless violence and a few petty criminals taking advantage of the large, unruly crowds to rob or loot. 

All of these events, though, point to a potential change in the way the disenfranchised express their displeasure with government, says Paul Levinson, a professor of communication at Fordham University in New York and author of New New Media.

“The larger message of these assemblages of people, brought together through online invitations and publicized through Twitter and other new media, is that we may be witnessing a profound shift, even in democracies, from representative to direct forms of governance,” he says.

The occurrences of outwardly accidental “mobbing,” are the combination of hot weather and a bad economy, a very bad economy for the poor.  The urban underclass is currently considerably worse off than they were 30 years ago.

Look at the lack of access to health care, poor achievement on standardized tests, low high school and college matriculation rates, extremely high unemployment and incarceration rates:

  • In 2007, nearly 50 million Americans did not have health insurance, while another 25 million were underinsured. (Source: Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey 2007) The amount people pay for health insurance increased 30 percent from 2001 to 2005, while income for the same period of time only increased 3 percent. (Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)[1]
  • Our schools are getting worse.  In 1967, the mean score for Critical Reading was 543 and for Mathematics was 516.  In 2007, the mean score for Critical Reading was 502 and for Mathematics was 515. [2]
  • There has been an increase in minority college matriculation, and a big decrease in white college matriculation. From 1976 to 2009. Hispanic student enrollment was up 9%, Asian/Pacific Islander matriculation increased 5%, and Black students were up 5% to 14% of the college population. In that same period, White enrollment fell from 21% to 62%.  Gains by minority students would be erased if cuts in programs that provide educational opportunity are made by the U.S. Congress. [3]
  • Overall unemployment stood at 9.1% in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. African-American unemployment was down slightly in July, to 15.7% which is almost double the white unemployment rate of about 8%.[4]
  • Incarcerated Americans are at epidemic rates. 1 in 32 Americans is in jail, on parole or probation. In Washington D.C., three out of every four young black men are expected to serve some time in prison. In major cities across the country, 80% of young African Americans now have criminal records. [5]

One wonders why it took this long for some form of protest to materialize. Unfortunately, since we as a society have overlooked these social conditions, young adults have been forced to become creative and are using social media to garner attention to their plight.

Had government spent time addressing the 40 percent unemployment rate of Blacks under the age of 24, it is at 17% for the general Black population, then youngsters would not have been left to their own devices.

It is a fool who neglects the serious social diseases of violence and improper education then has the impudence to complain about the symptoms of the disease.  Flash mobs are our society’s creation to express many things, including the anger that boils up when unemployment is so high with corporate coffers full of cash.

According to Feeding America, 43.6 million people, 14.3 percent of Americans, were in poverty in 2009.  50.2M live in “food insecure” households, making barely enough to feed themselves, or requiring assistance beyond what they are earning to simply put food on the table every day. Food insecurity hits the Black and Hispanic populations especially hard, with 24.9% and 26.9% of those communities’ populations barely scraping by or not making it at all.

We cannot act surprised when significant sections of the American public  are still living in what amounts to third world poverty while those around them are eating and living extremely well.  We cannot behave as if there is suddenly a problem.

President Obama has said very little, and done even less, about the frantically worsening condition of the underclass or the lop-sided effect government spending will have on the poor looking to secure a foot hold. If elected officials could muster the fortitude to get together and initiate their own flash mob wherein jobs were created, universal health care offered, affordable housing made available, police brutality stopped and access to education provided, then the protest through flash mobs would quickly subside.

By refusing to address the root causes of social deprivation and inequality, governments are leaving the masses no alternative other than to revolt through any means necessary to be heard.

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