It’s an important one. In the pre-internet past, Tufekci explains, a protest march was the culmination of the months of phone calls, letters and meetings needed to plan the event. The planning for March on Washington in August 1963, for example, started in 1962.
Today, digital communication has made the planning of marches far easier. It can start with a single Facebook post and culminate in a march weeks later. Just look at the rapid planning and enormous turnout for the Women’s March.
As a result, Tufekci argues, a protest is not necessarily a sign of an actual movement; that’s why some large protests in recent years, like those opposing the war in Iraq or the Occupy rallies, have had relatively muted real-world impact.
“This doesn’t mean that protests no longer matter — they do,” Tufekci writes. “Nowadays, however, protests should be seen not as the culmination of an organizing effort, but as a first, potential step. A large protest today is less like the March on Washington in 1963 and more like Rosa Parks’s refusal to move to the back of the bus. What used to be an endpoint is now an initial spark.”
Barack Obama, in his last interview as president, made the same point when asked what individual citizens could do to help protect the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of health insurance.
“The work is local as opposed to federal,” Obama told the hosts of Pod Save America. “I would pay a lot of attention to what the Tea Party did fighting the Affordable Care Act. You may disagree with the Tea Party, but they were effective in making sure that their views were heard and amplified.”