MLK & Gandhi in a Digital Age

19May10

While Gandhi’s main nonviolent resistance campaigns took place in the early 20th century and Martin Luther King Jr. was primarily relevant during the Civil Rights movement of the late 20th century, both heroic figures missed out on what is considered one of the most progressive movements in history: the digital age.

As things have moved to the Internet, campaigns for peace, justice and social consciousness have been more widespread, oftentimes turning what were once politically-focused agendas into worthy trends, as the technologically-savvy jump on the bandwagon of progression and try to make an impact for change.While both Gandhi and King were overall overwhelming successful in their quests for both African American and Indian independence and freedom, both men had substantial “failures” as well. For King, Albany and Chicago were both areas of contention who could have benefited from the congruency of the modern digital age. As for Gandhi, his infamous Himalayan Miscalculation could have been saved to some extent had he had the digital options available today. Let us explore these situations, and reckon how they could have been more successful had King or Gandhi had access to modern-day social media-oriented technologies.

  • Albany, Georgia: In Albany, the main problem that King faced was a disconnect between the people, as exemplified through the contentions that existed between the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people (NAACP). Because the SNCC was in favor of more progressive and active movements for change (such as more marches and protests) and the NAACP wanted a more patience-oriented movement that required more lawsuits, a social cleavage was created that forced many African American to appeal to the local white power leaders, which essentially only worsened the situation for blacks in Albany.
  • How this could have been solved through digital media: one of the most compelling aspects of digital and social media is the ability to be inter-connective and responsive to your audience, something that both the SNCC and NAACP could have taken advantage of had they had the opportunity. I would have suggested both the SNCC and NAACP creating Twitter accounts, which would have allowed them to voice their own opinions and perspectives. How would this have eased the social rift? The SNCC and NAACP could have implemented Twitter chats, would which have allowed supporters of both groups to participate in themed chats that would have allowed people to peaceably debate in a confined area, while helping one another understand the other point of view.
  • In the above photo, Twitter users are using hashtags (or the “#” symbol) in order to create and discuss a common topic (in this instance, the Chicago Blackhawks). Had the SNCC and NAACP had these chatting and connective capabilities, many of their problems could have been solved by outsourcing to the community and peaceable discussions.
  • The Chicago Housing Project: While there is a pile of problems that accumulated during King’s Chicago Housing Project, some of the main issues included a lack of understanding of the goals of the various Civil Rights leaders in Chicago, a lack of enthusiasm for the cause from the African Americans who lived in Chicago and King’s obligation to return to Mississipi after the attempted assassination of Civil Rights leader James Meredith. This deepened an already existing disconnect between the leaders in Chicago, and also stinted the growth and progression of the campaign.
  • How this could have been solved through digital media: A hugely beneficial aspect to social media is its ability to make one’s presence noticeable without one actually being present. Had King had the ability to create and maintain a Facebook group upon his leaving, he not only would have been able to communicate effectively with other leaders remotely, but he also would have been able to see through online interactivity when problems were beginning to arise, when tensions were starting to flare and when his absence was having a too-negative effect on the campaign. King would have been able to better understand the goals of the Civil Rights leaders who had previously been working in Chicago, and through the creation of meet-ups and Facebook events, he could have simultaneously created a sense of community for the African American Chicagoans online, that would have likely translated to real life. Creating hype online often translates to excitement and enthusiasm in real life, and had King had the tools to create any kind of hype, the support he could have received in Chicago would have been amplified, and his success would have likely been exponentially more significant.
  • The Himalayan Miscalculation: Gandhi knowingly admits that the violence that broke out in major Indian cities was his “Himalayan Miscalculation.” He concedes to the fact that many of his nonviolent activists that took part in this campaign were simply not well-educated enough in civil disobedience, noncooperation and nonviolent strategies/philosophies in general. From that point forward, Gandhi tried to ensure that activists in his campaigns were well trained and well-versed in nonviolence.
  • How this could have been solved through digital media: One of social media’s oldest and most cultivated outlets could have helped solve this miscalculation on Gandhi’s part: blogs. Had Gandhi had the ability to keep an easy-accessible blog, his supporters and followers would have had the ability to see what nonviolence truly is at its core. Gandhi could have not only written about what it means to be a part of a nonviolent campaign, but if he treated his blog as a semi-diary and also allowed other to peak into the spiritual and self-suffering aspects of his life, a greater understanding of how to approach Gandhian ideals would have existed. Furthermore, by allowing interactivity through comments, Gandhi could have easily responded to those who had questions about how to approach the campaign, no matter how far away the supporters may have been. The results would have likely been activists who had a deeper understanding of both the means and the ends rather than such a drastic “miscalculation”

Now, of course, many of this may have been impossible given the socioeconomic situations of the target audiences of these campaigns (in that I mean, most impoverished African Americans and Indians may  not have been able to afford access to computers, and thus could not have partaken in the inter-connectivity that is essential in improving these situations at all). However, given that digital media did not even exist during these time periods, this is of course a hypothetical examination into how these leaders could well translate into the 21st century.

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