Martin Luther King Jr. represented social progress, a forward-thinking society and inalienable rights for all Americans. From Selma to the State Capitol and Montgomery to the Washington Monument, King shouldered the burden of an entire people and cast himself as a beacon of hope and a voice for national change. More than fifty years later, the embers that fueled Mr. King’s fighting spirit still burn in the hearts of many Americans, though the avenues for protest have drastically shifted. Social media is the new social transformation, with picket lines established with URLs and marching crowds organizing themselves with shares and re-tweets; utilizing the unlimited possibilities that online interconnectivity has to offer.
The Arab Spring and Occupy movements were both galvanized by online activity, namely Facebook and Twitter. Both crusades shared integral similarities with the civil rights movement, an unflinching demand for liberties and rights on a universal scale, but innovation has seen the status update replace the street corner and micro-blog replace the megaphone. While the organized protest will always remain, the means for unifying the masses now exists in cyberspace, and increases the span and scope of the message.
TIME Magazine named The Protester its 2011 Person of the Year. The country had not seen such discord and turmoil since the 60’s, and the millennial dissenter came equipped with the information superhighway at his fingertips. Across the globe, videos were captured, streamed, and subsequently shared within minutes, creating a documentarian look into the day’s events and happenings. Social networks became assembly points for the politically conscious, and transmitted each communique with precision efficiency. The means had changed, but the ends remained the same.
Organizers no longer need a meeting hall or shadowy back room, all that’s required is a modem and a Facebook account; just one example of how immeasurably different the world has become in fifty years.
It’s harrowing to reflect on the atrocities that many experienced while rallying under the banner of equality. Truncheons and hoses became unfortunate motivating factors in the 1960’s, further catalyzing an inspired group to overcome injustice and prejudice, regardless of cost. In a vastly different era of societal evolution, it is important we continue to reflect on the immense sacrifices made by those who marched in the streets. The mediums may have changed, but Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision is still thriving in the hearts and minds of Americans today.
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