By Jon Platt
Activists throughout history have used the power of music, news coverage and social networking to spread movements, and the tradition continues with demonstrators in Ferguson, Mo.
Through the use of Facebook, Twitter, videos, blogs and email newsletters, activists develop awareness for social protests on a national level.
“It’s not a fad or a trend, it’s our future,” said St. Louis senior Damian Lane.
These social media tools have helped activists to plan a national march Saturday in St. Louis. The gathering, which will converge on downtown, is planned to be a united act of peaceful protest, according to the activist website fergusonoctober.com.
Lane, who described himself as a voice for Ferguson on Baylor’s campus, said without the use of social media, he could not have remained as engaged with his home community as it struggles and heals from the killing of the young African-American Mike Brown by a white police officer.
More personally, Lane said social media alerted him to the shooting of his cousin in St. Louis during a protest rally. Lane said he has also learned of other protesters, some he grew up with, being harmed during gatherings in Ferguson.
“If we don’t handle this now, we’re just going to see it keep happening again and again,” he said.
Lane said he sees social media as one of the tools to help do just that.
“It works better than news broadcasts,” he said. “We can be updated in seconds instead of waiting for reports every 30 minutes.”
Social media, however, is not the only tool used by activists to promote events.
Robert Darden, associate professor of journalism, has studied the power of sacred music in social movements for nearly a decade and has a forthcoming book on the topic, which will specifically focus on sacred music in the 1960s civil rights movements. He is the founder of Baylor’s Black Gospel Restoration Project, a project dedicated to preserving recordings of sacred African-American gospel music by means of digitalization.
Darden said during the movement of the 1960s, demonstrators again and again relied on songs to carry their message.
“Things are better felt when they are sung,” he said. “Where with sermons, it is hard to keep the message with you. People would leave a speech, a sermon, by Martin Luther King and get asked, ‘What did he say?’ and they’d just reply, “We, well, we shall overcome.’”
Darden said the impact of music in Ferguson has helped to define and spread the movement.
“What interests me from my perspective as a researcher is how often ‘We Shall Overcome’ has been sung,” he said. “Whether or not we are making the connection, the African-Americans are making a connection with that song.”
This, Darden said, is the reason coverage of Ferguson is still a vital news topic.
“It’s kind of like bullying,” he said. “Those in power don’t determine what bullying is. The people in abuse, those being oppressed, people who are hurt determine what hurts them.”
Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez, associate professor, said she agrees strongly with Darden.
“Things are still occurring, so it’s still a news item,” Moody-Ramirez said. “People are still recovering. People are still healing. If it’s still on their minds, they still need to hear about it.”
Moody-Ramirez authored “Framing of Racial Profiling: A Historical Perspective,” a book that highlighted media shapes perceptions. She said the media’s influence defines how people perceive and respond to an issue. Two tactics used to frame the movement in Ferguson are the amount of coverage and photos.
What is seen on news broadcasts, determines what images are on people’s minds when eyes are closed , Moody-Ramirez said.
“Framing is not intentional,” she said. “It’s different from spin. Placing spin is bad. It’s trying to show something in a certain way. Framing is what you bring to the table. It’s based on multiple factors.”
People trust the news to report what is important, Moody-Ramirez said.
“If people saw it was not covered, not in the media, then they think, ‘That’s a non-issue. It’s not important,’” she said. “They see it as resolved. But we’ve seen that’s not true.”