I’m going to copy here an opinion piece from the Guardian’s Comment is free section. It’s about a social media campaign related to the Twitter hashtag #ukuncuts which is impacting VodafoneUK — Vodafone has been facing protests & flashmobs in the past few weeks, something about 6 billion pounds and a few people think the UK Gov’t could do with the money.
Vodafone UK store in London Oxford Street forced to close
The #UKuncut campaign has proved we can win the cuts battle if we get creative and harness social media’s organising power
On Wednesday morning, after a few days’ planning, I met a few friends and 60-odd strangers outside the Ritz hotel in London, listened to a quick briefing and then made the short walk up to Oxford Street where together we occupied and shut down Vodafone’s flagship store. Only later would it become clear that we had sparked some of the first tangible signs of nationwide outrage at the spending cuts.
This summer, the new government let Vodafone off nearly all of an outstanding tax bill of £6bn. The original Private Eye exposé on the decision reports that one senior figure at the HMRC called it “an unbelievable cave in”. As George Osborne cheerfully sets about slashing welfare and public services for the very poorest, the Vodafone case gives lie to his claim that “we are all in this together”.
The 65 protestors who gathered on Wednesday morning did not know each other, did not belong to the same organisation and had not had a planning meeting. We called the action after a conversation in a pub, a few speculative emails and a decision to issue a mysterious call-out on Twitter.
As we handed out flyers to passersby, something incredible started to happen. Using the hashtag #UKuncut, people started to follow the protest on Twitter and talk about replicating it in their own towns and cities. By that evening, UKuncut had gone from a simple hashtag to a website, complete with an “action map” listing the shutdowns being rapidly planned all over the country.
The next day, three Vodafone stores were forced to close in Leeds. And then on Saturday – just three days after the first action – Vodafone stores were shut down for the day in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leicester, Portsmouth, Hastings, Brixton, Worthing, Brighton, Bristol, Birmingham, York, Liverpool, Manchester and Oxford, along with another five in central London.
A few weeks ago, Malcolm Gladwell rightly argued in the New Yorker that evangelists of social media often overstate the technology’s implications for activism. Contrasting the sit-ins of the civil rights movement with the recent rise of online “clicktivism” (signing an online petition or forwarding a pre-written email), Gladwell concludes that easy, Twitter-powered political participation is a feeble replacement for the committed work of traditional activism. He’s right. But Saturday’s protests also suggested that when used as an organising tool, Twitter has proven its potential to get people onto the streets, locking arms and occupying doorways.
The fight against the cuts will be the fight of our generation. And it is a fight that is winnable, as long as we’re willing to get creative tactically. The anti-cuts movement is still in its infancy. The Coalition of Resistance hasn’t even had its first meeting yet, but already we worry that the movement is beginning to resemble the anti-war campaigns of the early 2000s. Characterised by large, unwieldy, centralised organisations, the anti-war movement became complacent, overly reliant on rallies and petitions. We can’t spend the next five years marching on Whitehall to hear Tony Benn speak – it’s uninspiring, disempowering and largely ineffective.
Tools such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs ignite the potential of bypassing these hierarchies and mass rallies in favour of a more decentralised, democratised, spontaneous model of protest. In these ways, this model most resembles the UK’s climate movement – especially groups such as Climate Camp and Plane Stupid, which have consistently proven themselves to be the most creative and confrontational of leftwing activist organisations. Although relatively small, they have, through use of well-focused direct action tactics, come away with major campaigning victories.
The phenomenal response to the Vodafone campaign this week took us completely by surprise – we’re still working out what to do next. But this small burst of activity at the beginning of a campaign that has so far been pretty sluggish has demonstrated that there is anger, there is energy for action and there are the tools to make it happen. Vodafone’s own slogan “Power to You” couldn’t be more appropriate. Don’t wait for the unions, don’t wait for the next march, don’t wait for the politicians and don’t wait for us – take the initiative yourself. Get out on the streets and take action.