Gil Scott-Heron could not predict what is happening in public squares right now. Police brutality is not new, but the scale of information flooding our livestreams, our Twitter feeds, our group chats, is echelons greater than we’ve seen before in the US.
If you’re on Twitter, you’re probably seeing a lot of things all of the time right now. Pictures of protestors toppling the statue of the famously racist Rizzo in Philadelphia, Mennonites showing solidarity in Minneapolis, cops pepper-spraying members of Congress in Columbus. Elsewhere online, there are anti-racism resources making the rounds. The internet had been instrumental in securing bail funds for protestors.
So, posit. Imagine if we didn’t all have video phones right now. What would we see? Nothing much. Media layoffs amidst a recession have destroyed newsrooms, and the anemic reporting force is being attacked and arrested in the streets. Consent is already being manufactured. They will tell you outside agitators and foreign actors have stoked the flames of unrest, and we will have to push back. Racism was not invented by Russia in 2016, no matter how your favorite pundit tries to spin that thread. We are grateful for the corporate reporters who have put their bodies on the line to give us sweeping shots of civil unrest, but they are not our line of defense. And they are not those who will tell the story.
Instead, the story will be told by the masses on social media. Photos of white sunbathers watching protestors take a highway is immortalized by a Reddit post. Short videos of police radios being jammed with Serbian music and pictures of guillotines are spread on Twitter. This is the history that belongs to the people. Their defiance remembered, if only until you pull down your feed to refresh it.
And that’s where you can come in.
If you have a blog, use it as an archive. If you edit Wikipedia, take those archived sources and use them in the people’s first draft of history. Blogs, social media, Wikipedia, and other internet curios belong to the people. If the medium is the message, then we can give historians a head start. We flock to Twitter, to Facebook, to Wikipedia to tell our stories, not because of any Sun Tzu deep warfare calculation, but because these are the spaces where normal people — fed up people whose cries have fallen on deaf ears — can tell their own stories. There are no cutting room floors. There are no review boards. There is no chilling effect. This is our platform.
There is going to be informational warfare, it has already started. Notice your friends sharing articles and police reports saying these protests are beefed up by out-of-towners, by foreign actors. If you don’t understand what solidarity is until it has been regurgitated and disfigured by a cable news pundit, then you’re on the side of the cops. There are reports of white supremacists planning their “boogaloo” or whatever, don’t let that turn you into a reactionary who believes the left should avoid solidarity, while the far-right continues to turn out for violent police forces in Hawaiian shirts and shoot arrows into the crowd like it’s Henry V. Mayors are lying to people about the events and the makeup of the protest. Cops have violated medical neutrality, no one will report these as the war crimes they are.
If that’s all the memory that remains of these days of unrest, then we have failed. As citizen observers, we have a duty to document what we see, what moves people, what exonerates people. If we cannot recall when mayors and media lied to us, then we cannot do anything about it.
So, get used to visiting places like archive.vn, the Wayback Machine, and the screen shot function on your computer. Blur out identifying features like faces or names if the post can be construed as incriminating. Share your citations, especially with those who keep the local memory. Zines, pamphlets, Howard Zinn revamps, can only be made if there remains a working memory. Be that memory. Save the things you see, burn these stories into your mind like SLC burned that bow-and-arrow freak’s truck.
History does not have to be written by the empire. We have the tools, now we need to use them.