The Whole World is Not Watching

The phrase “the whole world is watching” gained notoriety at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Television crews from around the country filmed protestors getting arrested and beaten as they chanted the slogan. Sociologist and former student protestor Todd Gitlin wrote in his book of the same name about how media overage of those protests began to turn the country’s mood against the Vietnam War and the secrecy of Washington.

Protests in this country and around the world, including demonstrations in Tehran in 2011 and at various Occupy protests around the United States have adopted the 1960s slogan in the hopes that media coverage would have the same effect on their respective movements. In many of these cases, like the Occupy protests, the world lost interest and, except for some slogans, like the “1%,” little impact has been felt.

In Raleigh over the last few weeks, the NAACP has been organizing protests at the General Assembly to protest against the Republican-led legislation that has rolled back or eliminated many laws held dear by liberals. Each Monday, labeled “Moral Mondays” by the group has seen larger crowds of protestors and more arrests, but with little or no impact on the Republican legislative agenda. 

The real issue is that is has not gained large scale public support, even when the public’s approval of the Republican-led General Assembly is low. There are many reasons for this, including media coverage. Although each Monday generates blog, newspaper, and television coverage, there is little evidence that the coverage will generate any large shift in public support to the goals of the protests.

Media stories about the protests are remarkably similar, generally reporting on the number of people protesting, the number of arrests, and several comments by protestors and Republican legislators about the goals and impact, or lack thereof, from the protests. I have even contributed to about a dozen stories and each time different reporters ask the exact same questions: what is the political impact of the protests? How much will the protest affect the legislation? Will there be any long-term effects of the protests?

This sameness in media stories is a reason why the general public is not identifying with or being affected by the protests. The stories read and sound like blurbs from the sports sections. A lot of discussion about what happened, but not a lot of analysis about what led to the protests or how the average North Carolinian will be affected by these policy changes.

In an era in which the public is easily distracted, these protests have little chance for impacting the policy decisions on Jones Street. Audience fatigue has already taken over, despite the increasing number of protestors and arrests. Unless media coverage of the protests changes and becomes more analytical, instead of sensational, Moral Mondays will go the way of the Occupy protests.

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