Social media driving Occupy Lincoln

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Story and video by Camila Orti, NewsNetNebraska

Web-based media and the youth who use them are the not-so-secret weapons in today’s social movements.

Michael Wagner, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said most social revolutions share similar patterns. Much like past uprisings including Vietnam War protests and the civil rights movement, young people are the driving force behind the nationwide occupy movement.

“College students just have more down-time,” said Justin Tolston, University of Nebraska-Lincoln senior. Tolston, a supporter of Occupy Lincoln, explained that most of the local protesters early on were young adults and teens.

The Occupy Wall Street movement began on Sept 17 in New York City. Since then, it has reached nearly every corner of the nation. Mary Ann Shiech, known as the unofficial founder of Occupy Lincoln, said that within two weeks, more than 100 cities in the U.S. and 1,500 cities worldwide were staging demonstrations.

According to, the movement aims to expose how the richest 1 percent, including financiers of major banks and multinational corporations, are controlling the economy and driving the nation into recession.

“Most social movements fizzle out,” said Michael Wagner, a UNL political science professor.

Wagner said the occupiers want the government to close the existing gap between rich and the poor.

“The disparity between the wealthiest 1 percent and everybody else is as large as it has been in our history,” Wagner said, “and the last time it was this big, we had a Great Depression.”

Jeannette Jones, a UNL history and ethnic studies professor, said the tactics being used in Occupy Wall Street have been used before.

“Members of these movements are aware of the legacies of nonviolent protests,” Jones said.

She explained how in 1969, a group of inter-tribal American Indians occupied Alcatraz Island to protest against a federal takeover of their land. The occupation lasted more than a year and a half, and brought national attention to the treatment of native peoples.

Occupying a space is also similar to the sit-ins used during the civil rights movement, Jones said, a movement that was popular among college students.

Occupy Wall Street isn’t the only modern movement that has been fueled by the youth. The ongoing Egyptian revolution, which began in January, has been referred to as the “youthquake that is rocking the Arab world” by Newsweek magazine.

Young people in both Occupy Wall Street and the Middle Eastern protests have used social media from the start. Shiech started Occupy Lincoln from her Facebook account. Ahmed Saleh helped spark the Egyptian revolution by creating a Facebook event.

“Through these social medias, we were able to educate each other on what was really happening that the news refused to talk about,” Shiech said. “It’s vital.”

Facebook and other social networking tools have been credited for the rapid growth of Occupy Wall Street because of the speed at which users can share information. Shiech posts links to videos and articles on Facebook to show the action in other cities.

The explosion of popular interest could be a good thing, Wagner said, but it could also cause the movement to fizzle out.

“A potential downside will be that everybody is getting excited at the same time, which might mean everybody gets tired of it at the same time,” Wagner said.

Regardless of how the occupation pans out, Wagner believes something big has already been accomplished.

“Lawmakers are starting to talk about income inequality, which they have not done for a long time,” Wagner said, “and so, the movement has been successful in changing the conversation.”