Distributed protests in Chile may teach a lesson for modern marches


In October, I was was in Santiago de Chile as massive protests began against inequality. The protesters at first massed downtown, and damaged subway stations. This resulted in a shutdown of the transit systems. Because the poorer classes in Chile don't own so many cars, this made it much harder for them to do large marches. Instead, they took to standing on the street corners. Every street corner. Sometimes just 3 people on a corner, sometimes 100. All taking pots and pans and banging out a simple protest rhythm. For rich tourists like me with cars, it was astonishing to drive through the city, corner after corner after corner, everywhere. It was powerful but could not easily turn violent.

Here's a video (with narration starting 15 seconds in) I made of what such a protest looked like, and a plan for what we might learn from it.

We could do one better with our technology. We could do distributed marches where people gather on the corners but upload their video streams. Technology could amalgamate those videos to make a video "zooming out" to show hundreds of thousands in simultaneous protest. People could see the giant crowd they are a part of, but there would be few opportunities to loot or pick fights or go in armed. Indeed, if any corner got too large, it would send people to the next. Tools could show which corners need more people. People on scooters or with drones could capture the same thing I experienced, corner after corner.

Marching has been the time honoured method for protest. It makes people feel they are doing something. It gives them that sense of belonging. They see that many others feel as they do. The government sees that many people want change. But marching can be perverted and turned to violence and confrontation. The distributed protest is almost immune to

  • Major violence
  • Looting
  • Police suppression
  • Counter-protests

Perhaps in the 21st century we can create something new. Members of the established press should be sent all the independent video streams to verify and combine to assure veracity, but ordinary video editors can also do it. We could see a country shriek, not just a city.

People would not get the immediate sense of being in a large group -- though they could watch on their phones and see that if it were done in real time -- but they would also not be part of a virus super-spreading event, and would not be part of a mob.

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