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By Mehroz Baig
Access to and utilization of social media has increased tremendously in the past decade, and its influence in our daily lives has also affected politics in our nation. Everything from Obama’s 2008 campaign, which focused heavily on outreach through social media outlets, to the ouster of politicians’ misdeeds thanks to the omniscience of social media, the public now has a new way of participating in the political process.
This new avenue of participation was no more apparent than during one legislative session in Texas in which Wendy Davis, the pink sneaker-wearing policymaker, led a filibuster for 12 hours against a pending vote on abortion clinics. The vote would have effectively shut down most abortion clinics in Texas. Davis, a democrat who was against the legislation, filibustered the old-fashioned way by giving the legislature a 12-hour speech, taking the session past midnight. According to the rules, the session technically ended at midnight and the vote on the new law was thereby void. Despite the filibuster, the vote passed in July 2013.
However, Davis was not alone in the filibuster. Although she was the representative who stood up in front of the legislature, it was her supporters in the chambers and online who made the filibuster a success. A live stream of the legislative session allowed online viewers to see when the session ended and when the vote was cast. And in conjunction with their peers who were physically present in the chambers, the filibuster proved successful. Clay Shirky, a social media theorist and a professor at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program spoke at The Commonwealth Club of California and explained the idea of digital dualism and how it played a role in Texas’s legislative process. (See the video above)
Shirky points out that this phenomenon is not restricted to the United States but has been present in other political movements, such as the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement and the protests in Turkey. He says that this evolution and immersion of technology into the political process is not by design but rather, a side effect of the tools available to individuals combined with their political interest. Watch Shirky talk about Texas above; you can listen to his entire program here.