New Orleans At six in the morning I found myself opening the gate to our offices on St. Claude recently. The night before my computer had somehow begun separating the keyboard from the screen, making it unusable. I had a small ASUS emergency backup in my office so there I was. Leaving five minutes later, I was surprised to see Ben, a local political activist living in the neighborhood putting out the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse sign and opening the gate. I laughed and told him that the barista wasn’t here yet. He told me he often stopped by early on his way to check his post office box fifteen minutes away and helped out. I thanked him for his support, and he replied by telling me a story that confounded him. He was on the board of a small local nonprofit and he had been trying to get them to meet in our common space, but, amazingly, he had been unsuccessful, because they continued meeting in the Starbucks one block away instead, because the director said, “he liked it.” Ben couldn’t get over how anti-political his stance was and got on his bike still shaking his head, as I thanked him.
What’s my point? Why can’t we make Ben and me happy, and be more like Hong Kong?
As virtually everyone must know, protesters in Hong Kong have been at it for months as they challenge the central government for continued autonomy and democratic rights in the city. Against repression and long odds, the protestors have been innovators in designing actions and tactics to advance their campaign, and protect their people while continuing to apply pressure. In this polarization within the city they have now brilliantly refused to allow the business structure, both large and small, to pretend to be above or neutral about the dispute. For a while their weekend protests have targeted big companies and malls that have sided with the central government and the uproar itself has radically decreased tourism going to the bottom lines of many enterprises. Now, they have gone a step farther in their targeting businesses by creating apps for that and weaponizing social media even more.
Using apps and social media, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, of course, shoppers and diners can identify businesses by color, yellow or blue, to determine whether or not they are with or against them, and then spend their money accordingly. Not surprisingly, Starbucks has been one of their targets. Using Whatsgap, cute, huh, they eat and drink where a business is marked “yellow.” A Facebook group with over 100,000 members plays a role in this as well. A 37,000 followers Instagram group does the same.
Why don’t we have a Whatsgap or WhereItsAt or something that helps us in our countries and cities identify who is with us and who is against us, so that we can give our money stronger legs to take extra steps to support those who support us? We need an app for that here and everywhere else?
Ben and I are calling for help!