Protests are often remembered at their most iconic: A flower in a gun barrel opposing war in Vietnam, a “Black Power” salute at the 1968 Olympics, a Tank Man in Tiananmen Square. But though an image can define a protest, the reverse is often true—especially in an age of live coverage and social media, where the world is constantly watching.
Recent protests, like the “Occupy Central” protests in Hong Kong and the battle for racial justice in Ferguson, have yielded symbols breathtaking for their visual contrasts: Raised arms before military-grade vehicles, umbrellas dispelling thick streams of pepper spray fired at waves of protesters.
These moments are irresistible in an era where social networking can fuel protest, where hashtag activism can unite communities around the world, the universality of such symbols is tempting to highlight.
The question must be asked however: How much of their meaning is organic to those who protest, and how does it change after going through the filter of the media and public consumption?
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