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Burma’s Tipping Point

In the popular novel The Tipping Point, Malcom Gladwell stresses the importance of word-of-mouth communication even in a connected age. In developed nations the luxury of internet access and mainstream media offers societies a connectedness that doubles as a safety net. Countries without this safety net must rely on word-of-mouth communication. But what happens when those worlds meet? A true explosion of global social consciousness.

Gladwell refers to those with the unique ability to spread social epidemics as Connectors. He believes that, “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.” These Connectors are the people  who gave the 2007  Saffron Revolution protests in Burma their success. Long before the Arab Spring a pro-democracy movement in Burma was underway. Although Burma was a completly closed country in 2007, with state-run media and extremely limited internet access, the All Burma Monks Alliance (ABMA) and members of the 88 Generation Students Group created a groundswell and ignited social action that forever changed the pro-democracy movement. They were savvy and devoted to political change. This word-of-mouth communication was key. And their political struggle was broadcasted finally to the world when citizen journalists of Democratic Voice of Burma risked their lives to smuggle footage of the events to neighboring Thailand.

The “tipping point ” of the Saffron Revolution was the religious boycott launched  by the monastic community on September 17, 2007. Monks refused to take alms from military personnel or perform religious rites, and submitted a carefully constructed petition to the government. When the military ignored their demands the monks took to the streets. Although the month of September was conflict stricken, September 17 was the turning point for the protestors. Word spread about the All Burma Monks Alliance boycott and monks across Burma organized themselves with or without permission from their superiors. Without assistance from the web or coverage from mainstream media nearly every citizen was informed and well mobilized. Regardless of the protest’s outcome the citizens of Burma knew they world was finally watching.

 

Part 1 of Burma VJ




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