Social Protests in Colombia: Farmers, Urban Youth and Digital Networked Media


The last two weeks of August in Colombia were pretty intense, unique, and inspiring in terms of social movements, media practices, and participation. The social protests of farmers (The Agriculture Strike or Paro Agrario) that began on August 19 in dispersed rural regions of the wide territory, slowly spread to the main cities and transformed into massive public marches. What it was initially violently repressed and un-legitimatized by the government and the mainstream media, usually treated as isolated blockages to roads in the country side of the regions of Boyaca, Antioquia, Cauca, Cundinamarca, and Nariño, transformed after a week into multitudinous marches and strikes in the main streets and public squares of Tunja, Bogotá, Cali, Pasto, and Medellín. Solidarity with the farmers spread very fast across the national population causing a lot of indignation for the precarious conditions in which neoliberal policies have left the Colombian farmers. Ordinary men and women, and especially the urban and connected youth not only produced content in different formats and shared it across social media channels, but also participated very actively in the streets.

The development of these protests and its huge escalation and spread across the nation revealed that a big part of the Colombian population is sensitive to the social injustice and inequalities that are barely represented by the mainstream media and ignored by the governing elites. Furthermore, it showed as never before, that a more participatory culture and society is emerging and expressing in Colombia through digital networked media. Everyday people is being able to capture and share images, independent videographers are making and distributing informative documentaries, thousands of internet users are twitting, and urban settlers are able to organize massive marches and strikes through social media in a very short period of time and in a decentralized way.

The 970 Documentary: an example of transmedia activism
A young Colombian filmmaker in collaboration with a team of farmer activists and the support of an Argentinean producer, created a powerful 40 minutes long documentary that revealed clearly the challenges that Free Trade Agreements and their policies, in particular the 970 Law (that prohibits the use of traditional seeds in favor of copyrighted ones), created for the rice farmers of the town of Campoalegre, in the region of Huila. The video depicted the violence of the Colombian police forces against the farmers and their seeds. One image still remains vividly in my memory and is the destruction of many rice parcels by the especial anti-riot forces of the police ESMAD. An internet version of the documentary was uploaded to YouTube on August 5th and in few days it had thousands of views and was shared actively by ordinary people in Facebook, Twitter, and other media channels. The documentary producers created a fan Facebook page and organized a petition for stopping the law 9.70 using the AVAAZ site. During the days that followed the publication in YouTube, news and commentaries were posted in Facebook as well new mini-clips were uploaded to YouTube. The popularity of the video called the attention of mainstram media.

Diverse videos in YouTube: Farmers, Students, and Independent Media Productions

Bellow is a playlist with some of the several videos that were recorded, edited, published and shared in YouTube platform. The diversity of them shows us that indeed there is some evidence of a more participatory culture emerging in Colombia. The narration of the Paro Agrario, across multiple channels, such as Youtube, with so much diverse imagery, quality, and perspectives is a sign that the balance of power in representation is changing in a Country where the broadcast media has been traditionally very limited and aligned with the government and the Colombian elites. Furthermore, many of these videos reveal how protesters used the lenses of their phones and cameras as a weapon against the brutality of the police. As Omar Rincon argues, the visual records allowed the population to lost the fear that Colombian government and police have traditionally tried to instill during social protests and mobilizations.

El nacimiento de un #hashtag en la Twitesfera Colombiana: #YoMePongoLaRuana

Muy interesante ver como nacen los #hashtags en medio del ruido de twitter. Como si se formara una gran nube de trinos, de tweets, y de repente, desde el punto menos esperado, apereciera un #hashtag que hace sentido, que se puede volver el mensaje, el motto, el lema de un movimiento espontaneo. Durante los dias en que la protesta social se hacia mas urbana, y la discusion en las redes sociales se tornaba mas intensa pude oberservar a la distancia, mientras monitoreaba el flow del tweets tagueados con el #paroagrario y #paronacional, como la discusion desordenada se organizaba al rededor de un nuevo #hashtag. Por ejemplo, el dia 24 de agosto, cinco dias after the farmer social strike started, the discussion in the tweetsphere had a high frequency (more than 3000 mentions) of terms such as “semillas” (Seeds), “campesinos” (farmers), ESMAD (riot police), “970” (the controversial law), and “ruana” (farmer poncho). In the middle of the intense discussion, the #hashtag #YoMePongoLaRuana was created by a random Twiter user, @Movichasu, an ordinary user with few followers (56).


Una vez nacen this kind of #hashtags, they can help to dar forma a uno de esos nuevos movimientos sociales espontáneos y descentralizados. Powerful and popular #hashtags pueden ayudar a organizar una conversación que es ruidosa, desparramada. They can help to give a tone to the algarabia. They synthesize a current conversation because they use words that are already being popular, that are becoming the main key terms of the debate. The most popular or trending words people is using for discussing the theme. In the case of #YoMePongoLaRuana, it calls my attention the use of the pronombre personal “Yo” because it is a word that seems to be very powerful and affective to articulate activist identities in twitter. There is an example in Mexico with the #Yosoy132 #hashtag that uses a similar kind of gramatical construction. There is also the word “ruana” that ended being the symbol of the whole national strike.

Ten minutes later, an user named @AUGUSTOOCAMPO broadcasted a twit using just the phrase that was inside the #hasthtag. This grammatical construction has connontations analogous to the action of “ponerse la camiseta” (put the t-shirt), a saying that has a meaning of sympathy, of being part of something, of a team in particular.


Twenty two minutes after @Movichasu twitted, @periodista19, a user with 1577 followers, and that identifies in her Twitter profile as a journalist, broadcasted:

@Periodista19 created several twits using the newborn hashtags and got also re-twittered. In a matter of hours, #yomepongolaruana became a trend in the twittesphere and was present in almost 6000 different twits. People used the #hashtag in order to join the conversation, and also in order to express their solidarity with the farmers and the strike.

The activity on Twitter during the weeks of the strike was very intense. I tried to archive some of the data that was being created in real time and hopefully will be able to do some analysis of the “big data” in the future. For now, I can just say that monitoring twitter in real time, is a very lively situation. The amount of twits makes the “aliveness” of the social media something overwhelming and fascinating. The texture and diversity of the voices is so intriguing as well as the spontaneous creation of #hashtags (e.g. #loqueesconloscampesinosesconmigo, #cacerolazonacional, #yoparopor, #nomas970, etc). There is so much noise. Almost as much noise than the one created by the people who joined the #cacerolazonacional in different Colombian cities on Agosto 25, 26 and 27, as well the ones that jumped to the streets to physically express in public space. The massive quality of the marches and public strikes in the city showed an interesting dynamic and feedback between the social media and the real physical world. There are many photography records (some examples can be seen in this flickr gallery) as well as multimodal compositions of the communicative process that took place. I would close this post with a “To be continued” but not before leaving a last image, a very intriguing and paradoxical photography took during the public protests in Bogota.

Paro Nacional 29/08

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