Charlottesville wasn't a standard protest. It was a social blasting cap. An open invitation to a public fist fight between the left and right. A fight orchestrated to create widespread social disruption. A fight the police didn't want to referee. A fight that was allowed to escalate for hours.
It was also a disruption that didn't have to occur. Well run cities can easily deal with nearly any sized protest and this one wasn't even that big. Cities routinely:
- End protests.
That didn't happen here... and because of that, a monster got out.
What went wrong?
As an example of malicious social disruption, something I've spent the last decade thinking about about, #Charlottesville was very effective. It widened fault lines and damaged social cohesion at every level. The reason for this? We live in socially networked country and it's built for rapid amplification. It can take any event and turn it into a national trauma in seconds. To wit: Notice how quickly Trump and his critics took the debate national to further their fight. Unfortunately, the situation isn't going to improve. Our national discussion is now a cacophony of participatory (likes/follows) megaphones, talking over each other and resolving nothing. Fortunately, we can adapt. Here's how:
- In an amplified environment like this, we won't win against *intentional* social disruption by being good at responding its effects (resilience).
- We win by preventing it from happening in the first place. Dampen it. Avoid it. Skirt it.
- Good governance is a start. A well run city or state dampens disruption, before it turns into a spectacle or terrorist venue. It doesn't help it along.
PS: The surprise tiki torch march (and follow on violence) in Charlottesville allowed the city a way to the cancel the next day's event. It didn't and the rest is history.