Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Smart Mob - politics stylee

I meant to write this up on thursday, day of the DG Dgoing.

The protest that formed out front of TVC was a smart mob.

At 1.46pm I got an email from outside the BBC saying Greg had resigned. Someone in the department sent on at 1.44pm - I picked it up a bit afterwards.

Everyone turned on News 24, fired up the BBC news site, and went 'What?'.

A little while later I checked the messageboards on our intranet. Someone broke the news there at 1.42. At 1.59pm the first mention of a walk out at 3 is posted.

2.38 - I pinged the gateway link to the junkmail list.

We all start talking about walking out. Were the unions supporting us? Our union officer didn't have a clue, and bectu weren't answering the phone.

Greg's 'I'm Leaving' email came round. Most people sent a personal message back to him. Everone started feeling tired and emotional - Hutton has come on top of the DCMS review for online, and we're feeling a bit picked on, frankly.

Emails ping around the department - one saying 'Well, I'm going, and if no-one is there, I'll pretend I'm going to the garage for some pringles.'

2.30 - naysayers appear on the intranet talk boards - 'It'll play in to the hands of commercial channels'
2.42pm - a complete thread is started - Rumours of a 3pm walkout
3pm - a bunch of people look out of the windows of our offices - they overlook TVC. There are about ten people in a small huddle out front, with a TV camera on them.

A group decision is made - six or eight of us walk out to join them.

Our union rep starts shouting. 'What do we want? Return of Dyke. When do we want it? Now!'. I get embrrassed, and start trying to make people think about why they're there. It's not political, really - it's about expressing shock that Greg stood down.

More people join us - mostly from online departments. We figure it's because they're in front of email all the time, and use talk-gateway.

3.19 - pictures of us appear on news 24

By 3.30 there are a hundred or so of us, and two girls from radio asking us for quotes. I refuse, too scared of getting in trouble for not consulting my line manager before I open my mouth on BBC buisiness.

People are texting and ringing friends around the bbc, telling them to watch the news, telling them to take action, too. Lots of camera phones in evidence.

More people slowly trickle on. My entire department is there by 4pm. Apparently, one of our execs just walked around saying - go, go out there. Go on, show your support. Emails are flying around the BBC - this department has walked, they're out in Manchester, out in glasgow... People are ringing mobiles in the crowd, reporting on media coverage, telling us what is going on...

In the growing crowd, we realise that we can't see the ends anymore. People start turning up with hastily printed placards. The police turn up and stop us standing in the road. Everyone is friendly, chatting, cheering whenever a car beeps us.

4.30 - A rumour shoots round the crowd - Greg is coming. Things go up a notch. There are a good thousand people there by now - on both sides of the street. Photographers and news crews are threading in and out of the crowd. I'm trying deperately to stay off camera - mostly because I'm chain smoking, and my mum is bound to see me on telly, fag in mouth.

An ITN crew runs along the road at full pelt. Somethings up. Everyone breaks ranks - Greg is here. The crowd mobs him - one guy, sitting on a lamppost, appoints himself unofficial steward, and hushes everyone.

The only words I hear are 'Thankyou'. Three women next to me in the crowd are hugging each other and crying.

So - the crowd, emotional and upset, gathered and organised by email, messageboard, SMS and mobile call. And once the crowd reached a certain size, the dynamic became consensual, not individual. It was one of the strangest experiences of my life.

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