Thursday, 23 May 2013

On a Community's Shift of Power: From Gardens to Computers...

at 900 × 599 in Photos by Glenn Stephenson

an Essay by Jason B.R. Maxwell,
29th March 2013.
Bachelor of Art student,
Curtin University.
For educational



Activism today has at its disposal unprecedented means of New Media representation,
 but does it amplify the power and number of activists engaged in the actual physical process?
This paper attempts to identify where the new medium achieves an international resonance
and a cultural link to new media consumers political engagement, while undergoing
a theoretical examination of a case study in the “No Maccas in Tecoma” protest.

Key words: Activism, New Media, No Maccas in Tecoma, political engagement.

Introduction: The complexity….

The ways in which the “active audience” (Thompson via Jenkins, 2006) signals a shift in
power from media institutions to media consumers are varied and many.
Yet to paraphrase Bakardjieva (2012) on their quality, theorists in the past have expressed an
over-enthusiasm for New Media’s power-political agency and its current form and future
 potential has turned out to be far more complex than first imagined (p.64). That being said,
New Media IS a significant advantage to whoever can weld its power and, in the interest of
exploring how to do so in regards to the protester-consumer, this essay
attempts a case study of the new media savvy “No Maccas in Tecoma” (NMIT) community
(, 2011). It does so in two ways; analysis of group formation with plurality
of a digital "Mediapolis” and second, how these groups form a New Media culture
that requires “direct connections” to the ‘real world’ people and cultural practice to gain
its significant consumer advantages (Savvas, 2013, Bakardjieva, 2012, p.66).


Alert the audience!


The first way that the “active audience” (Thompson via Jenkins, 2006)
signals a shift from the media institutions to the media consumer concerns a new plurality
of the “Mediapolis”, which is described by Bakardjieva (2012) as a “heterogeneous web of
media technologies, actors and practices that spans the private and the public realms” (p.66).
This ‘mediapolis’ in current form enables community spheres to ‘link’ and frame new
“possibilities for collective action” (Bakardjieva, 2012).  Used extensively by protesters today,
the ‘mediapolis’now organises and directs attention in a real time environment previously
unavailable to pre-mobile groups (Wall, 2005, Gordan, 2006, Bakardjieva, 2012). For example,
in the case of the protest against a McDonalds restaurant made by the relatively small
community of Tecoma, the communities organisation techniques were successful in
directing institutional attention which proved vital in the formation and effective sustained
community engagement.

However, the Dandenong’s community has history of successful local political a
activism without engaging new media, as poet Duggan (2002) states in February
1992; “their message to McDonalds go elsewhere, we love the hills and for the hills
we care” (p.17) and they were “three times” successful in dispelling McDonalds
(Johnston, 2012). Therefor this communities case study can only be used in-so-far
as a marginal new media shift.  What made the NMIT shift special, was the way in
which citizens combined with “netizens”  (Bakardjieva, 2012, p.71) to transform
individuals in and out of existing groups to a stable network of anti-McDonalds
supporters called “Burger off”, a website and group with elite members, political
supporters, finance and media campaigns spanning events, council engagement,
social media, art spheres and institutions
(, 2011).

Yet in the early stages, when restaurant planning was knowledgeable to
consumers via traditional institutions in March 2011, new media amplified it using
individual spokespersons to alert an even greater public via blogging-politician Cr. Dunn
and online members of the Tecoma Village Action Group (TVAG) (Cr Dunn, 2011,, 2013).  Using their blogs, institutional influence, and Facebook accounts,
more individuals combined with these politicians and pre-existing institutions to educate
the community action, which managed  to form an unprecedented council response, with
“over 1,100 individual community objections … lodged opposing the proposal”
(, 2011). 

Thus, it could be argued that had not council objection instructions and
promotions’ spread across new media with such timeliness and visibility by these ‘netizens’
online, that such numbers would not have been previously possible.  This line of civic agency
inherit in the internet merges with Bakardjieva’s  ‘private and public Mediapolis’ in a
new way to produce what Dahlberg (via Bakardjieva, 2009) calls the “emergence and
growing visibilityof “counter publics” composed of groups and interests that are not
represented in the mainstream public discourses.” (p.91). 

Despite minor initial mainstream institutional engagement, the protest today
represents the ‘active audience’ as a major emergence of a politically empowered
grassroots organisation (, 2013). For this is an organisation that was able
to build collectively, enough momentum to direct the ‘Mediapolis’ of worldwide
institutions, from California to Japan and has initiated a permanent political act with a
“new planning statement” to prevent further planning developments
(, 2013).


The cultural context: Should we be Gardening?


The second way that the contemporary “active audience” 
(Thompson cited in Rosen, 2006) signals a shift from the media institutions to one
of the media consumer, concerns a contextually cultural engagement of an online
“living space inhabited not only by images and discourses, but also by people with
their daily thought and action” (Bakardjieva, 2012, p.67). In a working paper on
creating engaging sites such as these, research by Bukowski, Newcomb & Hartup
(2006) has found that “friendship ties were a key motivation for members to join
such groups and stay involved.” (via Vilenchik & Shresthova, 2012, p.19).

Yet to engage the friendship groups that make an online community as vibrant
and richly frequented as the NMIT community, Vilenchik & Shresthova (2012) outline
 three methods; method one: “Build Communities: Build, encourage and sustain
community affiliations and friendships, not only to promote civic goals but as valuable in
their own right.” Method two: “Tell Stories: Create and use narratives in ways that
encourage emotional investment and connection to the organization” method three;
“Produce Media: Encourage and sustain action through media creation and circulation”


As has been stated in the NMIT case, the first method; ‘building communities’
had already (partially) occurred, even in the youth, yet as one NMIT Facebook participant
 Elicia Savvas (2013) has commented; “Young people [in Tecoma] are highly politically engaged,
despite the rhetoric from some older people, but it doesn't seem successful without making
direct connections beyond social media.” This mirrors Westlakes (2008) view that generation
 Y has increased levels of political interest but tend to recoil at the point of protest action
(pp.37-38). So, the question was; how can one thread youth and seniors together to make
a group with these ‘direct connections’?


This was when the protest came up with a brilliant game changing idea. After the
civic council action had failed to stop the restaurant in a late McDonalds appeal to the
powerful institution the “VCAT tribunal’, the community rallied around the grassy public
space that was now undemocratically scheduled for destruction and on October 14th 2012,
 they planted a community garden (, 2011).

This action not only gained massive public attention as it borders a major arterial
road for the Dandenong’s, but it also claims a very public space as community owned
instead of privately owned, an action similar to the Occupy Movement, but with a more
permanent result. Shortly after, the gardens peak media moment occurred when the story
made the “seven nightly news” and it is clear in that report that NMIT encompassed all
generations in true grass roots activism, including many students from across the road at the
primary school (egymoh52, 2012). After that the garden continued to form a central
meeting point for the campaign and truly ‘built, encouraged and sustained personal
relationships to promote civic goals and as a value in their own right.’ 

But as these sites proceeded to ‘share the storey’ on social media, a counter
culture developed at the same time.  This formed as a rather abusive Pro McDonalds
site simply labelled “Tecoma McDonalds” (2011). Here, unless one counts a single case
of arson vandalism to the NMIT garden, (Webb, 2012) ‘Tecoma McDonalds’ group
actions remained mostly in the private level of the mediapolis, in what is known as
“subactivism”, (Bakardjieva, 2012) a level of activism where “identity construction [takes place]
through subject positioning vis-à-vis social and political discourses and relations, [and]
friend–enemy distinction and identification with collective formations
[are made]” (p.71).


In contrast the ‘subject positioning’ only strengthened this media savvy community and
they  continued to share the storey of the unanimous council-VCAT rejection via
the garden site which ballooned media creation onto online spaces such as Youtube.  An
example of this is the evocative “remediation” (Bolter, 1999, p.45) “reclaiming Tecoma” which
can be seen linking a community cultural heritage of healthy organic food with the garden
 and aiming this statement at the McDonalds restaurant (MrTJsmith79. 2012). These
combined cultural acts mirror what Bakardjieva, (2012) describes of in her anti-logging case
 study, where public spaces where used for similar, effective “physical … dimension[s] of the
mediapolis [which] proved to be an essential space of appearance … [bridging]
the online and the traditional media” (p.71).



Conclusion: A strong Community reverberates


Despite the fact that the McDonalds restaurant will probably go ahead without
 a massive high court apeal, that in complexity, it could be argued that without the
“active audience” (Thompson cited in Rosen, 2006)  engaged in new media the NMIT
protest would still have been as large and as passionate as ever, it must besaid that
the shifting powers to the media consumer is there in this strong example.Strong
because in this essay the ‘No Maccas in Tecoma’ community provides
stable evidence suggesting an increased level of participation from well organised,
 informed and internationally recognised online groups engaged in a Mediapolis that
 has positively and permanently affected the local and state governmental process.
Strong because the Tecoma community culture is now firmer than ever in its cross
generational social ties of both new media and real space and the spin off effect of
 grassroots health food culture has been spread far and wide. Strong because in the
interest to further research, this article suggests the idea of the new media political
family agency and identifies interest-action borders to be explored in a greater depth
so as to ensure the audience is always not only politically active, but potent where
 and when it counts.    




Reference List:


Bakardjieva, Maria. (2012). Reconfiguring the mediapolis: New media and civic
 agency New Media Society. 14(63). Pp. 63-79. DOI: 10.1177/1461444811410398.
_______________. (2009). Subactivism: Lifeworld and Politics in the Age of the
Internet. The Information Society. 25(1). Pp.91–104. DOI: 10.1080/01972240802701627

Bolter, J. D., & Grusin. R. (1999). Remediation: Understanding New Media . Cambridge,
 MA: MIT Press. pp. 44-50. (2013). Accessed 23rd May 2013:
Duggin, Francis. (2002). No, They Don’t Want McDonalds in Belgrave. Songs
of Sherbrook. AUS. Self-published. p.17.

Dunn, Cr. Samantha. (2013).Cr Samantha Dunn: The official blog of Greens
Councillor Samantha Dunn, Shire of Yarra yanges. Blog Posts May 21st 2011 to present.
 Accessed: 21st  May 2013:

Gordon, J. (2007). The mobile phone and the public sphere: mobile phone usage
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Johnston, Chris. (2012). No fries with that. The Age Victoria. December 16th.
Accessed 23rd May 2013:

Kligler-Vilenchik, Neta. & Shresthova, Sangita. (2012). Learning Through Practice:
Participatory Culture Civics. Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
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MrTJsmith79. (2012). Reclaiming Tecoma. [youtube]. October 17th. Accessed 21st
 May 2013:

McDonalds Tecoma. (2012). Facebook Group. Accessed 21st May:

Savvas, Elicia. (2011). Facebook Group Posting. 21st May, 5:51pm. No Maccas in
the Hills. accessed 21st May 2013:!/groups/168109379936618.

Seedy, Kimberly. (2011). HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you want a McDonald's in Tecoma?.
Free Press Leader. 13th April. Accessed 22nd May 2013: 

Singer, J.B. & Ashman, I. (2009) ch. 19: User-Generated Content AND Journalistic
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New York: Peter Lang. pp. 233-242.

Rosen, J. (2006). ‘The People Formerly Known as the Audience’. Press Think. (2012). McDonald’s. [July] accessed: 21st May 2013:

Wall, Melissa. (2005). Blogs of war: weblogs as news. Journalism. 6 (2), pp.153-72.
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Westlake, E.J. (2008). Friend me if you Facebook: Generation Y and performative
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Webb, Emily. (2012).Tecoma Maccas fight turns ugly. Free Press Leader. 29th October.
Accessed 21st May 2013:

My deep thanks to the "burger off" community group for their continued fight to
save our community from this corporate disease...

w a lentil burger
-Jas: D


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