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It’s been a long time since I had a hero. But I’ve got 18,000 of them now.
Yesterday, in a real life lesson in the power of social media and the politics of now, more than 18,000 New Jersey high school students walked out of class yesterday en masse to protest Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed school budget cuts. They were inspired by one Facebook message posted about a month ago by Michelle Ryan Lauto, 18 and organized via cellphone text messages and Tweets.
The protesters’ signs said things like “We love our teachers” and “We want to learn.” Not exactly subversive. :>)
Suits: you’d better listen up!

“All I did was make a Facebook page,” Lauto, who graduated last year from Northern Valley Regional High School in Old Tappan, N.J., told the NY Times.

“Anyone who has an opinion could do that and have their opinion heard. I would love to see kids in high school step up and start their own protests and change things in their own way.”

Governor’s clueless response

In a demonstration of complete and total cluelessness, Michael Drewniak, the governor’s press secretary, released a statement on Tuesday saying that students belong in the classroom, rather than out demonstrating. “It is also our firm hope that the students were motivated by youthful rebellion or spring fever,” Mr. Drewniak said, “and not by encouragement from any one-sided view of the current budget crisis in New Jersey.”

Students have learned their lesson well; suits next
Students were protesting the governor’s proposals to reduce busing, cut music and arts programs, and drop athletic programs. One of the students, Joanna Pagan of Newark said she felt like the governor was taking money from students who are already poor, “The schools here [in Newark] have bad reputations and we need aid and we need programs to develop.”
Ms. Lauto has been widely quoted in mainstream media saying she was amazed and gratified that so many students had responded. She also told reporters that the state education cuts had really hit home because her mother and sister both work in public schools in Hudson County.

Students, Lauto said, have learned their lesson: that their voices can be heard.

For CEOs, CMOs and others in the C-suite who are still thinking about putting a toe in the social media waters, please note the real lesson here: the world has changed. There is no market for one-way messages, message control, or corporate speak.
Say what you want about Facebook’s new double opt-out privacy settings – and I think they suck – but don’t waste your time denying the power of its social networks.
The kids who joined the protest are not just the future; they are the present. Companies that aren’t listening and changing are going the way of the dinosaurs. Ignore them at your peril.