Cyberprotest: New Media, Citizens, and Social Movements

By Brian D. Loader; Paul G. Nixon et al. | Go to book overview

6

Communicating global activism

Strengths and vulnerabilities of networked politics

W. Lance Bennett

Networks of activists demanding greater voice in global economic, social, and environmental policies raise interesting questions about organizing political action across geographical, cultural, ideological, and issue boundaries. Protests against world development and trade policies are nothing new. For example, Rucht (1999) has documented such action in Germany dating from the 1980s. However, social justice activism in the recent period seems to me different in its global scale, networked complexity, openness to diverse political identities, and capacity to sacrifice ideological integration for pragmatic political gain (Bennett 2003a). This vast web of global protest is also impressive in its capacity to refigure itself continuously around shifting issues, protest events, and political adversaries.

The 'Battle in Seattle', referring to the demonstrations against the 1999 World Trade Organization ministerial meeting, has become recognized as a punctuating moment in the evolution of global activism (Levi and Olson 2000). Seattle, like most subsequent demonstrations, primarily attracted local and regional activists. However, there is growing evidence that a movement of global scope is emerging through the proliferation of related protest activities (Lichbach and Almeida 2001). Observers note, for example, that activist networks are engaging politically with non-state, transnational targets such as corporations and trade regimes, and that there is growing coordination of communication and action across international activist networks (Arquilla and Ronfeld 2001; Gerlach 2001; Lichbach and Almeida 2001; Rheingold 2002).

It is clear that personal digital media are important to these activists. One indicator is the expansion of a web-based communication infrastructure, marked, for example, by the growth of the Indymedia

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