democraciaAbierta

Indignation and hope networks in El Salvador

Today, the Salvadoran smart mobs are creating a repertoire of innovative action to confront power through the Internet. Español.

Luis R. Huezo Mixco
18 March 2019
Salvadorians collect signatures to reduce the size of congress with views to the 2021 parliamentary elections, San Salvador, El Salvador, February 27, 2019. (Credit Image: © Camilo Freedman via ZUMA Wire). All rights reserved.

Nayib Bukele, former mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán and San Salvador, won the February 15 presidential elections in El Salvador.

At last, it became clear that the support for the candidate of the center-right GANA party and New Ideas Movement in social media was not a virtual thing after all, as many analysts and critics had claimed.

Opinion polls, which had been predicting since 2017 a voters’ break from the two largest traditional political parties and were pointing out that Bukele was the people’s favorite, were a true indicator of what actually happened at the February 15 elections, where more than 1.400.000 votes certified his access to the presidency of the country for the 2019-2024 term.

Support for Bukele was described by some as a typical example of the poor-thinking and the ignorance of the masses. However, Howard Rheingold - the internationally-known American critic, writer, and teacher specializing in the cultural, social and political implications of modern communication media -, actually uses the term smart mobs to designate those who interact through social media and defines them as people who have the ability to act in concert, even though they do not know each other.

Smart mobs achieve new forms of social power through their interaction at precise moments in time.

They have been surging unexpectedly in many countries. Suddenly, dictatorships could be overthrown, politicians were exposed for lying or for being corrupt, and governments were denounced by people who, as Manuel Castells puts it, had found new ways of being “a people”, who had gone from being just a few to being hundreds and thousands, and who set themselves up, beyond ideologies, as "indignation and hope networks", connecting with their actual concerns and sharing their sorrows and hopes through the public space provided by the Internet.

In places as distinctly different as Tunisia and Iceland, between 2009 and 2011 these political insurgencies transformed government institutions and became a model for the social movements that shook the Arab world and challenged the political institutions in Europe.

This happened in Tahrir Square in Cairo, then in Barcelona with the Indignados, and then with Occupy Wall Street in New York. The insurgencies have grown and expanded globally, reaching as close as Guatemala City.

Are we witnessing a new, archetypal form of social mobilization in the 21st century?

For those of us who study social movements, the rise of the smart mobs has opened an important academic debate. The main question under discussion is this: are we witnessing a new, archetypal form of social mobilization in the 21st century?

Given that the core aim of collective action is to challenge the powers that be, one would be inclined to think that these smart mobs are, in fact, tantamount to social mobilization.

It should be noted, however, that not all collective action ends up being so, for social mobilization requires, among other things, the contribution of an infrastructure of connected civic organizations interacting with each other over time, feeding on a continuous sequence of actions.

Today, the Salvadoran smart mobs are creating a repertoire of innovative action to confront power through the Internet.

Traditional analysts, through poor research or sheer convenience, tend to analyze the social media phenomenon from traditional, obsolete perspectives which fail to catch on to the new reality and the current ways of challenging power.

In El Salvador, the smart mobs did not call for street mass demonstrations during the political campaign nor did they convene mass rallies at sports stadiums, but rather than trying to gauge from a traditional perspective the effectiveness of the "networked society" (yet another concept borrowed from Castells), we should observe it carefully with the help of conceptual tools that have been developed in recent years.

The collective action of social movements is not just a resource, but the key resource for the transformation of society.

Collective actions stemming from social mobilization during the decades prior to the civil war were responsible for the advancement of the most significant social transformations in the recent history of El Salvador. This social mobilization took decades to develop.

The collective action of social movements is not just a resource, but the key resource for the transformation of society.

It is too early to know whether the current Salvadoran indignation and hope networks carry the seed of a new social movement in our country, but they are certainly opening a door to a dream: the dream that we will, at some point, get social mobilization back and push forward the social transformations that were left pending. Let us hope that, this time, it will not take that long.

This article was previously published in El Faro. Click hereto read the original content in Spanish.

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