Tomorrow, grassroots activists will meet in central London to debate the role of online activism, network and strengthen web communities and co-ordinate future action. Netroots UK, an event to take place throughout the day at the Congress Centre in Great Russell Street, will feature speakers, discussions and workshops aimed at “inspiring progressive activists working on the web”. OurKingdom is taking advantage of the event to join in the debate around the impact of the internet on British grassroots politics and the future of online activism.
Since the summer, when the implications of the Coalition's economic agenda began hitting home, the revolution occurring in online activism has gained enormous momentum. The internet has become the natural platform for the anti-cuts movement, which draws upon such disparate groups as trade unions, university students, school-kids, non-affiliated public sector workers and - importantly - millions of passionately concerned members of the public.
Over the winter, the student movement was supported by and built upon these networks to electrifying effect. University occupations across the country were turned into hubs of online activity, while the net's efficacy in co-ordinating direct action was demonstrated time and again, and decisively by the swift organisation of tens of thousands at the 9 December Parliament Square protest in the face of authorized police aggression. Meanwhile, UKUncut and other networked platforms such as False Economy emerged during this period as leaderless movements against the cuts in general and corporate tax evasion in particular.
The debate around the nature and future of online activism has kept pace with the torrent of twitter activity. Articles such as Malcolm Gladwell's and the recent A Very Public Socialist post have rallied around the slogan 'the revolution will not be tweeted' to expand upon the limited ability of the web to facilitate and encourage active dissent. A wealth of academic material on the dangers of online communication has been published in the last few years, notably Jodi Dean's work on the 'interpassivity' of web communication, and Cass Sunstein's 'Republic' books, which envision a “nightmare” world where web users engage solely with sites that enforce their worldview. The loud response to such criticism from on the ground and from the academic world (see Joss Hands on the interlacing of online and offline worlds) has fueled the work of defining the web's current impact on grassroots politics and determining a future direction.
NetrootsUK intends to further this debate in practical ways around bottom up organisation against the cuts and all the associated issues, from the participation of women to the influence of America. Tickets to the physical event sold out yesterday; rest assured that a network of bloggers, 'tweeters' and film-makers will bring the action and discussion to readers, watchers and listeners web-wide.