Part One of our conclusion to the Networked Society debate: Goodbye, year of new movements: bring on 2012 and Occupy Everything.
Author of “@ is for Activism” Joss Hands kicked off the Networked Society debate with his article on 'Digital activism and the anti-cuts agenda' in which he wrote,
“...the combination of moral outrage and the capacity for digital networked communications has given rise to something new in the UK over the last few months…large-scale digitally-mediated activism. It has been emerging on different scales and intensities around the world over the last ten years or so, including Zapatista support networks, the alter-globalization movement and manifold others.”
Hands is right to locate the current cycle of protest in Britain as one that is unprecedented in its mediation by digital networks. He is also right to allude to the broader context of social movements that have been increasingly mediated by these same networks in the Third World since the rise of the EZLN in Mexico in 1994.
The Zapatista movement, in inspiring the alter-globalisation movement was qualitatively new in how it adopted and used new information technologies. In so doing it inspired the means of organising for subsequent alter-globalisation struggles, both north and south over the ensuing decade, this being especially true in light of the 'encuentros' after 1994 that brought together alter-globalisation actors from across the world to the Chiapas.
One can thus regard the burgeoning anti-austerity movement as a continuation of the 'alter-globalisation' movement of the late 1990's/ early 2000's as it existed in the global south – only this time it is OECD economies in the global north that are facing austerity programs and the whims of financial speculators. As the Financial Times recently wrote;
“…it is only vanity that makes anyone believe they are special or “different”. Asia didn’t think Latin America’s long history of financial crises held many useful lessons in 1997; it did. The same is true of Europe. It risks falling victim to the same vanity today…Europe, of course, is not Latin America. If anything it is in a worse situation. It is more indebted and probably less able to stomach tough adjustment programmes.”
The occupiers in Plaza da Sol and Zucotti Park should perhaps be regarded as the inheritors of the Piqueteros of Buenos Aires amid the Argentine Financial Crisis of 2001. After all, until recently scenes like this seem more reminiscent of Buenos Aires in 2001 than New York. As I wrote in the 'Movement that Needs no Name',
“...the tactics now being increasingly favoured in European countries (and since writing, the US) have proved most fertile in Latin America and the transnational Via Campesina movement. It is these movements, be it the Landless Workers Movement of Brasil or the Piqueteros of Argentina, who favoured direct action, networked communication and non-hierarchical organisation long before anti-austerity protesters in the OECD”.
Mass protest movements based on direct action and largely coordinated by digital networks are nothing new, and while many within the 'Occupy' movement have a tendency to be ahistorical with regards to the ancestors of their own movement and tactics – these can indeed be traced back, in part, to the alter-globalisation movement of the global south in the immediate aftermath of 1994.
Go to Part Two: open source activism and memes.
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