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osfavelados on 24 Jun 2000 09:51:37 -0000


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<nettime> [Fwd: [D2kdiscuss] The New "Movement"


Hi, this article was posted at the d2k discussion list. It interestingly
discusses the relationship between the network of resistance to
globalization and neoliberalism and radical political action/thinking,
and the electronic network.

osfavelados

     [deMIMEified + headited + etc.  {AT}  nettime]

Date: Fri, 23 Jun 2000 12:50:05 -0400
From: Info from Doug <dhunt {AT} center1.com>
To: TOES <TOES97 {AT} listserv.syr.edu>, Citnet <citnet-list {AT} citnet.org>,
        SDF <exchange {AT} SDFinance.org>, network <network {AT} democracyinmotion.org>,
        "a16-discuss {AT} egroups.com" <a16-discuss {AT} egroups.com>,
        July 30 in Philly <July30 {AT} listbot.com>,
        d2k discuss <d2kdiscuss {AT} d2kla.org>, Waggers List <waggers {AT} egroups.com>
Subject: [D2kdiscuss] The New "Movement" - Please Read This -- She Gets a part 
         of It (I think)!!
Sender: d2kdiscuss-admin {AT} regenerationtv.com

Sincere apologies for x-postings


Published on Friday, June 23, 2000 in The Nation

The Vision Thing:
Were The DC And Seattle Protests Unfocused, Or Are Critics Missing The Point?

by Naomi Klein

"This conference is not like other conferences."
That's what all the speakers at "Re-Imagining Politics and Society" were 
told before we arrived at New York's Riverside Church. When we addressed 
the delegates (there were about 1,000, over three days in May), we were t
o try to solve a very specific problem: the lack of "unity of vision and 
strategy" guiding the movement against global corporatism.

This was a very serious problem, we were advised. The young activists who
 went to Seattle to shut down the World Trade Organization and to Washing
ton, DC, to protest the World Bank and the IMF had been getting hammered 
in the press as tree-wearing, lamb-costumed, drumbeating bubble brains. O
ur mission, according to the conference organizers at the Foundation for 
Ethics and Meaning, was to whip that chaos on the streets into some kind 
of structured, media-friendly shape. This wasn't just another talk shop. 
We were going to "give birth to a unified movement for holistic social, e
conomic and political change."

As I slipped in and out of lecture rooms, soaking up vision galore from A
rianna Huffington, Michael Lerner, David Korten and Cornel West, I was st
ruck by the futility of this entire well-meaning exercise. Even if we did
 manage to come up with a ten-point plan--brilliant in its clarity, elega
nt in its coherence, unified in its outlook--to whom, exactly, would we h
and down these commandments? The anticorporate protest movement that came
 to world attention on the streets of Seattle last November is not united
 by a political party or a national network with a head office, annual el
ections and subordinate cells and locals. It is shaped by the ideas of in
dividual organizers and intellectuals, but doesn't defer to any of them a
s leaders. In this amorphous context, the ideas and plans being hatched a
t the Riverside Church weren't irrelevant exactly, they just weren't impo
rtant in the way they clearly hoped to be. Rather than changing the world
, they were destined to be swept up and tossed around in the tidal wave o
f information--web diaries, NGO manifestoes, academic papers, homemade vi
deos, cris de coeur--that the global anticorporate network produces and c
onsumes each and every day.

* * *

This is the flip side of the persistent criticism that the kids on the st
reet lack clear leadership--they lack clear followers too. To those searc
hing for replicas of the sixties, this absence makes the anticorporate mo
vement appear infuriatingly impassive: Evidently, these people are so dis
organized they can't even get it together to respond to perfectly well-or
ganized efforts to organize them. These are MTV-weaned activists, you can
 practically hear the old guard saying: scattered, nonlinear, no focus.

It's easy to be persuaded by these critiques. If there is one thing on wh
ich the left and right agree, it is the value of a clear, well-structured
 ideological argument. But maybe it's not quite so simple. Maybe the prot
ests in Seattle and Washington look unfocused because they were not demon
strations of one movement at all but rather convergences of many smaller 
ones, each with its sights trained on a specific multinational corporatio
n (like Nike), a particular industry (like agribusiness) or a new trade i
nitiative (like the Free Trade Area of the Americas). These smaller, targ
eted movements are clearly part of a common cause: They share a belief th
at the disparate problems with which they are wrestling all derive from g
lobal deregulation, an agenda that is concentrating power and wealth into
 fewer and fewer hands. Of course, there are disagreements--about the rol
e of the nation-state, about whether capitalism is redeemable, about the 
speed with which change should occur. But within most of these miniature 
movements, there is an emerging consensus that building community-based d
ecision-making power--whether through unions, neighborhoods, farms, villa
ges, anarchist collectives or aboriginal self-government--is essential to
 countering the might of multinational corporations.

Despite this common ground, these campaigns have not coalesced into a sin
gle movement. Rather, they are intricately and tightly linked to one anot
her, much as "hotlinks" connect their websites on the Internet. This anal
ogy is more than coincidental and is in fact key to understanding the cha
nging nature of political organizing. Although many have observed that th
e recent mass protests would have been impossible without the Internet, w
hat has been overlooked is how the communication technology that facilita
tes these campaigns is shaping the movement in its own image. Thanks to t
he Net, mobilizations are able to unfold with sparse bureaucracy and mini
mal hierarchy; forced consensus and labored manifestoes are fading into t
he background, replaced instead by a culture of constant, loosely structu
red and sometimes compulsive information-swapping.

What emerged on the streets of Seattle and Washington was an activist mod
el that mirrors the organic, decentralized, interlinked pathways of the I
nternet--the Internet come to life.

* * *

The Washington-based research center TeleGeography has taken it upon itse
lf to map out the architecture of the Internet as if it were the solar sy
stem. Recently, TeleGeography pronounced that the Internet is not one gia
nt web but a network of "hubs and spokes." The hubs are the centers of ac
tivity, the spokes the links to other centers, which are autonomous but i
nterconnected.

It seems like a perfect description of the protests in Seattle and Washin
gton, DC. These mass convergences were activist hubs, made up of hundreds
, possibly thousands, of autonomous spokes. During the demonstrations, th
e spokes took the form of "affinity groups" of between five and twenty pr
otesters, each of which elected a spokesperson to represent them at regul
ar "spokescouncil" meetings. Although the affinity groups agreed to abide
 by a set of nonviolence principles, they also functioned as discrete uni
ts, with the power to make their own strategic decisions. At some rallies
, activists carry actual cloth webs to symbolize their movement. When it'
s time for a meeting, they lay the web on the ground, call out "all spoke
s on the web" and the structure becomes a street-level boardroom.

In the four years before the Seattle and Washington protests, similar hub
 events had converged outside WTO, G-7 and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperat
ion summits in Auckland, Vancouver, Manila, Birmingham, London, Geneva, K
uala Lumpur and Cologne. Each of these mass protests was organized accord
ing to principles of coordinated decentralization. Rather than present a 
coherent front, small units of activists surrounded their target from all
 directions. And rather than build elaborate national or international bu
reaucracies, temporary structures were thrown up instead: Empty buildings
 were turned into "convergence centers," and independent media producers 
assembled impromptu activist news centers. The ad hoc coalitions behind t
hese demonstrations frequently named themselves after the date of the pla
nned event: J18, N30, A16 and now, for the IMF meeting in Prague on Septe
mber 26, S26. When these events are over, they leave virtually no trace b
ehind, save for an archived website.

Of course, all this talk of radical decentralization conceals a very real
 hierarchy based on who owns, understands and controls the computer netwo
rks linking the activists to one another--this is what Jesse Hirsh, one o
f the founders of the anarchist computer network Tao Communications, call
s "a geek adhocracy."

The hubs and spokes model is more than a tactic used at protests; the pro
tests are themselves made up of "coalitions of coalitions," to borrow a p
hrase from Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange. Each anticorporate campaign 
is made up of many groups, mostly NGOs, labor unions, students and anarch
ists. They use the Internet, as well as more traditional organizing tools
, to do everything from cataloguing the latest transgressions of the Worl
d Bank to bombarding Shell Oil with faxes and e-mails to distributing rea
dy-to-download antisweatshop leaflets for protests at Nike Town. The grou
ps remain autonomous, but their international coordination is deft and, t
o their targets, frequently devastating.

The charge that the anticorporate movement lacks "vision" falls apart whe
n looked at in the context of these campaigns. It's true that the mass pr
otests in Seattle and DC were a hodgepodge of slogans and causes, that to
 a casual observer, it was hard to decode the connections between Mumia's
 incarceration and the fate of the sea turtles. But in trying to find coh
erence in these large-scale shows of strength, the critics are confusing 
the outward demonstrations of the movement with the thing itself--missing
 the forest for the people dressed as trees. This movement is its spokes,
 and in the spokes there is no shortage of vision.

The student antisweatshop movement, for instance, has rapidly moved from 
simply criticizing companies and campus administrators to drafting altern
ate codes of conduct and building its own quasi-regulatory body, the Work
er Rights Consortium. The movement against genetically engineered and mod
ified foods has leapt from one policy victory to the next, first getting 
many GM foods removed from the shelves of British supermarkets, then gett
ing labeling laws passed in Europe, then making enormous strides with the
 Montreal Protocol on Biosafety. Meanwhile, opponents of the World Bank's
 and IMF's export-led development models have produced bookshelves' worth
 of resources on community-based development models, debt relief and self
-government principles. Critics of the oil and mining industries are simi
larly overflowing with ideas for sustainable energy and responsible resou
rce extraction--though they rarely get the chance to put their visions in
to practice.

* * *

The fact that these campaigns are so decentralized is not a source of inc
oherence and fragmentation. Rather, it is a reasonable, even ingenious ad
aptation both to pre-existing fragmentation within progressive networks a
nd to changes in the broader culture. It is a byproduct of the explosion 
of NGOs, which, since the Rio Summit in 1992, have been gaining power and
 prominence. There are so many NGOs involved in anticorporate campaigns t
hat nothing but the hubs and spokes model could possibly accommodate all 
their different styles, tactics and goals. Like the Internet itself, both
 the NGO and the affinity group networks are infinitely expandable system
s. If somebody doesn't feel like they quite fit in to one of the 30,000 o
r so NGOs or thousands of affinity groups out there, they can just start 
their own and link up. Once involved, no one has to give up their individ
uality to the larger structure; as with all things online, we are free to
 dip in and out, take what we want and delete what we don't. It is a surf
er's approach to activism reflecting the Internet's paradoxical culture o
f extreme narcissism coupled with an intense desire for external connecti
on.

One of the great strengths of this model of laissez-faire organizing is t
hat it has proven extraordinarily difficult to control, largely because i
t is so different from the organizing principles of the institutions and 
corporations it targets. It responds to corporate concentration with a ma
ze of fragmentation, to globalization with its own kind of localization, 
to power consolidation with radical power dispersal.

Joshua Karliner of the Transnational Resource and Action Center calls thi
s system "an unintentionally brilliant response to globalization." And be
cause it was unintentional, we still lack even the vocabulary to describe
 it, which may be why a rather amusing metaphor industry has evolved to f
ill the gap. I'm throwing my lot in with hubs and spokes, but Maude Barlo
w of the Council of Canadians says, "We are up against a boulder. We can'
t remove it so we try to go underneath it, to go around it and over it." 
Britain's John Jordan, one of the founders of Reclaim the Streets, says t
ransnationals "are like giant tankers, and we are like a school of fish. 
We can respond quickly; they can't." The US-based Free Burma Coalition ta
lks of a network of "spiders," spinning a web strong enough to tie down t
he most powerful multinationals. A US military report about the Zapatista
 uprising in Chiapas even got in on the game. According to a study produc
ed by RAND, the Zapatistas were waging "a war of the flea" that, thanks t
o the Internet and the global NGO network, turned into a "war of the swar
m." The military challenge of a war of the swarm, the researchers noted, 
is that it has no "central leadership or command structure; it is multihe
aded, impossible to decapitate."

* * *

Of course, this multiheaded system has its weaknesses too, and they were 
on full display on the streets of Washington during the anti-World Bank/I
MF protests. At around noon on April 16, the day of the largest protest, 
a spokescouncil meeting was convened for the affinity groups that were in
 the midst of blocking all the street intersections surrounding the headq
uarters of the World Bank and the IMF. The intersections had been blocked
 since 6 am, but the meeting delegates, the protesters had just learned, 
had slipped inside the police barricades before 5 am. Given this new info
rmation, most of the spokespeople felt it was time to give up the interse
ctions and join the official march at the Ellipse. The problem was that n
ot everyone agreed: A handful of affinity groups wanted to see if they co
uld block the delegates on their way out of their meetings.

The compromise the council came up with was telling. "OK, everybody liste
n up," Kevin Danaher shouted into a megaphone. "Each intersection has aut
onomy. If the intersection wants to stay locked down, that's cool. If it 
wants to come to the Ellipse, that's cool too. It's up to you."

This was impeccably fair and democratic, but there was just one problem--
it made absolutely no sense. Sealing off the access points had been a coo
rdinated action. If some intersections now opened up and other, rebel-cam
p intersections stayed occupied, delegates on their way out of the meetin
g could just hang a right instead of a left, and they would be home free.
 Which, of course, is precisely what happened.

As I watched clusters of protesters get up and wander off while others st
ayed seated, defiantly guarding, well, nothing, it struck me as an apt me
taphor for the strengths and weaknesses of this nascent activist network.
 There is no question that the communication culture that reigns on the N
et is better at speed and volume than at synthesis. It is capable of gett
ing tens of thousands of people to meet on the same street corner, placar
ds in hand, but is far less adept at helping those same people to agree o
n what they are really asking for before they get to the barricades--or a
fter they leave.

For this reason, an odd sort of anxiety has begun to set in after each de
monstration: Was that it? When's the next one? Will it be as good, as big
? To keep up the momentum, a culture of serial protesting is rapidly taki
ng hold. My inbox is cluttered with entreaties to come to what promises t
o be "the next Seattle." There was Windsor and Detroit on June 4 for a "s
hutdown" of the Organization of American States, and Calgary a week later
 for the World Petroleum Congress; the Republican convention will be in P
hiladelphia in July and the Democratic convention in LA in August; the Wo
rld Economic Forum's Asia Pacific Economic Summit is on September 11 in M
elbourne, followed shortly thereafter by anti-IMF demos on September 26 i
n Prague and then on to Quebec City for the Summit of the Americas in Apr
il 2001. Someone posted a message on the organizing e-mail list for the W
ashington demos: "Wherever they go, we shall be there! After this, see yo
u in Prague!" But is this really what we want--a movement of meeting-stal
kers, following the trade bureaucrats as if they were the Grateful Dead?

* * *

The prospect is dangerous for several reasons. Far too much expectation i
s being placed on these protests: The organizers of the DC demo, for inst
ance, announced they would literally "shut down" two $30 billion transnat
ional institutions, at the same time as they attempted to convey sophisti
cated ideas about the fallacies of neoliberal economics to the stock-happ
y public. They simply couldn't do it; no single demo could, and it's only
 going to get harder. Seattle's direct-action tactics worked because they
 took the police by surprise. That won't happen again. Police have now su
bscribed to all the e-mail lists. LA has put in a request for $4 million 
in new security gear and staffing costs to protect the city from the acti
vist swarm.

In an attempt to build a stable political structure to advance the moveme
nt between protests, Danaher has begun to fundraise for a "permanent conv
ergence center" in Washington. The International Forum on Globalization, 
meanwhile, has been meeting since March in hopes of producing a 200-page 
policy paper by the end of the year. According to IFG director Jerry Mand
er, it won't be a manifesto but a set of principles and priorities, an ea
rly attempt, as he puts it, at "defining a new architecture" for the glob
al economy.

Like the conference organizers at the Riverside Church, however, these in
itiatives will face an uphill battle. Most activists agree that the time 
has come to sit down and start discussing a positive agenda--but at whose
 table, and who gets to decide?

These questions came to a head at the end of May when Czech President Vac
lav Havel offered to "mediate" talks between World Bank president James W
olfensohn and the protesters planning to disrupt the bank's September 26-
28 meeting in Prague. There was no consensus among protest organizers abo
ut participating in the negotiations at Prague Castle, and, more to the p
oint, there was no process in place to make the decision: no mechanism to
 select acceptable members of an activist delegation (some suggested an I
nternet vote) and no agreed-upon set of goals by which to measure the ben
efits and pitfalls of taking part. If Havel had reached out to the groups
 specifically dealing with debt and structural adjustment, like Jubilee 2
000 or 50 Years Is Enough, the proposal would have been dealt with in a s
traightforward manner. But because he approached the entire movement as i
f it were a single unit, he sent those organizing the demonstrations into
 weeks of internal strife that is still unresolved.

Part of the problem is structural. Among most anarchists, who are doing a
 great deal of the grassroots organizing (and who got online way before t
he more established left), direct democracy, transparency and community s
elf-determination are not lofty political goals, they are fundamental ten
ets governing their own organizations. Yet many of the key NGOs, though t
hey may share the anarchists' ideas about democracy in theory, are themse
lves organized as traditional hierarchies. They are run by charismatic le
aders and executive boards, while their members send them money and cheer
 from the sidelines.

* * *

So how do you extract coherence from a movement filled with anarchists, w
hose greatest tactical strength so far has been its similarity to a swarm
 of mosquitoes? Maybe, as with the Internet itself, you don't do it by im
posing a preset structure but rather by skillfully surfing the structures
 that are already in place. Perhaps what is needed is not a single politi
cal party but better links among the affinity groups; perhaps rather than
 moving toward more centralization, what is needed is further radical dec
entralization.v

When critics say that the protesters lack vision, what they are really sa
ying is that they lack an overarching revolutionary philosophy--like Marx
ism, democratic socialism, deep ecology or social anarchy--on which they 
all agree. That is absolutely true, and for this we should be extraordina
rily thankful. At the moment, the anticorporate street activists are ring
ed by would-be leaders, anxious for the opportunity to enlist them as foo
t soldiers for their particular cause. At one end there is Michael Lerner
 and his conference at the Riverside Church, waiting to welcome all that 
inchoate energy in Seattle and Washington inside the framework of his "Po
litics of Meaning." At the other, there is John Zerzan in Eugene, Oregon,
 who isn't interested in Lerner's call for "healing" but sees the rioting
 and property destruction as the first step toward the collapse of indust
rialization and a return to "anarcho-primitivism"--a pre-agrarian hunter-
gatherer utopia. In between there are dozens of other visionaries, from t
he disciples of Murray Bookchin and his theory of social ecology, to cert
ain sectarian Marxists who are convinced the revolution starts tomorrow, 
to devotees of Kalle Lasn, editor of Adbusters, and his watered-down vers
ion of revolution through "culture-jamming." And then there is the unimag
inative pragmatism coming from some union leaders who, before Seattle, we
re ready to tack social clauses onto existing trade agreements and call i
t a day.

It is to this young movement's credit that it has as yet fended off all o
f these agendas and has rejected everyone's generously donated manifesto,
 holding out for an acceptably democratic, representative process to take
 its resistance to the next stage. Perhaps its true challenge is not find
ing a vision but rather resisting the urge to settle on one too quickly. 
If it succeeds in warding off the teams of visionaries-in-waiting, there 
will be some short-term public relations problems. Serial protesting will
 burn some people out. Street intersections will declare autonomy. And ye
s, young activists will offer themselves up like lambs--dressed, frequent
ly enough, in actual lamb costumes--to the New York Times Op-Ed page for 
ridicule.

But so what? Already, this decentralized, multiheaded swarm of a movement
 has succeeded in educating and radicalizing a generation of activists ar
ound the world. Before it signs on to anyone's ten-point plan, it deserve
s the chance to see if, out of its chaotic network of hubs and spokes, so
mething new, something entirely its own, can emerge.

Copyright  (c) 2000 The Nation Company, L.P.
(c) Copyrighted 1997-2000 All Rights Reserved. Common Dreams. 
www.commondreams.org

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