“To create is to resist. To resist is to create.”
Stéphane Hessel (1917-2013)
I learned this morning of the passing of Stéphane Hessel, World War II French Resistance fighter who authored Indignez-Vous! (Time for Outrage!), a manifesto to outraged, to act in face of often overwhelming injustices.
Hessel was interviewed by Democracy Now! (aired October 10, 2011) on Time for Outrage! and Occupy Wall Street:
Hessel, like other public intellectuals of his generation, gave voice to a sense of hope rooted in the horrific experiences of war and its aftermath. His writing, as well as the trajectory of his life embodied a sense of urgency to action in light of global crisis, be it war, attacks on human rights, man-made ecological disaster.
The standard by which we judge what is social responsibility is lowering. Social services, such as Medicare and social security benefits, should not be framed as “entitlements.” As Hessel so eloquently states, we all do better when we chose as societies to protect the rights of minorities, provide basic social and health services for everyone, when we think about economic development in terms of long-term environmental sustainability. Continue reading
As I near the finish line in what has been a marathon to prepare for my prelim exams, I picked up two “final” pieces of literature. One is the latest April 2012 edition of Journal of Communication, a special issue on Arab Spring and activists using social media in other locales to organize for political change. The other is Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom, by Rebecca MacKinnon, published by Basic Books earlier this year.
I study alternative and “participatory” media, which has been traditionally defined as platforms such as community radio, zines, radical newsprint and more recently Internet projects like IndyMedia. However, one thing I’ve been pondering of late is the implications of new media technologies, most notably social media platforms. Can they too be considered means of “alternative media”? If so, under what conditions? Clearly there are differences between activists developing their “own” tools and infrastructure vs. using corporate owned and controlled platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Google, Flicker, etc.). But as the examples of Arab Spring, #Occupy, and #wiunion among others illustrate, activists are using all available tools to coordination protest actions and mobilize support, often parallel to more traditional “alternative” media projects (e.g., the Occupied Wall Street Journal or the Spanish 15M movement’s N1 social network). The questions are under what conditions are activists making these choices, how are they using both “old” and “new” media tools to organize and what are the implications?
Social Media, Networks and Political Protest
The April 2012 issue of Journal of Communication, features articles centered answering questions of how activists are using new media to demand political change, from the relation between Chinese blogs and print media, resisting “networked authoritarianism” in Azerbaijan to, of course, the role of social media in the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 and more.
As the semester has ended, I’ve had the occasion to read for pleasure. I picked-up a copy of Dorothy Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness, which had sat on my bookshelf unread for quite some time. Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement in the 1930s and before that a journalist in the radical New York press during the 1920s, writes of journalism, labor rights and community. The first two of which provide useful lessons to movements against income inequality and for workers rights in 2011, nearly a hundred years after she started out as a reporter for the New York Call, a Socialist daily newspaper.
Day can be remembered today as a journalist who lived what she wrote of—feeding the hungry, walking picket lines with strikers, challenging Church hierarchy to embody its principles in the mist of the Great Depression and opposing all wars, no matter their genesis.
On journalism, she provides a picture of the importance of the press in its heyday:
We started publishing The Catholic Worker at 436 East Fifteenth Street in May 1933, with a first issue of 2,500 copies. Within three or four months the circulation bounded to 25,000, and it was cheaper to bring it out as an eight-page tabloid on newsprint rather than the smaller-sized edition on better paper we had started with. By the end of the year we had a circulation of 100,000 and by 1936 it was 150,000. It was certainly a mushroom growth. It was not only that some parishes subscribed for the paper all over the country in bundles of 500 or more. Zealous young people took the paper out in the streets and sold it, and when they could not sell it even at one cent a copy, they gave free copies and left them in streetcar, bus, barber shop and dentist’s office. We got letters from all parts of the country from people who said they had picked up the paper on trains, in rooming houses. (p. 182)
I spoke on a labor panel this afternoon, “The Wisconsin Fight Back: Union Organizers Sound Off,” at a conference organized by The Progressive magazine. Scholars struggle to explain under what conditions social movements are able to turn out a critical mass (see Marwell & Olson, 1993). One of the other panelists, from Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI) and a school guidance counselor, very aptly described importance of communication and interpersonal trust in overcoming the “collective action problem.”