Dangerous Places: Social Media at the Convergence of Peoples, Labor, and Environmental Movements
From the advent of Indymedia at the 1999 battle of Seattle anti-World Trade Organization protests, to the worldwide diaspora of anti-globalization protests (2000-2003) and the great anti-war protests starting in 2003, all the way up through the United Nations climate protests in Copenhagen in 2009, WikiLeaks, Occupy Wall Street, and the Arab Spring, the digital communication revolution has been transforming how social movements are assembling themselves on a planetary scale. In the same way that these movements and ruptures express the transformative effects of new Internet technologies that came of age in the 1990s, so now does the emergent global climate justice movement of the 20-teens embody and express the transformative potential of emergent social media technologies that came of age in the 2000s. 1
Looking backwards from these decades of technology-driven histori - cal change, we now see clearly an equally profound continuity: Changing mass media have shaped every modern social movement, each in its own time and place. Each movement bears the mark of dawning communications and transportation technologies that were, in their time and place, transcending barriers to collective action and consequently reorganizing power-laden social relations. Where would the 19th-century abolition movement have gone without the Black Press that arguably began with the founding of Freedom’s Journal in 1827? 2 How would the Civil Rights Movement have unfolded absent the publication of those horrifi c photos of Emmit Till’s bludgeoned and river-bloated corpse in the September 15, 1955, issue of Jet Magazine ? 3 The Montgomery bus boycott? 4 The news footage of viscous police dogs fl ashing teeth and chewing up peaceful kids at the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham 1963? The March on Washington? What impact did constant TV news footage from Vietnam have on the free speech and anti-war movements of the 1960s? Or consider the modern environmental movement absent those Apollo 17 “blue marble” photos of December 7, 1972. 5 We should also mention the media storm unleashed
when Commander Marcos and the EZLN revolted in Chiapas on DAY 1 of the North American Free Trade Agreement: January 1, 1994. 6
What these examples show is how social movements really get moving when individuals are able to identify with each other through shared experience facilitated by images (especially visual but also narrative), reaching through media across every previous barrier of time and space to recognize the social and increasingly environmental conditions of their shared grievances. It might now seem cliché, but in 1999, when the Seattle anti-World Trade Organization protestors chanted down the police and National Guard with “The Whole World Is Watching! The Whole World Is Watching!” they were announcing the arrival of a new digital era in activism, protest, and resistance.