Will the Revolution Be Cybercast? (T.V. Reed)
Introduction and Overview:
The “Battle of Seattle,” which took place on November 30, 1999, was a crucial turning point for social movements in two key ways, both of which Reed has highlighted in this text. The first is a change in how social movements were represented in organizing for key events and the second was looking more deeply at how old and new media covered and represented the global justice movement.
After learning more about the structure and goals of Occupy Wall Street and being introduced to a panel that actively participated in the protests, the Battle of Seattle offers several insights that provide more depth into the roots of contemporary justice movements and the anarchist subculture. The 1999 movement demonstrated the first attempt to unify hundreds of global justice movements for the single goal of opposing the many dilemmas brought on by corporate globalization. How were they going to do this? By shutting down the convention of one of the world’s most powerful organizations, the World Trade Organization (WTO). The level of self-awareness and confidence elicited through the movement has since become a building block for future justice movements.
First off, what is corporate globalization?
Corporate globalization is the process whereby transnational corporations have unregulated political power that they exercise through trade agreements and deregulated financial markets. The system is then “rationalized through a new version of free market political-economic ideology known as ‘neo-liberalism’” (Reed 243).
Even today, the definition and role is not always clear.
So what’s the big deal?
Well, a lot. These are just a few of the key elements of globalization:
An increase in the role played by transnational organizations like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the WTO.
A weakened role for national governments and a surge in power of multi-national corporate power.
New economic practices that hugely increase the segmenting of the labor force by distributing various parts of the production process around the globe rather than centralizing it in one nation (what we now know to as “outsourcing”).
New global communication networks.
OK. So corporate communication is changing. What does that mean for me?
The main goal for almost any business is simple: to increase profitability. It is no different with transnational organizations. Because the leaders of these neoliberal organizations primarily come from the most developed nations in the world, many of their practices and decisions sacrifice human rights for continued profitability.
Some of the examples Reed gives to demonstrate the effect of globalizations are the intensification of environmental degradation, undermining of worker rights and civil rights, exacerbation of the worldwide health crisis, and facilitation for a continued cultural domination by the US corporate media.
The ‘rehearsal’ and ‘performance’ of The Battle of Seattle:
For months before the historic protest on November 30th, individual anarchists and organizers voiced their opinions and concerns. Throughout this entire period, mass media portrayed the group solely as “antiglobalization,” stealing bits and pieces of their rhetoric to fit a binary standard more palpable for the public’s understanding. Ironically, very few protestors were against the totality that is corporate globalization – rather they advocated for “critical globalization,” “democratic globalization” or “globalization from below” (Reed 244).
Reed goes on to split the several-days-long protest into three sections: education, culture and blockading. While these areas of study were readily seen and understood within the movement, only one was projected outward to the public: a disruptive blockade. To each other, attendees of the movement represented a group eager to experience “prayers, meditation and education…[they were] well-informed people hungry for further knowledge.” To the media, they were nothing but “know-nothing flat earthers” (248).
Furthermore, the movement was interestingly represented as something of a theatrical performance, both from the inside and projected outward. Endless elements of art and culture and dramatization and spectacle entered the day-to-day rhetoric—needless to say, the critique of the performance differed widely from those participating to those watching. On the one end, police and authorities were represented as faceless, motionless bodies of terror, while protesters were overgeneralized as wild, out of control anarchists.
Representation of the movement across mediums:
During and after the blockade (which lasted for several days in a series of bloody, violent altercations before successfully shutting down the WTO convention), corporate media chose to use wide-reaching mass mediums such as broadcast and print to focus on the Black Bloc’s involvement in the protest. The group strayed from the primarily non-violent demonstrations by breaking specially selected store windows and vandalizing store fronts with graffiti. Despite the fact that the Direct Action Network was not directly involved with this group, the media focused on how their actions “ruined the protest.” As can be the case with mass media in these situations, a relatively small aspect of the protest was latched onto and highlighted, completely distorting the mindsets and intentions of the 50,000 protesters in attendance.
This brought up a very important question: were the acts of property destruction responsible for negative coverage in the mainstream media, or were they the only way the events got any press at all?
I would argue for the former due to a new medium of communication that emerged during this time. Indymedia is an interactive website that allowed millions of users to read, watch or listen to stories while also posting their own works of media as well—a democratizing of content to parallel the goal of democratized globalization. It was described as “an activist model that mirrors the organic, decentralized, interlinked pathways of the Internet—the Internet come to life” (270). This was truly the first medium to offer a strong alternative to the homogenized content disseminating from the mainstream.
To fit with the spirit of the movement, the protesters decidedly represented their own culture and activities through a corporate medium, aligning the within-group representation with the overall growth of the movement.
Criticism of the Indymedia revolution:
While the introduction of Indymedia certainly shook up the forum and created an opportunity for social movements to represent themselves in an entirely new, democratic way, there are still several questions and components that can’t be ignored. First of all, in 1999 Internet access was still quite limited globally. Therefore, First World activists were the ones primarily in charge of the dissemination of information. First World activists are also oftentimes the ones least exploited by corporate globalization.
Furthermore, there was a lack of integration between old and new media. By leaving alternative viewpoints on one side and mainstream perspectives on the other, there is limited room for advancing the practices of representation in the media.
What Indymedia did create was an ability to see more clearly into the distortions of representation and needs within the movement: Social justice activist Yutaka Dirks was quoted saying, “We need to listen to and learn from those most affected by globalization, those who are talking about the racist/sexist/oppressive ways we have been organizing. We need to take the work of organizing in inclusive ways and confront oppression within our movement seriously” (280).
While the system isn’t perfect, the integration of digital media into the public eye opened new pathways for movements and subcultures to be represented for years to come.
Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism (Laura Portwood-Stacer)
In this book, Portwood-Stacer seeks to offer contextual examples of lifestyle politics and radical activism. For many activists, the concept of anarchy involves an intentional adherence to anarchist principles in one’s daily life. This includes the way one dresses, what one eats, where one lives, how one speaks, who one spends time with, as well as how one spends time for both a career and for leisure. A major aspect of activism—and anarchism in particular—is putting forth effort. Living a non-mainstream lifestyle stands out as it is considered difficult. On the other hand, critics of lifestyle politics—including other anarchists—condemn the practice because they do not think it is effective:
Other ways which anarchists live their anarchy is by adhering to their core principles, including the rejection of power hierarchies. In order to achieve this, anarchists volunteer for organizations that survive in a collective manner. Communities gather in the form of meetings, protests and book fairs. Since there is no unified goals of anarchy, there is also cloudiness when it comes to who can participate.
While other subcultures coalesce in form and function, anarchists unify by congregating in a mutual space which gives coherence to the collective movement.
The lifestyle politics method of protest is not without flaws. Though there is no standard for membership, there is an interlocking nature of oppressions, which is translated in the fact that most anarchists are White, middle class, straight males. Also, the concept of lifestyle politics can be considered anti-anarchist because it aligns with the views of mainstream society. In order to find an effective means of lifestyle politics, Portwood-Stacer argues that the best way is through trial and error.
Notes from Underground (Stephen Duncombe)
In addition to lifestyle politics, another important aspect of anarchism is its zine culture. Duncombe asserts that anarchist zines are often political, but mostly personal. This repurposing of materials which could—and have been—used for propaganda, clouds the targeted audience.
Zines are marketed toward alienation, though there is an explicit difference between the rebel in mainstream culture and the rebel in the zines. “The rebel of mainstream media is on the outside, howling at the world for its injustice, but invariably wanting to get in, to be accepted, but on his (invariably this rebel is male) own terms” (30). In essence, the zine rebel alienates and the mainstream rebel is alienated.
This personal aspect is what shapes zine production. There is often a rejection of professionalism in order to be truly authentic. Duncombe clarifies that this authenticity is incongruent with nature; rather it is about a constructed identity. The aim is more about conveying “real feelings” than about making sense or even being legible. Subjects are highly subjective, while (mostly) literary amateurs share insights and experiences. Incorporating the personal characteristic, zines are often political in nature, connecting opinion with facts through use of interviews and relevant anecdotes. According to Duncombe, personalization can both forfeit and supply authority through vulnerability and experience, respectively.
“Dear Punk Rock Activism” (Andy Cornell)
A slight departure from anarchism, Cornell writes about the effectiveness of punk rock activism. While it thrives in connecting and resonating with participants on a personal level, punk rock activism almost fizzles in affecting those who are outside the subculture. Where it is succeeds in providing a community for the rebel, it almost always fails to make lasting structural change.
In order to reconcile this, Cornell differentiates activists from organizers. Activists identify with anarchist ideals, and they use lifestyle politics, but self-centrally. Organizers are the real affecters, because they are activists who also mobilize others. Mere lifestyle activism cannot be radical until you start organizing masses of people.
Most anarchist activists are not organizers simply because of demographic. As Portwood-Stacer mentions, there is an “interlocking nature of oppressions,” which states that most lifestylists are White, middle class straight males. Cornell argues that when adopting a subculture, it is instinctual to reject one’s origin; however, this proves to be ineffectual because isolating oneself is not going to change anyone else. Rather, it would be more effective to stay and mobilize.
“The Globalization Movement & The New Left” (Graeber)
In this article David Graeber wants to make it clear that he is writing as an anarchists and wants you to come away with three main things. The first being that while anarchists are not an Anti-Globalization movement, they also are not “violent protesters,” and, unlike what some say, they are do have a coherent ideology. In regards to Anti-Globalization, Graeber believes it would be better to say they are against neoliberalism, which Reed discussed greatly. He describes this confusing term as “market fundamentalism” where only the economic elite know how to prosper in this economy. An interesting aspect of the term that he brings in is that it is difficult to describe and combat because it is the basis of the American economy. However if one were to use this term in literature it would seem as if anarchism would exclude everyone except the educated elite.
The idea of the movement being anti-global is actually nonsensical because the whole movement began with an international network called the People’s Global Action, which had branches all over the world. This group’s first action occurred in 1996 and there was no call to action in the United States until Seattle in 1999. Some of the goals for these groups actually deal with wanting the freedom to move around the world without barriers and repression. At the time there was more and more state repression, not only in creating country borders, but also in media flows because large corporations would not want specific media to get out, which is heading any possibility of globalization. Graeber also notes how the movement’s core and organizational structure is actually the opposite of most things, which are developed in the Western world and then sent around. This movement originated in the global South and then spread, which may be one of the key differences.
These protesters are not violent. Typically the most violent people during the interactions between protesters and police officers are the latter. The activists have taken this into account and try to disrupt this idea as much as possible, which they labeled a new language to civil disobedience, just because formerly it had to be violent or as peaceful as Ghandi. My favorite example that Graeber noted was the Revolutionary Anarchist Clown Bloc. They dressed in rainbow wigs, had squeaky mallets, and rode around on high bikes and attacked each other or other protesters who called themselves Billionaires for Bush (or Gore) and chanted silly things like “Three Word Chant! Three Word Chant!” and confused the policemen. The anarchists have no desire to seize power, rather they would like to expose it and take it apart, ultimately leading to peace.
The main ideology that Graeber wants us to come away with is that this group wants to reinvent democracy by creating a new form of organization that focuses on horizontal networks rather than a top-down structure. He also says that although as we sit here in our everyday life if someone says “another world is possible” we would think “sure, okay,” but when you actually take part in a movement like Seattle or OWS you feel this sense that anything is possible and creating this new structure lends to an experience that gives you hope. In those moments you can see this other world that people talk of. He then went on to discuss consensus and how we could use some of these ideologies to help create a new type of organization. Then in his final notes he gives a call to action for intellectuals and tells them they can be the helping force to find an answer.
I find Graeber’s argument very compelling and truthful. The main issue that I see in the article is that there is no answer, so yes you may be able to put this thrill in people’s hearts, but there can only be so many. Without a concrete action plan there is really no way for the mass public to get behind something. Motivating the middle is the hardest part and when that happens there can be some serious change, but until then anarchists may still just be portrayed as young kids who don’t know better.
Speaker & Field Trip
There was not much theory or discussion during class because we were lucky enough to have Andrew Cornell, a professor at Haverford College and former active member in Occupy Wall Street, come to speak with us about his relationship with anarchism. The class then went on a brief field trip to ABC No Rio on the Lower East Side. Professor Cornell started by giving us a brief history of his study and how he got interested in anarchism.
Cornell first became interested in anarchism back when he found out about the Battle of Seattle. This drove him to focus on the movement during his PhD, mainly on anarchists from the 20th century, ranging from 1919 and World War I to the Vietnam War. He came into the study of anarchism with roots in history, so he wanted to create a narrative within anarchism, which proved difficult. He found that the subculture themselves did not really keep much documentation in regards to their history, so he chose to look at the representations of anarchists.
He began to describe how the early anarchists were portrayed in the mass media of the time, newspapers. During this time period there were many immigrants coming in from Eastern and Southern Europe. They were seen as inferior people and the people living in America at the time considered themselves saintly because they were allowing these people to come and do menial jobs. They were also seen as most likely to be anarchists and the media then began to portray anarchists as such. However there were also many anarchists in the Southwest who were Latinos. Anarchists were portrayed as immigrants who were not white, very violent, and unable to speak English. Media showed them as animal-like and people who attacked all institutions. These are all, obviously, very different from how anarchists are viewed today, which have a tendency to mirror more of those involved in Occupy Wall Street.
Today the average anarchist is white, middle class, young and educated. These were also the types of people acting in the Battle of Seattle. This form of rebellion dealt with more mass actions and street protests that used the black block. In Seattle they used this action to stop meetings from occurring and it worked! However, media still said that these activists did feel a sense of guilt and shame because they wore masks and did not want to be identified. These acts were eventually folded into terrorism.
During class we discussed a great deal about what unifies a subculture and what they consume to make themselves a subculture. Anarchists did not seem to consume anything too expensive or concrete, like punks who went to punk rock shows and had a specific style. These intellectual anarchists have many ideas which they then produce media, which brings them together. This, the majority of the time, is zines, which we also discussed and eventually visited the ABC No Rio Zine Library.
“Where can I get in on this anarchist writing?!” you may ask. Luckily New York has plenty of spots where you can go and learn about anarchists or check out any sort of zine your heart desires. The first place to check out is an infoshop, in New York the main location is Blue Stock Ink. These are essentially bookshops sometimes with coffee shops or the like attached. That is actually where our zine library tour guide got her start. There are also anarchist book fairs that bring people together and allow them to share their ideas.
This DIY style is interesting to see because it makes you wonder about the commodification of a subculture, like we have discussed in so many other classes. Interestingly enough this did start to happen in the 1970s and 80s with the rise of corporate punk culture and the song “Anarchism in the UK.” However, in typical subculture fashion, there were those bands that refused to take money from large corporations, which they were against. This also brought up the discussion of what it meant to wear the circle A that goes along with anarchism. We questioned if it had lost meaning and Professor Cornell believed that there were two different classes within this sense of anarchism. There were those who wore the symbol just to prove a point that they were going “against the grain” and those who wore the symbol and then thought about larger issues like that of feminism and social justice.
(Mainstream uses of Circle A found on the walk home from ABC No Rio)
ABC No Rio is a great depiction of anarchism. It started out as a squatter home and eventually the city decided to give it to those who resided there. Here they house an extensive Zine library and also host punk shows. All of the people who work there are volunteers and also help with the Food Not Bombs organization down the street. It is funded mainly through grants and, while it has a very cool vibe, you wonder if, at any moment, you will fall through the floor.
The zine library was very interesting. Have you created a zine and want it to be catalogued? Send it in and if they think it isn’t half bad they will document it. Our guide told us that this is one of the easiest ways to access zines because there is so much red tape around the zine libraries that NYU and Barnard have. Essentially if you want to become involved in a place that encourages self-representation definitely check out ABC No Rio and Blue Stocking Ink. The session was brief, but spawned a great amount of intrigue in the class.
Reed, T. V. “Will the Revolution Be Cybercast?” The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2005. 240-85. Print.
Cornell, Andrew. “Dear Punk Rock Anarchism.” Letters from Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak out. New York: Nation, 2006. Print.
Graeber, David. “The Globalization Movement & The New New Left.” BLUE. N.p., 14 July 2002. Web.
Portwood-Stacer, Laura. Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013. Print.
Duncombe, Stephen. Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture. London: Verso, 1997. Print.
#repub13. Twitter.com. 4 November 2013. <https://twitter.com/search?q=%23repsub13&src=hash&f=realtime>