Social change at our fingertips
by Mika Suzuki
What are ‘Global protests’? If you have a social media account, you’ve mostly likely seen a post about a protest that’s taking place somewhere in the world, whether on Facebook or Twitter. Global Justice Movements (GJM) are networks of movements that aim to fight against various social challenges, namely economic inequality and climate change. Global protests first arose in the early 1990s and since then more movements have begun thanks to the advancement of technology and the internet, and activists are now skilfully using these mechanisms to spread awareness for global issues.
But how are GJM different from other social movements and how do they function? Firstly, as the name suggests, the movements are global in scope, as activists engage in “[…]global days of action, international forums, and cross-border information sharing” (Juris, 2015, 195). Secondly, by producing “[…]highly visible, theatrical images for mass mediated consumption” (Juris, 2015, 195), they are educational for the public. Thirdly, they are organised around multiple physical and virtual network forms. So, how do GJM operate? Firstly, activists “[…]drive contention from the national to the global level” (Edwards, 2014,155) and spread the scale of the movement, or they scale it down from a global to national level to achieve more targeted and focused interventions. In short, they use environmental mechanisms to alter the condition of the social movement. Additionally, the connections among activists are enhanced by the use of the internet, which “[…] provides activists with the means for easy and instant communication over spatial and temporal distances” (Edwards, 2014, 157). Hence, relational mechanisms are also crucial in operating movements. Therefore, anti-corporate globalisation is flexible depending on the activist’s intentions and goals.
Then, how are activists currently trying to spread awareness? The answer is, they’re using the internet: by using the internet, there are more “[…] possibilities for largely unfettered deliberation and coordination of action” (Castels, 2015, 10), thus creating a free public space where people can have political discussions and connect with like-minded individuals. Activists use the internet in three major ways One is by developing alternative forms of media. A prime example of this is Indymedia, where “[…] journalists report directly from the streets, while activists upload their own text, audio, video, and image files” (Juris, 2015, 200). Therefore, it is an open publishing software which enables “[…] activists to independently create, post, and distribute their own news stories” (Juris, 2015, 201), without being filtered by news corporations and affected by the hierarchy that implicitly exists between consumers and authors. The internet is also used for producing tactical media, which involves culture jamming and the satirical refrigeration of adverts of corporations to expose how consumers are dominated by institutions. The last process is the internet based tactics operated by hacktivists, such as Anonymous, who hack into a computer system to spread their political agenda. In short, all of these usages of the internet enable a censorship resistant form of communication and are highly effective as forms of a relational mechanism.
Then, what kind of GJMs have taken place in the past and what’s happening right now? While numerous GJM have taken place, the movement in Seattle in 1999 is one of the most prominent movements. In Seattle, more than 40,000 protesters, who ranged from students, environmental groups and religious leaders to labour right activists, gathered during a conference held by the WTO to protest against the new round of trade negotiations. People whose businesses were threatened by the deregulation of international trade gathered to condemn the supporters of free trade and globalisation. As the movement was broadcast worldwide, activists fuelled the urgency for anti-globalisation and stimulated other movements to happen. During this movement, the internet was also used as journalists on Indymedia reported from the streets and hackers flooded the WTO website, empowering people to notify others about their protest. As for newer movements, the Global green movement is campaigning against climate change: the future of climate change is dependent on how large corporations decide to use resources. Currently, environmental activists are protesting against president Trump to reinforce the need for a renewable energy economy with the help from businesses that also feel the need to cut down on emissions. This organisation is again utilising the internet by establishing a website and posting action alerts and informing individuals on how they can take part. Therefore, regardless of the subject matter, the internet is acting as a key resource for activists to gather and spread awareness.
However, what will the future for GJM look like? What is needed now is to make physical spaces for activists to unite. According to academics such as Castells (2015), “occupied spaces … create community, and community is based on togetherness. Togetherness is … charged with the symbolic power of invading sites of state power” (Castells, 2015, 10), meaning that buildings should be built in visible spaces to reinforce the presence of GJM. Especially, because not everyone has equal access to the internet, having sites on offline platforms could aid with educating those people as well. Media framing could be a big concern, though, as it might restrain activists and the growth of movements. Since news corporations are interested in delivering information that is sensational, they may dramatise movements to attract the reader’s attention. For instance, images of street clashes between protestors and the police were shown during the Seattle movement, in which the activists were portrayed negatively and violently, and lead to a misunderstanding from the public. But, movements like the Green Peace Movement have created solutions for this issue by using stunts to gain media attention while also informing the public about environmental issues caused by big corporations: in today’s society, more than 60% of millennials are checking the news on social media platforms, according to the American Press Institute: because of this, it is becoming vital for activists to create effective solutions against media framing.
To conclude, GJM are gaining more attention as they are covered by the media and the internet creates a space for activists to get together to discuss and plan their actions. While many people think of protests and demonstrations when they hear about GJM, the role of the internet is becoming increasingly significant in recent years. As more people are becoming conscious of the negative consequences caused by globalisation, the urgency for anti-corporate movements is stronger than ever. More importantly, the rise of digital media and the easy access to information call for all of us to take part in an action that we believe in.
Photo was taken from Seattle Post-Intelligencer
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