The rise and fall of global social movements

by | Jun 6, 2017 | Protest and repression | 0 comments

by Jac Dobbs

Global social movements emerged in the 90s as a reaction to globalisation. They fought against growing elements such a capitalism, corporatism and climate change. They originated in the global south, as it was here that globalisation had its most detrimental effect. The first well known case was the struggle of the Zapatistas, a gorilla group from Mexico who were against the free trade agreements that were being made at the time, removing price protection on the product that their economy was based on; coffee. This meant that they were now being undercut on price, leading their economy to collapse. As time has gone on, global social movements have spread across to the North of the world. The Occupy movement was a reaction to the current state of Western democracy and the growing power of the world’s elite, which became clearer after the financial crisis of 2008. In a statement from Adbusters, they quoted wanting ‘DEMOCRACY NOT CORPORATOCRACY’ (Castells, 2012:161). Although originating in the US, the link between politics and corporations can be seen elsewhere. In a recent vlog by Russel Brand, he talks about the other employers that MPs work for aside from the government. For example, he brings to our attention that George Osborne (who has been a member of parliament since 2001), also works as editor at the Evening Standard as well as at financial giant Blackrock.

Spanish sociologist Manual Castells has had fair amount to say in regard to global social movements, in fact he has written a whole book. Castells believes that there has been a rise in global social movements. After reading some of his work, it becomes clear as to why Castells believes this to be the case; outrage and the internet. The role that Castells believes outrage to play is very clear, as one of the chapters in his book, ‘Networks of Rage and Hope’, begins with the sentence ‘There was outrage in the air’ (2012:156). He explains this outage to have stemmed from the financial crisis that hit the US in 2008. Castells believed that this outrage was felt by a vast amount of people, who he often refers to as the 99%. Castells provides us with many statistics exclaiming how as the world’s elite (the 1%) get richer, 99% are becoming more and more worse off (2012:157). Castells believed that because this outrage was felt by so many people, it gave the movement the power to make a difference.

The second way in which Castells explains the rise of global social movements is through the internet. Castells describes the Occupy movement as ‘A networked movement’ (2012:171), and a large part of this chapter was used to explain the role in which the internet played. It is littered in quotes explaining the success of the internet, for example ‘Twitter became an essential tool’ or that the movement was ‘born digital’ (2012:171). From discussing Facebook to Youtube, Castells gives unlimited reasons as to why the internet helped the Occupy movements success. For example, Twitter helped create safety for the occupiers as it allowed for ‘instant mobilization’ from its users when police action against the occupiers was threatened (2012:172). The internet also helped with the transparency of the movement, for example the Occupy websites enabled the minutes from meetings to be shared with the general public (2012:174), arguably this made the movement more inclusive and trustworthy.

Castells released his book in 2012, but sadly since then the Occupy movement has died down massively. Hackings still occur from Anonymous, and there is the occasional protest, but the momentum of the movement seems to almost have drawn to halt. The Guardian still have a page dedicated to the movement on their website, but amongst the adverts and promotion for The Guardian Soulmates, all it really suggests is that there’s not a lot going on in terms of the movement.  Castells believed the movement to be a success because it gave ‘hope’ that another life was possible. However, it is the hope that I find questionable. How can there be hope when the issues that started the movement still exist? The poor are still feeling the effects of the financial crisis and money still influences democracy.
Of course, there are more global social movements than just Occupy. For example, the Women’s March that the world took part in towards the end of January. Sparked by Trump’s success, and as a reaction to his new policies, women (and men) around the world decided to stand together and show Trump that they were in opposition to his misogynistic and xenophobic ways. However, a critical article written by Micah White for The Guardian, explains her fears over the recent marches in becoming like the Occupy movement, in regard to how little the movement achieved. She argues that protests that don’t have a leader or party are relatively useless and there is a ‘false theory of how the people can assert sovereign power over their elected president in 2017’. And I guess her fears came true, as a few months forward, and the movement has fallen off the radar. It cannot be argued that the people of today will stand together, and this is shown by such events, but it seems this is all they can do (I myself am of course included in this ‘they’). And what I don’t understand is, if this outrage is felt by so many, why has more not been done? Maybe White has the right idea; maybe a strong leader from the left is necessary to drive us through a revolution.


Castells, M. (2010) Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age


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