Alterglobalization Movement - Networked Aspects

From P2P Foundation
Jump to: navigation, search

see also: Alterglobalization Movement - Meshwork Aspects


The P2P principles of the alterglobalisation movement

From the New Left Review:

"in North America especially, this is a movement about reinventing democracy. It is not opposed to organization. It is about creating new forms of organization. It is not lacking in ideology. Those new forms of organization are its ideology. It is about creating and enacting horizontal networks instead of top-down structures like states, parties or corporations; networks based on principles of decentralized, non-hierarchical consensus democracy. Ultimately, it aspires to be much more than that, because ultimately it aspires to reinvent daily life as whole. But unlike many other forms of radicalism, it has first organized itself in the political sphere—mainly because this was a territory that the powers that be (who have shifted all their heavy artillery into the economic) have largely abandoned.

Over the past decade, activists in North America have been putting enormous creative energy into reinventing their groups’ own internal processes, to create viable models of what functioning direct democracy could actually look like. In this we’ve drawn particularly, as I’ve noted, on examples from outside the Western tradition, which almost invariably rely on some process of consensus finding, rather than majority vote. The result is a rich and growing panoply of organizational instruments—spokescouncils, affinity groups, facilitation tools, break-outs, fishbowls, blocking concerns, vibe-watchers and so on—all aimed at creating forms of democratic process that allow initiatives to rise from below and attain maximum effective solidarity, without stifling dissenting voices, creating leadership positions or compelling anyone to do anything which they have not freely agreed to do. The basic idea of consensus process is that, rather than voting, you try to come up with proposals acceptable to everyone—or at least, not highly objectionable to anyone: first state the proposal, then ask for ‘concerns’ and try to address them." ( )

Immanuel Wallerstein

Here is a quote by Immanuel Wallerstein , ‘world system’ theorist and historian, on the historic importance of Porto Alegre and its network approach to political struggle:

“Sept. 11 seems to have slowed down the movement only momentarily. Secondly, the coalition has demonstrated that the new antisystemic strategy is feasible. What is this new strategy? To understand this clearly, one must remember what was the old strategy. The world's left in its multiple forms - Communist parties, social-democratic parties, national liberation movements - had argued for at least a hundred years (circa 1870-1970) that the only feasible strategy involved two key elements - creating a centralized organizational structure, and making the prime objective that of arriving at state power in one way or another. The movements promised that, once in state power, they could then change the world.

This strategy seemed to be very successful, in the sense that, by the 1960s, one or another of these three kinds of movements had managed to arrive at state power in most countries of the world. However, they manifestly had not been able to transform the world. This is what the world revolution of 1968 was about - the failure of the Old Left to transform the world. It led to 30 years of debate and experimentation about alternatives to the state-oriented strategy that seemed now to have been a failure. Porto Alegre is the enactment of the alternative. There is no centralized structure. Quite the contrary. Porto Alegre is a loose coalition of transnational, national, and local movements, with multiple priorities, who are united primarily in their opposition to the neoliberal world order. And these movements, for the most part, are not seeking state power, or if they are, they do not regard it as more than one tactic among others, and not the most important." (source:

Michael Hardt

This analysis is confirmed by Michael Hardt, co-author of Empire, the already classic analysis of globalisation that is very influential in the more radical streams of the anti-globalisation movement:

“The traditional parties and centralized organizations have spokespeople who represent them and conduct their battles, but no one speaks for a network. How do you argue with a network? The movements organized within them do exert their power, but they do not proceed through oppositions. One of the basic characteristics of the network form is that no two nodes face each other in contradiction; rather, they are always triangulated by a third, and then a fourth, and then by an indefinite number of others in the web. This is one of the characteristics of the Seattle events that we have had the most trouble understanding: groups which we thought in objective contradiction to one another—environmentalists and trade unions, church groups and anarchists—were suddenly able to work together, in the context of the network of the multitude. The movements, to take a slightly different perspective, function something like a public sphere, in the sense that they can allow full expression of differences within the common context of open exchange. But that does not mean that networks are passive. They displace contradictions and operate instead a kind of alchemy, or rather a sea change, the flow of the movements transforming the traditional fixed positions; networks imposing their force through a kind of irresistible undertow." (

French-Language Citations: Miguel Benasayag

Miguel Benasayag notices a similar 'maillage'(meshwork) in the Argentine social movements:

Here is also a description by Miguel Benasayag (10) of the type of new organisational forms exemplified in Argentina:

“Les gens étaient dans la rue partout, mais il faut savoir quand même qu'il y a une spontanéité «travaillée», pour dire ce concept là. Une spontanéité travaillée, cela ne veut pas dire qu'il y avait des groupes qui dirigeaient ou qui orchestraient ça, bien au contraire. Quand arrivaient des gens avec des bannières ou des drapeaux de groupes politiques, ils étaient très mal reçus à chaque coin de rue. Mais en revanche, une spontanéité «travaillée» en ce sens que l'Argentine est «lézardée» par des organisations de base, des organisations de quartier, de troc...

C.A. : Lézardée, c'est un maillage?

M.B. : Oui, c'est ça, il y a un maillage très serré des organisations qui ont créé beaucoup de lien social. Il y a des gens qui coupent les routes et qui font des assemblées permanentes pendant un mois, deux mois, des piqueteros. Il y a des gens qui occupent des terres...Donc cette insurrection générale qui émerge en quelques minutes dans tout le pays, effectivement elle émerge et elle cristallise des trucs qui étaient déjà là. Donc c'est une spontanéité travaillée ; c'est à dire que quand même il y a une conscience pratique, une conscience corporisée dans des organisations vraiment de base. C'est une rencontre du ras-le-bol, de l'indignation, de la colère populaire, une rencontre avec les organisations de base qui sont déjà sur le terrain. J'étais en Argentine quelques jours avant l'insurrection. et il y avait partout partout des coupures de routes, des mini insurrections. Et ce qui s'est passé, c'est qu'il y a eu vraiment comme on dirait un saut qualitatif: les gens en quantité sortent dans la rue et y rencontrent les gens qui étaient déjà dans la rue depuis très longtemps en train de faire des choses. Et cela cristallise et permet de faire quelque chose d'irréversible. » (


This report in Forbes of the G8 Glenneagles summit which focused on poverty in Africa and debt relief focuses on the intensive use of the internet by the protestors, see :

“The practical mechanics of protest have more than kept pace with the technological advances. The use of cheap, ubiquitous hardware--walkie-talkies, pagers, cell phones and other PDA-type devices--has transformed the organizational abilities of every potential demonstrator. When incidents occur away from the gaze of traditional news coverage, camera phones and handheld digital camcorders have made it possible for activists to shoot, upload and e-mail videoclips of protesters being arrested in almost-real time. As interest groups attempt to circumvent what's seen as "corporate media" and a news agenda that is often characterized by conflict and violence, the thin line between "activist" and "citizen journalist" inevitably blurs still further.

Counternetworking strategies bv the security services:

A report from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has paid particular attention to the innovative organising methods of the alterglobalisation protesters, and to their use of technology: internet before and after the event and cell phones during the events. It concludes that with these innovations, established police powers have great difficulty to cope:

"Cell phones constitute a basic means of communication and control, allowing protest organizers to employ the concepts of mobility and reserves and to move groups from place to place as needed. The mobility of demonstrators makes it difficult for law enforcement and security personnel to attempt to offset their opponents through the presence of overwhelming numbers. It is now necessary for security to be equally mobile, capable of readily deploying reserves, monitoring the communications of protesters, and, whenever possible, anticipating the intentions of the demonstrators."


“Protestors at last week's Democratic National Convention had a new tool in their arsenal - a text messaging service designed just for them. "TXTMob," as the service is called, allows users to quickly and easily broadcast text messages to groups of cellphones. The system works much like an electronic b-board: users subscribe to various lists, and receive messages directly on their phones. During the DNC, protest organizers used TXTMob to provide activists with up-to-the minute information about police movements and direct actions. Medical and legal support groups also used TXTMob to dispatch personnel and resources as the situation demanded. According to TXTMob developer John Henry, over 200 protestors used the service during the DNC. TXTMob was produced by the Institute for Applied Autonomy (IAA), an art and engineering collective that develops technologies for political dissent. The IAA worked closely with the Black Tea Society, an ad-hoc coalition that organized much of the protest activity during the DNC, to design the system. According to a Black Tea member who chose to remain anonymous, "TXTMob was great! When the cops tried to arrest one of our people, we were able to get hundreds of folks to the scene within minutes." ( ; see also for the makers of the program)

Status Report

Jeffrey Juris (Book: Networking Futures), interviewed by Geert Lovink:

"GL: You got involved at the right time, and got out to write down your findings at the moment when the ‘other globalization movement’ had somehow lost steam. Do you agree? There is a certain nostalgia for Big Event days, which makes Networking Futures such a fascinating read. Where do you see the movements heading? We can all see that they are not dead, but the urge to continue as if it still were 2001-2002 isn’t there anymore. Is the network form making it more bearable to see movements disappear? You seem to have no problem admitting that “social movements are cyclical phenomena.” What topics and social formation do you see emerging? Would it, for instance, make sense to come up with a radical movement inside the larger context of climate change?

JJ: Yes, I think that’s right. I was extremely fortunate to have gotten involved in the movement when it was becoming publicly visible in Seattle, and then lived through what we might call its peak years from a unique position in Barcelona. I think the movement lost some steam, or at least some of its confrontational spirit, after the repression in Genoa, and then 9-11 obviously had a huge impact, although more so in the United States then elsewhere. Somewhere between 2002 and 2003 I think the social forums began to replace mass actions as the main focus of the movement, which reflected a shift, in my view, toward a more sustainable form of movement activity.

At the same time, there was also a move toward more local forms of organizing rooted in specific communities. To some extent I think the turn away from mass actions and the change in emphasis toward local organizing resulted from the critique of summit hopping that had been around since Seattle (if not before) but became increasingly widespread as the novelty of mass actions began to wear off. At the same time, regardless of any internal movement debates, it is increasingly difficult to pull off successful mass direct actions over time. The sociologist Randal Collins hypothesizes that movements can only maintain their peak levels for about two years, which isn’t too far off in the case of the global justice movement (say late 1999 to mid-2001 or so). In this sense, the shift of emphasis toward the forums and local organizing, although not necessarily conceived in this way, was a strategic response to the cyclical nature of social movements. Mass actions continue of course, but as I pointed out above, even these have become more regularized and routine. The movement has thus traded some of its emotional intensity for greater sustainability. Given this strategic shift, I would say the movement remains surprisingly vibrant. In contrast, as Barbara Epstein has argued, the anti-nuclear energy movement petered out when activists failed to make the shift from mass actions, which began attracting fewer and fewer people and eliciting decreasing media attention, to an alternative strategy. In many ways, the global justice movement is well placed to pick up steam again if and when the next cycle of increasing confrontation comes around again.

The global justice/alternative globalization/anti-capitalist frame is a good one in that it encompasses an array of movements and struggles, while maintaining a focus on systemic interconnections. I think it would be an error to revert back to single issue politics and struggles at this point, as such connections would be obscured and the social, political, and cultural capital of the global justice movement would be squandered.

Rather than organize a radical movement around climate change, for example, it would make more sense to organize around this issue in the context of a global justice frame. This was done to great effect by the European anti-war movement, which was a really a fusion between the anti-war and global justice movements. This connection was never really made in the U.S., partly due to the absence of a national level forum process, and both movements were worse off as a result. In terms of what specific issues I see emerging, that is always a tough call, but I think you are right that global climate change will constitute a key site of struggle over the next few years, as will alternative energy, particularly given the spike in oil prices. At the same time, in light of the current global financial and economic crisis, a broad anti-capitalist critique remains as relevant and important as ever. Moreover, if the history of previous crises provides any indication, we may well see the rise of a global democracy movement to challenge the increasing repression and authoritarian trends in many parts of the world. Whatever new forms of struggle emerge, I think they will be stronger to the extent that they can link themselves to a broader anti-systemic critique such as that represented by the global justice movement." (


Jeffrey Juris (Book: Networking Futures):

"Rather than a networked organization, which refers to the way traditional organizations increasingly take on the network form, PGA is closer to an ?organized network? in Ned Rossiter?s terms, a new institutional form that is immanent to the logic of the new media (although in this case not restricted to the new media). The network structure of PGA thus provides a transnational space for communication and coordination among activists and collectives. For example, PGA?s hallmarks reflect a commitment to decentralized forms of organization, while the network has no members and no one can speak in its name. Rather than a traditional organization (however networked) with clear membership and vertical chains of command, PGA provides the kind of communicational infrastructure necessary for the rise of contemporary networked social movements. The challenge for PGA and similar networks, given their radical commitment to a horizontal networking logic, has always been sustainability. This is where the social forums, with their greater openness to vertical forms, have been more effective. In this sense, I find PGA much more exciting and politically innovative, but it may be the hybrid institutional forms represented by the social forums that have a more lasting impact." (



In order to try to facilitate an introductory view of the uses of the information and communications technologies by the GJM, here is a schematic typology.

• Facilitating of swarming: Referring to the episodes of “spontaneous” self-organised mobilization and/or the mobilization in a context of non-formal or previous structures. For example, the use of SMS during Prague mobilizations against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in 2000 or in Madrid and the rest of Spain after the bombing on 11 March 2004, called by chains of SMS. Another example since January 2006 is the convocation of citizenships assemblies as part of the Movimiento por una vivienda digna - a movement for housing rights in Barcelona, Madrid and other cities - convoked through e-mails running on personal networks.

• Internal communication and coordination of the movements: Referring to the use of e-mails, e-lists, websites, wikis, mainly, by social movements organizations or groups. For example: the use of European e-lists and website for coordinating the Euromayday mobilization.

• Independent media portals: Online spaces directly dedicated to alternative media or to media interventions. The most illustrative example is Indymedia.

• New technologies applied to intervene in institutional political systems and public debate: For example, the case of Move On campaigning for Obama or the NO Campaign to the European Constitution in France, where indications in the official press were that the YES were winning but website communications were pointing to a victory for the NO.

• Building of autonomous communication channels: Referring to the organizations whose main objective is the promotion of NIT use by social movements and the development of alternative channels. For example: movements’ servers, like, or the Intra and Inter net Wireless Communities.

• Communities of participative knowledge-making: For example the community of developers of free software like Debian or Drupal or Wikipedia inspired by a spirit of universal access to knowledge.

• Web 2.0 used for advocacy: Such as the use of Twister or Facebook for anticopyright advocacy.

• Create new opportunities for engagement and for bringing transparency to goverments: Based on using government data to improve transparency and civic education (I.e.: and )

• Online portals as main space for mobilising individual engagement and/or fundraising: For example the experience of and" (

More Information

The use of SMS as a political organization tool, at

“100 propositions du Forum Social Mondial"