View Full Version : How the Protesters Mobilized

02-23-03, 09:26 PM
February 23, 2003
How the Protesters Mobilized


ASHINGTON Before the global protests against war in Iraq last weekend, organizers were already making conference calls and passing out fliers for their next set of demonstrations, including one scheduled for next Saturday, outside the White House.

But then, the worldwide protests drew millions of people onto the streets, from San Francisco to London, and the Bush administration hit some diplomatic roadblocks. Sensing delay in White House momentum, the organizers themselves paused and decided to make a strategic move, delaying the demonstrations from March 1 until March 15. They spread the news the old-fashioned way, through alternative radio stations and word of mouth, and the instantaneous way, through Web sites and e-mail messages.

Organizing a protest is fundamentally about logistics: where do people meet, how do they get on a bus, who will order portable toilets. Obviously, the Internet, like fax machines and copiers, has made the tasks easier. Before last weekend's protests, for example, people registered online for buses to New York. And a mass e-mail notice was sent out to New York protesters, informing them about public bathrooms in Midtown Manhattan and giving them a number to call in case of arrest.

But the Internet has become more than a mere organizing tool; it has changed protests in a more fundamental way, by allowing mobilization to emerge from free-wheeling amorphous groups, rather than top-down hierarchical ones.

In the 60's, the anti-Vietnam War movement grew gradually. "It took four and a half years to multiply the size of the Vietnam protests twentyfold," said Todd Gitlin, a sociology professor at Columbia University and longtime liberal activist.

The first nationwide antiwar march in 1965 attracted about 25,000 people. By 1969, the protests had grown to half a million. But increasing the numbers required weeks and months of planning, using snail mail, phone calls and fliers.

"This time the same thing has happened in six months," Mr. Gitlin said. Even though momentum behind the demonstrations didn't grow until a month ago, after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's presentation to the United Nations, more than 800,000 people turned out in 150 rallies in the United States last weekend, from 100 in Davenport, Iowa, to an estimated 350,000 in New York City. In Europe, more than 1.5 million protested.

The protests had no single identified leader and no central headquarters. Social theorists have a name for these types of decentralized networks: heterarchies. In contrast to hierarchies, with top-down structures, heterarchies are made up of previously isolated groups that can connect to one another and coordinate.

Because no central decision-making authority exists, protests can be localized and can appeal to new groups and individuals who don't live in areas where social protest information would typically reach. For example, Mothers Acting Up was started two years ago by four women around a kitchen table in Boulder, Colo., a liberal college town. But with their Internet site, www.mothersactingup.org, they have been able to reach 600 like-minded members across the country, many of whom participated in marches last week.

Technology also spreads word of rallies to countries where free expression is limited. In Singapore, where the government does not allow demonstrations at the American Embassy, cellphone text messages went out, exhorting recipients to gather at the embassy anyway. The text messages, which work like mass e-mail messaging to mobile devices, attracted at least a half-dozen placard-carrying demonstrators at the gates at the appointed time. The police rounded them up for questioning.

"Whenever a new communications technology lowers the threshold for groups to act collectively, new kinds of institutions emerge," said Howard Rheingold, the author of "Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution," which documents self-organizing and leaderless movements. "We are seeing the combination of network communications and social networks."

His book tells the story of how cellphone text messaging helped bring down Joseph Estrada, the Philippine president who was ousted after protests in 2001 over corruption. Text messaging advertised instant rallies, encouraged people to protest by wearing black and provided updates on the impeachment trial.

(In the same way, cellphone messaging is potentially alarming for the Chinese government. Officials do not have centralized control over the network and therefore cannot censor it, the way they do the Internet.)

E-mail lists have allowed individuals to create groups that defy geography and time. Thousands of people have joined hundreds of antiwar lists, and diverse streams of messages fly back and forth quickly, vastly different from the information flow in hierarchies. Since the beginning of the year, 300 messages have been posted on a popular antiwar list in Sydney, Australia, that has almost 900 members. The notes range from solicitations for donations to United Nations updates to appeals for local volunteers.

This is mass mobilization, but also nimble mobilization. Protesting a war that hasn't begun requires a constant eye on the calendar of government action. And the movement's flexibility maximizes its impact, organizers say. A protest date can easily be moved, timed to affect the latest diplomatic maneuver.

"We are trying to stay a step ahead of the administration by our planning," said Damu Smith, chairman of Black Voices for Peace, one of hundreds of groups involved in last week's demonstrations. And staying ahead of the game "is absolutely strategically central in our ability to be effective in what we are doing."

Military theorists are fond of saying that future warfare will revolve around social and communication networks. Antiwar groups have found that this is true for their work as well.

02-23-03, 09:38 PM
Wow, just think about it.

How do you contain a "World Wide Mob" with cellphones?!!

02-24-03, 01:55 AM
Send an intense and penetrating high frequency electrical shocking force, powerful enough to bring about temporary deftness, through the earpiece of their cell phones.

semper fi

02-24-03, 12:00 PM
JChristin sounds like she's ready for a job with the Office of Homeland Security. She would probably love to round up all the dissidents, and throw away the key. From her posts she sounds like the perfect Bush Republican.

02-24-03, 06:42 PM
Originally posted by eddief
JChristin sounds like she's ready for a job with the Office of Homeland Security. She would probably love to round up all the dissidents, and throw away the key. From her posts she sounds like the perfect Bush Republican.

I think JChristin would enjoy the target practice following the round up! ;) Noth'in like a good old fashion roadeo. Round'em up and lead them out. Wouldn't have to worry about no key. Problem solved. :devious:

semper fi

02-24-03, 09:35 PM
There are a few folks I would leave stranded in Iraq. They want to play human shield fer one of our self avowed enemies, they ought to stay there. I figure they wouldn't be doin' it if they thought...

02-24-03, 10:30 PM

If you remember from last month, mr. o'keefe, an american protester went to England to mobilize an army of 10,000 European and American protesters to go to Iraq as human shields.

The latest I have read on that subject was that o'keefe and 65 others arrived in Bagdad, only 9,935 shields short of his goal.

Several of his stout hearted have already left for home because they decided it was dangerous there.

No mention was made as to how o'keefe was doing on his promised hunger strike, which was to continue until 10,000 protesters joined his human shield recruitment effort.

But I have the feeling that his word, his promises , don't mean very much to him.

I think that before you set out to change the world, you should start with yourself first.

02-25-03, 04:02 AM
An update on an update.

This was extracted from today's newspaper.

Approximately 200 protesters/shields are in Iraq. o'keefe was mentioned, but nothing about his hunger strike.

"The organizers spent the past week visiting sites and eliminating those deemed too close to military installations.

And some of the activists have expressed concern that they could be forcibly relocated to other sites of greater military or political value at the last minute.

Ordinary Iraqis appear confused by the presence of the shields. When the buses drove through Baghdad to the power plant, with the activists making peace signs and waving "No War" banners, they elicited few shouts of encouragement or honking horns in response.

But other workers seemed less optimistic. Sabah Hassan, an engineer in a blue boiler suit, said that if the bombs start falling, he would not hesitate to flee. "I will go home," he said. "The foreign volunteers can stay."