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Digital Rebellion

Digital Rebellion: The Birth of the Cyber Left

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Digital Rebellion
    Book Description:

    Digital Rebellion examines the impact of new media and communication technologies on the spatial, strategic, and organizational fabric of social movements. Todd Wolfson begins with the rise of the Zapatistas in the mid-1990s, and how aspects of the movement--network organizational structure, participatory democratic governance, and the use of communication tools as a binding agent--became essential parts of Indymedia and all Cyber Left organizations. From there he uses oral interviews and other rich ethnographic data to chart the media-based think tanks and experiments that continued the Cyber Left's evolution through the Independent Media Center's birth around the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. After examining the historical antecedents and rise of the global Indymedia network, Wolfson melds virtual and traditional ethnographic practice to explore the Cyber Left's cultural logic, mapping the social, spatial and communicative structure of the Indymedia network and detailing its operations on the local, national and global level. He also looks at the participatory democracy that governs global social movements and the ways the movement's twin ideologies, democracy and decentralization, have come into tension, and how what he calls the switchboard of struggle conducts stories of shared struggle from the hyper-local and dispersed worldwide. As Wolfson shows, understanding the intersection of Indymedia and the Global Social Justice Movement illuminates their foundational role in the Occupy struggle, Arab Spring uprising, and the other emergent movements that have in recent years re-energized radical politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09680-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: History, Capitalism, and the Cyber Left
    (pp. 1-8)

    In an instant, the immaterial aspects of the financial capitalist system melted away, as the tightly held logic of neoliberalism came crashing inward. The world watched with fear and awe as the collapse of the speculative markets quickly exposed the entire financial system, and foundational institutions—imbued with all of the power and majesty of global capital—crumbled before our eyes. The price of the hubris, however, went beyond the boardrooms of Lehman Brothers, and in a few short months the grim realities of the crisis took a vicious toll on working people. Families lost their houses to foreclosure, elderly...


    • [PART I. Introduction]
      (pp. 9-24)

      On October 29, 2006, the homepage of the New York City Independent Media Center (IMC) was transformed from a local news portal to a “virtual memorial,” celebrating the life and sudden death of indymedia journalist and activist Brad Will. The Web site was overflowing with reports of Brad’s murder and messages of mourning, outrage, and solidarity from his friends and comrades across the globe. Mingled with the sad news and passionate testaments was a montage of photos and videos that included images of Brad strumming his guitar, defending community gardens, and documenting political protests (with an HD video camera he...

    • 1 The EZLN and Indymedia: “One No, Many Yeses”
      (pp. 25-47)

      While the indymedia movement materialized on the streets of Seattle amid clouds of tear gas and columns of brightly dressed protestors, the seeds were sown three thousand miles to the south in the verdant rainforests of Chiapas, Mexico, in 1994. As the political and economic elite of the United States, Canada, and Mexico inaugurated the North American Free Trade Agreement, an army of masked guerillas from the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN)¹ declared the birth of a new Mexican revolution. The ensuing encounter between the indigenous army and the Mexican state, and in particular the EZLN’s flexible adaptation to...

    • 2 Activist Laboratories: The Road to Seattle
      (pp. 48-70)

      In the 1990s, as the Internet went public, a throng of technological utopianists began declaring the coming of an authentic social, political, and democratic revolution. In the reflection of instantaneous, unregulated flows of information and countless self-generating channels of communication, a growing group of pundits saw the promise of an empowered and engaged citizenry that could rewrite the balance of power in society. Their faith in the revolutionizing potential of technology has many roots, but one important point of origin was the perfect future world predicted by the prophets of postindustrial and informational society a few decades earlier. Led by...

    • 3 The Battle of Seattle and the Birth of Indymedia
      (pp. 71-96)

      On the eve of the 1999 World Trade Organization ministerial meetings in Seattle, two software programmers, Matt Arnison and Manse Jacobi, posted the first message to the newly created, open-publishing Web site:

      Welcome to indymedia. The resistance is now global … a trans-pacific collaboration has brought this web site into existence….

      The web dramatically alters the balance between multinational and activist media. With just a bit of coding and some cheap equipment, we can set up a live automated website that rivals the corporates. Prepare to be swamped by the tide of activist media makers on the ground in...


    • [PART II. Introduction]
      (pp. 97-106)

      In “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1969), Walter Benjamin famously wrote, “To pry an object from its shell, to destroy its aura, is the mark of a perception whose ‘sense [is] of the universal equality of things’” (225). In this poetic turn, Benjamin impels the reader to reckon with the irrevocable (progressive) changes to social life that came with the technological advances of industrial capitalism. A friend of Bertolt Brecht and an admirer of Charles Baudelaire, Benjamin saw art as a primary medium through which subjectivity is fashioned. In particular, he saw bourgeois art as...

    • 4 Structure: Networks and Nervous Systems
      (pp. 107-133)

      On February 15, 2003, I followed Mia out into the brisk winter day. We hopped on an eastbound trolley and headed toward Center City, Philadelphia. As we got off the trolley and walked across the concourse of City Hall, I began to hear the faint murmur of people chanting and the unmistakable din of a momentous gathering of people. Walking a few more blocks, we joined a colorful mass of ten thousand protestors, marching to the strident beat of a Korean drum troupe and a makeshift samba band. As we made our way east on Market Street, toward Philadelphia’s famed...

    • 5 Governance: Democracy All the Way Down
      (pp. 134-155)

      It is now seared into the collective American psyche: hundreds if not thousands of people, packed tightly together in a park or church, working through an arcane, ritualized process to make both the most important and trivial collective decisions. These images of primarily young, white, middle-class urbanites, with their fingers “twinkling” in the air to signify agreement, have circulated across the Web, Comedy Central, Fox News, and every other outlet imaginable, emerging as indelible parts of U.S. political and cultural life.

      Occupy Wall Street’s modern expression of direct democracy is reminiscent of a previous era in U.S. history, illuminated by...

    • 6 Strategy: Communications and the Switchboard of Struggle
      (pp. 156-180)

      InHegemony and a Socialist Strategy(1985), Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe contend that left-based political strategy is at a crossroads. Challenging a long history of Marxist theory, they argue that socialism is “in crisis” and no longer the counter-imaginary to capitalism. More importantly, they argue that the working class is no longer the historical agent of change. Building on a series of philosophical and theoretical turns toward discourse and language, the initial aim of their intervention is the overthrow of the materialist view of history, which claims that people’s identity and interests are tied to their economic location vis-à-vis...

  7. Conclusion: Social Movement Logics—Past, Present, and Future
    (pp. 181-194)

    It started with an image—the arresting image of a ballerina elegantly, and perhaps defiantly, poised atop the iconic Wall Street Bull, the symbol of free-market capitalism. In the backdrop, just beyond the bull and ballerina, stands a throng of riot cops or protestors obscured by the haze of tear gas, foreshadowing the struggle to come. The ad hails the reader, “What Is Our One Demand?”

    Published online on July 13, 2011, in the Canadian magazineAdbusters,¹ the prophetic image called on people to “#OccupyWallStreet” on “September 17th.” Just below the ad, the drafters asked, “Are you ready for a...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 195-210)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-226)
  10. Index
    (pp. 227-234)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-238)