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How anti-Iraq war protesters employed technology, from NYT
- Date: Sat, 22 Feb 2003 22:16:34 -0500
- To: email@example.com
- Subject: FC: How anti-Iraq war protesters employed technology, from NYT
- From: Declan McCullagh <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Some photos from last month's protests:
Date: Sat, 22 Feb 2003 18:58:29 -0800 (PST)
From: "Jennifer 8. Lee" <[spamproofed]@nytimes.com>
To: Declan McCullagh <email@example.com>
How Protesters Mobilized So Many and So Nimbly
By JENNIFER 8. LEE
WASHINGTON — 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
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
"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
(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
"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.
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