October 15 saw the first global rally ever. With some 900 cities from across 80 countries participating in some degree, it has been the culmination of a year of spontaneous, massive gatherings, which range from the peaceful Arab Spring, the Spanish indignados and the Occupy Wall Street movement to the more violent London riots and the demonstrations in Greece and Chile.
But what can be seen as an organizational success has been promoted indeed by many actors that don’t even know each other. The truth is, besides being fueled by the negative economic scenario, the emergence of social media and mass self-communication has been absolutely definite in the construction of these movements, suggests Manuel Castells.
Without the means and ways of mass self-communication, the new movements and new forms of insurgent politics could not be conceived. Of course, there is a long history of communication activism, and social movements have not waited for Internet connection in order to struggle for their goals using every available communication medium. Yet, currently the new means of digital communication constitute their most decisive organizational form, in a clear break with the traditional forms of organization of parties, unions and associations of the industrial society, albeit these social actors are now evolving towards the new organizational model built around networked communication. For new social movements, the Internet provides the essential platform for debate, their means of acting on people’s mind, and ultimately serves as their most potent political weapon.
Is mass self-communication enabling a fairer play between power and counterpower forces? And most importantly, as we asked some weeks ago: will these movements benefit democracy in the long term, or will they become an obstacle to unpopular but necessary measures?
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Citizen engagement will be discussed in our breakout session ‘If We Build It, Will They Come: Why Meaningful Citizen Engagement is Hard’, November 9, 1100 to 1230, with Anas Qtiesh, Sean Cleary, Chat García Ramilo, Susan Pointer, Henry Sweetbaum, Kjell Magne Bondevik and Petre Roman.