It’s a reflective time here at the Nonviolence Web. The initial vision of our work has pretty much exhausted itself in the four years we’ve been online. In internet time, that’s equivalent to twenty years so we’re pretty happy.
The Nonviolence Web grew out of downturn in activist publishing in the early 1990s. A lot of peace groups were very drained, emotionally and financially, by the aftermath of the Gulf War and were laying off staff. Small book and magazine publishers were also being pressured by rapidly-declining readership levels and increasing production costs. Although no one might have guessed it at the time, in retrospect it became clear that the 1980s were a golden age for small publishing and activist organizing.
But by the mid-90s the situation had changed. The demographic group that had bought so many books were now having babies and in general reading more books on spirituality and child-rearing. The books published didn’t appeal to the next generation — which was demographically smaller — anyway and the result was that the audience for activist publications was shrinking fast.
By the mid-1990s it was time to rethink the project of radical publishing. Luckily, the Web came along at that point. Just as printing presses opened the way to a flurry of political and religious tracts in mid-Seventeenth Century Europe, the web made possible a new form of publishing. The Nonviolence Web began in 1995 to be a part of that work.
Now that first flurry is over. In the U.S. at least, even the local pizza joint has a website and the importance of internet organizing is undisputed. The web has become a mass-phenomenon and new users continue to double it’s size every year. But I’m not sure most activists have really figured out how to use it. I’m not sure we have reinvented publishing. I think most of what we’ve done is taken the old forms and replicated them online. For example, during the recent U.S. bombing campaign in the Balkans, most Nonviolence Web member groups — major U.S. peace groups — put up extremely predictable and boring press releases (see my May 1999 essay, The Real Phantom Menace is Us).
Why haven’t we reinvented the form? Where is this work going in the next five, ten, twenty years?
The internet and publishing world is abuzz with the promise of the so-called New Media, website and organizations which create focal points for audiences and are pioneering the possibilities of the internet. The Nonviolence Web is one of the few activist New Media projects and with our recent decision to stop our free webmastering for other organization we’re plunging even deeper into the world of online organizing!
Over the next few months, the Nonviolence Web will embark on a project where we’ll introduce you to some of the pioneers of New Media. But we’ll do more. We want to blow open the concept of what a peace group does and how we do it. We’ll be talking with interesting people doing art, satire, local organizing and thinking. We look at the future of the internet, of the future of the peace movement, and of emerging opportunities like online video.