The Future is Now, Let’s Get Started

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.