The Revolution will be Online

This essay was orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten in 1995.

IT’S HARD TO IGNORE the sor­ry shape of the social change com­mu­ni­ty. The signs of a col­lapsed move­ment are every­where. Orga­ni­za­tions are clos­ing, cut­ting back, lay­ing off staff, and drop­ping the fre­quen­cy of their mag­a­zines.

On top of this, the basic resources we’ve depend­ed on are get­ting scarcer. Paper prices and postage prices are going up. Direct mail solic­i­ta­tions are for many economically-unfeasible now. With every aban­doned mail­ing list, with every dis­con­tin­ued peace fair, we’re los­ing the infra­struc­ture that used to nour­ish the whole move­ment.

Here in Philadel­phia, the last few years have seen food coops close, peace orga­ni­za­tions lay off staff, and the book­stores dis­con­tin­ue their polit­i­cal titles. I’ve been meet­ing peo­ple only a half-generation younger than I who aren’t aware of the basic orga­niz­ing prin­ci­ples that the move­ment has built up over the years and who don’t know the mean­ings of Green­ham Com­mon or the Clamshell Alliance

Like many of you, I’m not giv­ing up. We can’t just aban­don our work because it’s becom­ing more dif­fi­cult. We need to strug­gle to find cre­ative ways of get­ting our mes­sage out there and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with oth­ers. What we need is a new media.

The Promise of the Web

The Web’s rev­o­lu­tion is it’s incred­i­bly min­i­mal costs. Fif­teen dol­lars a month gets you a home­page. As an edi­tor at New Soci­ety Pub­lish­ers (1991 – 1996), I’ve always had to wor­ry whether we’d lose mon­ey on a par­tic­u­lar edi­to­r­i­al project, and it some­times seemed a rule of thumb that what excit­ed me wouldn’t sell. With the Web, we don’t have to wor­ry if an idea isn’t pop­u­lar because we’re not putting the same lev­el of resources into each pub­li­ca­tion.

Nev­er before has pub­lish­ing been so cheap. Just about any­one can do it. You don’t need a par­tic­u­lar­ly fast or fan­cy com­put­er to put Web pages online. And you don’t have to wor­ry about dis­tri­b­u­tion: if some­one sets their Web brows­er to your address, they’ll get you “prod­uct” instant­ly.

All the forces push­ing move­ment pub­lish­ing over the edge of finan­cial insol­ven­cy dis­ap­pear when we go online. Switch­ing to the Web is a mat­ter of keep­ing our words in print. The Web is the lat­est inven­tion to open up the dis­tri­b­u­tion of words by birthing new medias. The print­ing press begat mod­ern book pub­lish­ing just as the pho­to­copi­er begat zine cul­ture. The Web can like­wise spawn a media where words can flour­ish with less cap­i­tal than ever before.

Advertising Each Other

The prob­lem with the Web is not acces­si­bil­i­ty, but rather being heard above the noise. Peo­ple gen­er­al­ly find your web­site in two ways. The first is that they see your web address in your newslet­ter, get on their com­put­ers and look you up; this of course only gets you your own peo­ple. The sec­ond way is through links.

Links take you from one web­site to anoth­er. Web­page design­ers try to get linked from sites of sim­i­lar inter­est to theirs, hop­ing the read­ers of the oth­er site will fol­low the link to their web­page. This bounc­ing from site to site is called surf­ing, and it’s the main way around the web.

Link­ing is a very prim­i­tive art nowa­days. The Non­vi­o­lence Web has inter­nal links that active­ly invite read­ers to explore the whole NV-Web. Every­time some­one comes into the NV-Web through a mem­ber group, they will be inticed to stay and dis­cov­er the oth­er groups. By putting social change groups togeth­er in one place, we can have a much-more dynam­ic cross-referencing. Think of it as the equiv­a­lent of trad­ing mail­ing lists in that we can all share those web surfers who find any one of us.

In the web world as in the real one, coöper­a­tion helps us all. If you’re an activist group doing work on non­vi­o­lent social change then con­tact us and we’ll put your words online. For free. If you have your own web­site already, then let’s talk about how we can crosslink you with oth­er groups work­ing on non­vi­o­lent social change.

Come explore the Non­vi­o­lence Web and let us get you con­nect­ed. Come join our rev­o­lu­tion.

In peace,

Mar­tin Kel­ley