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.