News & Politics

Networking the Network

Welcome to Planetwork: It’s time to take our online activism to the next level.
It may be all quiet on the South Park front, as we continue to dust ourselves off from what was perhaps one of the most dramatic investments in human tool-making in recent history: the Information Technology revolution. The bubble may have busted, but the fulfillment fantasies we projected onto the Internet, whether quick cash, endless porn, or utopian dreams of global interconnections, are still alive. The truth is, ‘smart’ technology is here to stay, and millions of people all over the world are strategically deploying it to speak out for the needs of our planet today.

Witnessing the events of February 15th s Jonathan Schell wrote in The Nation, the "other superpower" has emerged - the highly networked, international, global peace campaign. Now it’s time to network the network.

Welcome to Planetwork, a nonprofit organization and conference series, preparing for its next gathering in San Francisco, California on June 6-8.

Online activism has a radically new face, and it’s not only about action alerts anymore. While the ability to blast thousands or millions of people about an urgent political issue is profound, there are seriously creative developments on the IT front that aims to take online networking to "the next level." However, technologists can’t do this work without the people who understand the nuances of advocacy, mobilizing, organizing, and grassroots political activism. And activists need the toolmakers to accelerate their work on the global scene. It’s a match made in heaven.

Ask the people at MoveOn about this. We now know what savvy, on-the fly web work can do, and on February 15th, we saw it on the streets, literally. Ask the organizers of the Seattle protests, the true pioneers of online mobilization. What matters is this simple fact: email was sent, bodies moved. We witnessed the materiality of digital networking made manifest on city streets around the world.

What is critically important at this particular moment -- now that the war is "over" –- is that the momentum of this emergent, networked peace movement is not lost, but strategically leveraged. A critical piece of this leverage is the Information Technology component, enabling not only mobilization, but also the capacity to meaningfully network the "network." That means bringing together many key figures in the global peace movement, who are working hand to hand with technologists, or are technologists themselves.

Planetwork, part boot camp, part reflective retreat, part serious strategy session comes at a critical moment for the global change movement as we ‘gear up’ to take on the next round of assaults from the Bush junta, and look toward ‘regime change’ in 2004.

Robert Mueller, former assistant secretary general of the UN speaking in San Francisco on February 5th said " I am honored to be alive at such a miraculous time in history. I’m so moved by what’s going on in our world today" Why? Because this other "superpower" has emerged, and for the first time in human history, a global visible, public, viable, open dialogue about the legitimacy of war is underway - what it is, how we feel about it, what causes it. This historically unprecedented dialogue would not be conceivable without information technology and the Internet.

Planetwork is more than a working group for activists and technologists. It’s about deciding how to move forward with tools in hand. Not surprisingly, the event kicks off with a tribute to Douglas Engelbart, the inventor of the mouse, hypertext, and many other technical innovations we now take for granted. Engelbart is a rare "digital elder" – he was working on this stuff in the 1960s. And, his vision for the Internet was to allow for a kind of civil society to emerge and connect, and transform the world.

To some extent the creative online efforts celebrated at Planetwork are the concrete instantiations of what Engelbart was hoping for. Yes the technology allows for global deployment to march in the streets, but it also can be used to make transparent global money flows (the Solari system); critique touch Screen voting mechanisms; design new models for on-line community; and create new methods of digital dissemination of ‘real news’ in an increasingly tight media environment.

It’s time to take our online activism to the next level. It’s time to network the network. We have the imagination, the vision, the need and more importantly, the tools at hand. Let’s leverage them for our future and for the well-being of all. Idealistic? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely.