From Zapatistas to Virtual Communities. The Practice of Electronic Civil Disobedience and Social Movements in Cyberspace
Veronica Alfaro (New School for Social Research, NY, USA) [BIO]
The Zapatista movement in Chiapas, southeastern Mexico, the subject of analysis since its beginnings in 1994, has been categorized as the first “informational guerrilla movement” that created a media event to diffuse its message, and has been defined as a “culture jamming movement” and a “net war”, becoming the archetypical case of cyber activism. Beyond the use of cyberspace for communication purposes, the virtual Zapatista community also used the Internet as a space for political action. The Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT), one of the first movements of “electronic civil disobedience”– and the creators of the “virtual sit-in” in solidarity with the Zapatistas – is a case study of the intersection between cultural practices and politics. Here, I analyze how media articulates a particular type of resistance and political action – cyber activism – and the possibility that these new communicative practices can resonate and transform the social frame in which they are inscribed.
This paper explores how the use of cyberspace has transformed activism from a local to a global scale, allowing activists to relate to virtual communities through internet-mediated actions. I argue that, by practicing non-violent, disruptive protest, the movement uses cyberspace for political and social activism in the media stage as a cultural performance. Thus, the Zapatista community triggered a change in activism and subversion as a social practice in a global context, as media developments that inform political developments by using performances based in the politics of “small things” – in which everyday actions and interactions shape politics. Through these practices, a public space is creatively constituted by the actors, by appropriating the power to define specific situations, taking an active role in defining what the medium is used for and for what purposes. The current limitations of these new mediated practices can be seen as part of the process of creating new spaces – and also new forms of debate and action.