Power to the People

Nick at Net Politik (another brand-new blog–May 16) writes in comments to ‘Censoring Blogs’ (he’s the one I got the letter from) of a paper by James F Moore of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School on the ‘second superpower’. At least in part, Moore thinks it’s us.

As the United States government becomes more belligerent in using its power in the world, many people are longing for a “second superpower” that can keep the US in check. Indeed, many people desire a superpower that speaks for the interests of planetary society, for long-term well-being, and that encourages broad participation in the democratic process. Where can the world find such a second superpower? No nation or group of nations seems able to play this role, although the European Union sometimes seeks to, working in concert with a variety of institutions in the field of international law, including the United Nations. But even the common might of the European nations is barely a match for the current power of the United States.There is an emerging second superpower, but it is not a nation. Instead, it is a new form of international player, constituted by the “will of the people” in a global social movement. The beautiful but deeply agitated face of this second superpower is the worldwide peace campaign, but the body of the movement is made up of millions of people concerned with a broad agenda that includes social development, environmentalism, health, and human rights. This movement has a surprisingly agile and muscular body of citizen activists who identify their interests with world society as a whole—and who recognize that at a fundamental level we are all one. These are people who are attempting to take into account the needs and dreams of all 6.3 billion people in the world—and not just the members of one or another nation. Consider the members of Amnesty International who write letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience, and the millions of Americans who are participating in email actions against the war in Iraq. Or the physicians who contribute their time to Doctors Without Borders/ Medecins Sans Frontieres.

It’s a good point and it’s also one of the reasons I think we have to fight for the freedom of the internet: this is our major tool for communication, organization, and cohesion. It crosses all borders, ties people together who have no other connection, and makes it possible for the people of the world to talk past their govts. The inherent power of that capacity has to be terrifying to govts everywhere–it may be the biggest single threat to their power that they’ve ever faced. It is almost inevitable that they will try to control it to their own advantage when that threat becomes more than a mere annoyance.

And that’s why the actions of the South Korean and Chinese govts are so dangerous–they are leading the way in putting into the hands of the powerful the capability of crippling if not destroying the only weapon we have–and a powerful one it is, too. It is the planetary voice of the people, nothing less, and it must be guarded and protected as the precious resource it is. We have not even begun to see what this thing can do; the possibilities are endless–international coalitions, international co-ordinated movements, international online meetings, preparations, and discussion.

This is the voice we’ve never had before in history, the tool we’ve never had that will allow us to come together. We can’t risk losing it.

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