In the mid-nineties, the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation), a revolutionary indigenous people’s movement based in Chiapas, Mexico, began calling for an international network of independent media makers to combat the narrative being put forth by the major corporate media outlets. Specifically, the Zapatistas saw this as a tool to help win the fight against neoliberal globalization policies (what Subcomandante Marcos terms the Fourth World War) and to promote international solidarity. By far the most well known of the responses to this call are the Indymedia Centers (IMCs), a network of bloggers, journalists, radio stations, newsletters, video producers, etc. from cities all over the world.

The first IMC began in Seattle with the 1999 WTO protests, and quickly spread all over the US and the world. There is no doubt that the various IMCs operate outside of the corporate media structure, and that they take a political view very similar (at least on the surface) to the one expressed by Subcomandante Marcos in his message. However, there are serious questions about the power, relevance and usefulness of the IMCs to international movement building and the struggle against neoliberalism.

I plan on critically examining the ways in which the IMCs are using new media platforms like blogging, podcasts, and internet video distribution to try and build an alternative media infrastructure and evaluating the limits of the work that they’re doing. The IMC doesn’t make it’s connection to the EZLN explicit in its mission statement or other background materials, but I think it will still be useful to do this evaluation with respect to the vision laid out by Marcos in his message above. I’ll conduct this investigation by following the international center’s online presence as well as a number of local sites, and also through interviews with center leadership and radical organizers interested in media but not necessarily involved with the IMCs, like members of the Media Mobilizing Project in Philadelphia and The Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

2 Responses to “Indymedia Centers and “The Fourth World War””

  1. mdeseriis says:

    Dan, this is an interesting proposal, but I think you need to refine it a little bit and work on a more specific topic. First of all, IMCs are related to the Zapatistas but they are not an offshoot nor a direct expression of the struggle for indigenous rights in Chiapas. As you say they emerged in 1999 as an offshoot of the anti- or alter-globalization movement, which is a much broader movement than the Zapatistas. Second as this movement has been ebbing in the second half of the 2000s so the IMCs went through a serious crisis (which is not evenly distributed, as some chapters are still active while others are not). So I think you need to focus on specific IMCs and their relationship to other media activist organizations such as the ones you quote at the end of your proposal. Or if you prefer to maintain a focus on the EZLN than you should investigate the Chiapas IMC. I am also not so sure whether investigating how IMCs are using other media platforms is a productive line of research. IMCs are a media platform of themselves so saying that they are relying on blogs and podcasts means to admit that this platform is not complete or fully functional. As a matter of fact, IMCs seem to have missed the train of social media altogether. In my opinion such a lag lies mostly in the fact that social media revolve mostly around individual user profiles whereas IMCs are the expression of social movements for which individual expression and leadership are not so important and are actually downplayed. But is this what you want to explore? Looking forward to continue the conversation in class.

  2. danjones says:

    Thanks Marco. I planned on limiting my research to just a few IMCs, definitely including the ones in Philadelphia, NY, and Chiapas. I guess I was seeing the IMCs as more of a community/network than a platform- the “platform” I’m examining is basically blogging, but using the IMC blogs as case studies.

    The focus on the EZLN was really just for background, and I know that a lot of people see the IMCs as a direct response to Marcos’ call. That isn’t to say that the Zapatistas comprise the entirety of the anti-neoliberlism movement or even that the IMCs are actually at all effective tools for either the EZLN or the broader movement, but just that the two (EZLN and IMCs) are certainly connected, and that the Zapatista framework is well articulated and can serve as a starting point for examining the needs and demands of that larger struggle.

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