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infamous protestors Arrow vol 4 no 2 contents
About borderlands Volume 4 number 2, 2005


The Lives of Infamous Protesters

Enda Brophy and Mark Coté



1. It is an impossible task to 'represent' the composition of new social movements, in Canada or elsewhere. This was our immediate response to such a request made a few years back by the editorial collective of the Italian journal DeriveApprodi. Of course, our Italian compagni realized this as well, and were more interested in a 'circulation of struggle' that might link local particularities with global commonalities. So we responded in the affirmative and, as befitting our disciplinary particularities within Communication, addressed the processes by which these movements have been 'made up' by mediatic power. How does this relate to what these movements, our movements, actually do?   And finally, what are the theoretical tools by which we can best understand the aforementioned processes?   What follows are our hopeful and partial answers to those questions.   While much has happened in the last two years, much has remained the same.   If protests on the streets have ebbed somewhat, the spotlight of infamy still burns bright as do multifaceted resistance.   In order to understand where those movements now stand we must go back, back to when we were in the thick of things.

2. This is not an inquiry that represents the 'movement of movements' in Canada. The selection found here is guided by our positions (in Vancouver and Kingston, in the university, and as activists), our theoretical inclinations and pleasures, and by feelings of intensity and dread that we can neither justify nor comprehend, now that such moments have passed.

3. It's an anthology of events which now seem fleeting - from Seattle to Quebec City and beyond; it's an anthology of existences - on the one hand of what we might call infamous protesters; on the other hand, of local constitutive practices in everyday life. It's an anthology of concepts, a circulation that flows from Canadian medium theory and political economy of communication through Italian autonomist theory (for English introductions see Cleaver 2000, Ryan 1982, Dyer-Witheford 1999, Wright 2002) through, as the title and introduction might indicate, Foucault (esp. 2000), and Deleuze and Guattari. It is a signal sent in hopes of finding some resonance, of leaving a trace, and of eluding or circumventing the matrices that would subjugate us otherwise.

4. In writing such an article we were overcome by the impossibility of even simply relaying the polyvalent strands of new social movements in any comprehensible fashion - especially given that a particular moment, a moment that was filled with hope and opportunity, has passed. Then we remembered that it is in those relays - often uncertain, often unintended - that the circulation of struggles diffuse and intensify, always already ahead of capital and other dispositifs (heterogeneous ensembles that function as grids of intelligibility, not ones that impose unbreakable lines of domination but rather which exist as fluid compositions that recognize the primacy of resistance - for more on our use of dispositif, see Coté 2003) of domination that in turn will seek to make those struggles sometimes infamous, always productive. And it is in the particularity, both shared and singular, of those struggles that we can continue to learn from one another, to expand our capacity for becoming.

The Double-Articulation of Infamy

5. What do we mean by all of this? 'The lives of infamous protesters' is not the title of a new reality television show, although it is reality television. Rather, it is a site of tension, between lives composed of myriad constitutive practices that are always in quotidian process, and mediatic 'events' in which some of those lives are made 'infamous'. It is amidst those events - Seattle, Genova and Quebec City, but also the occupations, the sit-ins, the strikes that occasionally make the television screen - in that ever-expanding mediated composition of dominant power and knowledge, of capital's spectacle, that lights of infamy shine. Equally, it is a countless multiplicity of lives which remain in the shadows of the local and the particular, creating and resisting, out of the glare of the six o'clock news and the Reuters photo snapped from behind the police line, those lives that are often ready to redirect the infamy back on its source. So it is not that we are just like a particular Foucault, the one that Deleuze said "was trapped in something he hated." (Deleuze 1995: 109) - an understanding of power only as that which dominates, leaving no room for effective resistance. Instead, the 'infamous' have always-already been resisting. For it has been more than 30 years since self-valorizing practices of resistance and creation exploded in the post-colonial struggles of the 'global South' and were rearticulated in theory and practice in Italy, France and elsewhere. Yet curiously, relentlessly, while those practices have proliferated to the point of rendering representation impossible, the bursts of infamy also have become both more pervasive and predictable. In short, while we are not trapped, that which we hate - dispositifs of power seeking domination - still remains.

6. But what of this conceptual source, Foucault's 'minor' essay 'The Lives of Infamous Men'? It was written in that most interesting period of crises, 1977, a period of internal crisis for Foucault as well, when he was trying to move beyond seeing the animation of subjectivities only on the grid of intelligibility of dominant power. There he noted a final anachronism of monarchical power, the clumsy and stilted medium of the lettre de cachet, which brought power into contact with everyday life, rendering the 'infamous' visible. This letter was written to the King, requesting his intervention into the everyday affairs of otherwise 'unknown' people. Foucault's point was that these everyday folks only 'existed', only signified more widely, in their 'infamy' - that is, through their pecadillos that required sovereign intervention. On a mediatic level, Foucault was signaling the end of that form of sovereign power (and its communicative forms), and the shift toward biopower, which has taken the form of "a fine, differentiated, continuous network" (Foucault 2000: 171). He originally looked to literature as the transgressive site and initial 'alternative media' of biopower, but noted it "is only the effect of a certain dispositif of power that traverses the economy of discourses and strategies of truth in the West" (Foucault 2000: 174).

7. What we are trying to take forward from this essay is precisely the continuation of 'infamy' in relation to those who transgress established and dominant power-knowledge formations. Many problematically assume that when Foucault shifts his focus from sovereign to disciplinary to biopower, that the previous dispositif of power is relegated to the dustbin. A more careful reading recognizes that just as Raymond Williams looks at emergent, dominant, and residual forms, so too did Foucault understand power. Thus, in the mid-1700s, 'infamy' required the direct intervention of sovereign power; in our historical moment, power is animated by that fine and continuous mesh of commercial mediation that is draped across our collective existence. In both instances, that which 'resists' signifies as 'infamous' - and today, it is the deft hand of commercial media that provides that inflection, not the intervention of the sovereign. Of course, this by no means suggests that resistance lives are 'trapped' in infamy - simply that this is the preferred reading of the dominant codes inscribed therein.

8. Thus we want to look to other effects. Specifically, can we see how myriad forms of 'infamy' are inscribed on the body through the daily wash of commercial media? This, after all, is part of the unbearable lightness of biopower, of its portability, of its insistence of diffusing ever more discretely through society, and of "its language that would claim to be that of observation and neutrality" (Foucault 2000: 172).   While this has been often stated with stunning alacrity, it bears repeating: objectivity and neutrality is not only a purported 'trait' mainstream journalism shares with science, it is what allows that which is resistant to dominant forms to be understood unreflexively as 'infamous'. In this way, we want to suggest that it has never been a matter of doing content analysis to demonstrate a 'bias' in commercial media. It never has been a matter of struggling for a more 'balanced' commercial media, a pursuit of never-ending fascination that fuels many liberal-democratic fantasies. For that would make us the mascot of the dispositif of commercial media, a dog forever chasing its tail, the relative value of its truth. It is, instead, a question of valourization and how it is ascribed - in short, a struggle over meaning. Because it is not really those infamous lives that interest us but their untold ones that 'fade back into the night' of everyday struggles. This does not, however, render commercial media irrelevant as the truth ascribed to lives through the local always to some degree still signify in relation to that which would render it infamous. But it is to consider new spaces - for example, the Telestreet movement in Italy, or even the burgeoning 'blogosphere' - beyond what is being referred to in text-messages as the 'msm' (mainstream media). Thus we should still heed Deleuze's question: "If power is constitutive of truth, how can we conceive of a 'power of truth' which would no longer be the truth of power, a truth that would release transversal lines of resistance and not integral lines of power? How can we 'cross the line'?" (Deleuze 1988: 94-95).

9. The 'line' in Canada remains clear. We can go back to 28 July 2003, when finance ministers gathered in Montréal, in advance of the WTO summit in Cancun. We were told about the infamous by the Canadian Press newswire, that   "the stubborn opposition to globalization by some protesters is only hurting poor people in developing countries." We were told that the modest gathering of some 1,000 protesters "raged in downtown Montréal," as the event "degenerated into vandalism of downtown stores and luxury vehicles." Even greater infamy was cast from the United States where the Associated Press told us "[protesters were] smashing store windows and attacking US least one person was arrested." (Associated Press Newswire 2003) Of course, such infamy that results from the encounter with constituted power only flows toward points of resistance. And here is where we can see that double-articulation; why Quebec IndyMedia could so easily reveal another infamy, that of our emergent security/police state.   As it turns out, it was not one but nearly 350 people that were arrested, hours after the protest disbanded, in an acknowledged 'green zone' many kilometres away. The charges were 'obstructing justice and taking part in an illegal protest'. We read this recent police action as the state learning from the circulation of the most recent rounds of anti-capitalist struggles, not to mention post-September 11th hysteria. Indeed, in many ways, Canada has been a laboratory for state/police response. Now, in Canada, one can be arrested after-the-fact, regardless of your actions, by your mere presence in the vicinity of a 'protest' if it has been unilaterally declared 'illegal' by the police. It happened in Quebec City when nearly 500 were arrested. It happened again in Montréal. For radical activists, a lockstep march of 'becoming infamous' then arrest seems to be underway. (Here, in our articulation of infamy, we need to remember those bent and broken lives that are not even deemed worthwhile to be rendered infamous, the abject populations that are not allowed to signify with the regularity of protesters.   We are thinking here of the poor in the East Side of Vancouver or the North side of Kingston, of the native population which disproportionately fill our jails, and other such struggles.   As opposed to the relatively privileged protesters we discuss, these people are overwhelmingly not even offered the dubious glare of the spotlights.   They are not worth being made up.)

10. And while in Montréal those myriad lives struggled with questions of efficacy regarding such manifestations, and over the strategic value of (non)violence, other radical constitutive practices again flowed from the South. In Cancun, Kyung Hae Lee, a 56-year-old South Korean engaged in the most definitive form of protest, a singular practice of self-valorization. Atop the barricades wearing a placard reading 'WTO Kills Farmers', Lee committed suicide, in light of the more everyday fashion in which WTO policy enfeebles, disenfranchises, makes landless, and slowly kills farmers around the world. His 'infamy', however, was perhaps too intense as his death barely registered in commercial media. His 'encounter with power' left him speechless. As is the case with the 'infamous' in Foucault's original article, Lee's 'infamy' was his becoming something 'most resistant to being said'. And it is here that alternative media, such as IndyMedia and its innumerable variants, take on the role Foucault once ascribed to literature -   "to cross boundaries, to ruthlessly or insidiously bring our secrets out in the open, to displace rules and codes, to compel the unmentionable to be told" (Foucault 2000: 174). Thus, while there was silence in commercial media, alternative sources amplified Lee's words: "My warning goes to all citizens that human beings are being endangered by uncontrolled multinational corporations and a small number of big WTO members which are leading an undesirable globalisation of inhumane, environment-distorting, farmer-killing, and undemocratic attitudes. It should be stopped immediately otherwise the false logic of neo-liberalism will kill the diversity of agriculture and, disastrously, all human beings." (For a full report and the full text of Farmer Lee see Mittal 2003.)

Speaking from the Datashadow of Empire

11. We must go back to Vancouver, back to that which composes at least some of the movements with which we are familiar. While many perceive Vancouver as a 'lotus-land' privileged and buffeted by the mountains and Pacific Ocean, it has also been the epicentre of several social tremors that have - temporarily at least - shaken those dominant dispositifs, as well as the proliferation of alternative practices within disparate communities of resistance.

12. Our own perspective has formed since the mid-90s within the contested space of the university, in this quintessentially postmodern, ethnically diverse city. During this time we have participated in several projects and struggles, both on and off the campus.   Thus the university is the starting point of our trajectory. Here as elsewhere, the campus has been a key site of the struggle over resources and meaning that occurs within what capital refers to as the 'knowledge economy'. It is here where constituted power puts its final touches on the brainworkers whose competencies feed the diffuse system of exploitation upon which North American society is constructed and through which it is networked.  

13. Perforce we are in the middle of an ongoing reflection of what it means to be an intellectual in our information-saturated, neo-liberal world.   Elsewhere we have used the term academicus affinitatus to conceptualize our place within theory and praxis, to more adequately understand our subjectivities in the university and as activists (Coté, Day, and de Peuter 2006a; Brophy and Touza 2006). Referring neither to a fixed nor an achieved position or constituency, academicus affinitatus instead responds to a transformative impulse, evoking responsibilities rather than rank, experiments rather than rules, and respect for heteronomous systems of difference rather than universalizing hegemonic formations. While this position echoes Gramsci's 'organic intellectual', for us at least, it has long been apparent that there is no all-encompassing social formation (class or otherwise) that we can claim to 'represent'. Yet our injunction to avoid the indignity of speaking for others includes acknowledging our relative privilege, actively participating in collective struggles in the places where we live, and modestly assisting the struggles taking place around us.

14. Collectively, especially in North America, we live amidst a flow of unprecedented mediatic intensity. The unparalleled concentration of communication industry ownership, and the combination and interpenetration of analogue, digital, cable and wireless technologies mark our daily existence on this continent in an indelible manner. Part of this mediatic flow has been capital's unprecedented construction of discrete subjectivities, always striving to construct us from within, to raise us into a world where we may be constantly productive, where the separation between work and life becomes increasingly meaningless. (We are not suggesting that the convergence between economic, political, and communicative power is a process that only we are experiencing; to the contrary, it is a global occurrence - albeit to differing intensities - and the hallmark of our age.)

15. In a sense then, we follow the subjective and affective turn by autonomist marxist and poststructuralist theorists as our best-possible response to the horror of the accomplished social factory (Tronti 1966), of the urban wastelands, never-ending strip malls, and the cold glow of a television in every window.   With them, we see the quotidian as not only a site of struggle between labour and capital (the tired refrain of a particular kind of Marxism), but also of a struggle over the libidinal extension of bodies. Ability to struggle is not merely determined by one's objective positioning with respect to the means of production.    And within production itself we must finally give equal footing to the production of material commodities and that of subjectivity, a process that is by now inextricably enmeshed (see Read 2003). In this way we can open up to all those struggles that have long been sidelined by more orthodox forms of Marxism as secondary or tangential, and work on a logic of affinity as opposed to one of hegemony (see Day 2005).

16. In recent years the term "multitude" has gained increasing currency within continental theory as a descriptor of a radical social subject that cannot be represented, either by the state or traditional forms of Marxism (see Hardt and Negri 2000, Hardt and Negri 2004, Virno 2004).   While the term certainly needs further collective elaboration in the face of problems it presents (including its use by some to designate a somehow inherently radical and progressive subject) we nonetheless agree with Paolo Virno when he maintains that a concept such as the multitude neither displaces nor negates class but contains it. 'Class' has gradually seen its power to signify erode in North America, although this by no means suggests a lack of class politics on this continent. Furthermore, the subjective turn in the theoretical currents we employ has a clear material grounding.   How else could we begin to understand a place like Vancouver, where   'immaterial factories' like the 'campus' of video-game designer Electronic Arts (see de Peuter and Dyer-Witheford 2005) sit side-by-side (well-hidden) sweatshops? The latter not only generally employ migrant labour, but the exploitation experienced therein replicates that of the export-processing zones of Mexico, the Philippines, or China. Here is the interpenetration of immaterial and material labour, of objective and subjective production, and another example of what Nick Dyer-Witheford calls "the partial Third Worlding of the First World" (Dyer-Witheford 1999: 134). Indeed, it is precisely due to capital's attempt to transform the globe into a single spatial and subjective plane of accumulation that we need to remember both class and myriad other subjectivities in their singularities and in combination.

17. For us, communication is both a defining site and weapon of struggle. It is where the multiple forms of valourization play out. On the one hand, it is where movements of resistance have created, and must continue to create alternatives.   It is also where the infamous get made up in 'reality televised'. And from America, there has been an explosion of reality television programs - from American Idol to The Apprentice - providing a stark metaphor for a further subsumption of cultural life.   There is no separation between the audience and the narrative watched: it is the (carefully selected) viewers themselves that are on the screen; it is the viewers who, through their labour, actively produce the content. Finally, it is the viewers themselves who engage in collectively defining how best to be constructed by power, articulating their own domination and that of others onscreen during these life lessons that mark the genre. In this televised process of becoming, the winners are doubly valourized: with cash prizes, and in the ranks of popular culture's famous.

18. What lessons can we draw from our communicative environment, from this new site of struggle?   Out of this televised reality we might think of two things that were wielded against and are now used by capital: identity politics and conricerca (roughly translatable as "co-research", or "research with", and initially used by Italian autonomists as a radical methodology for understanding the nature of labour and the composition of the working class - see Alquati 1993; also Borio, Pozzi, and Roggero 2006).   First, part of the subjective turn in everyday life is in identity politics. The self-valourizing practices, everyday experiences, and theoretical contributions of women, queer groups, ethnicities of all kinds have forever altered and immeasurably enriched 'the movement'. Yet commercial media has taken this demand for representation and made it 'productive' by re-presenting sanitized simulacra, identikits able to be fully integrated into this established dispositif of domination. Second, supporting capital's anticipatory power are a host of cutting edge practices and technologies for the neutralization of subversion - this audience research is where we see conricerca turned on its head. Information technologies collect, scan and sort private information in an ever-intensifying process of surveillance and control. Marketing agencies dedicated to 'coolhunting' (see the PBS documentary 'The Merchants of Cool') scour the streets for cultural novelties that can be commodified, conducting focus groups amongst teenagers in a grotesque version of worker inquiry.

19. In short, our context in urban Canada is that of the production and reproduction of communication, of subjectivities, of power. This is the space from which we speak: through myriad subjectivities in the data-shadow of Empire.

The Bias of Communication

20. Our context must define and dictate our method. The conceptual toolkit we have developed is the result of the confluence of three streams of thought that we find particularly helpful in the furthering of our own struggles in this datashadow. First, there is Canadian communication/medium theory; second, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari; third; Italian autonomist communication theory.

21. The first trajectory is perhaps best known through the enigmatic and proto-postmodernist Marshall McLuhan, and his rather phenomenological approach, which considered qualities of communication technology as extensions of the body. But there is a rich and subtle tradition that informs 'the medium is the message'. Perhaps the most substantial member of what came to be known as the Toronto School is Harold Innis (other prominent members include Walter Ong, Eric Havelock, Jack Goody and Ian Watt). His key works date from the end of WWII to his early death in 1952 (e.g., Innis 1950, Innis 1951). The conceptual breakthrough provided by Innis was his introduction of power and the political to the study of communication, which in his time was dominated by the functionalist market-based approach of American communication scholars like Claude Elwood Shannon and Warren Weaver (see Shannon and Weaver 1949).   Furthermore, like his contemporaries in the Frankfurt School, Innis identified the emergence of the culture industry and the importance of information as commodity, as a new economic 'staple'. In Innisian medium theory, the central 'effect' of a medium is not its content but the way it restructures society and culture. Finally, he attempted to theorize the history of empires via the bias (tendency) of communication, for example, the 'spatial bias' of the Roman alphabet and the 'lightness' of papyrus, which facilitated the spread of its Empire across Europe and the Mediterranean. And via a sort of communication precursor to the Foucaultian dispositif , Innis noted how the dominant mode of communication is able to sustain discourses at the expense of other media - hence, toward what he called 'monopolies of knowledge'.

22. This particular Canadian focus on communication is not surprising, given the country's geopolitical reality, being vast but sparsely populated in the shadow of the global media Empire. Hence subsequent generations of communication theorists in Canada have tended toward political economy, charting the growing convergence between telecommunications technologies, economic power, and political power characteristic of post-Fordism. Vincent Mosco has broadly redefined this field, positing social life and power relations as multiply determined, with a mutually constitutive relationship between theory and practice (Mosco 1996). Heather Menzies has examined the role of the information highway in economic restructuring, and the blurring of life and labour or social and capitalist reproduction, tracing the Canadian state's role enabling this transformation (Menzies, 1996). These authors remind us that our mass mediated existence created for us by the North American culture industries, did not occur by chance.   Rather, it was the result of specific sets of policies enacted in the construction of our post-Fordist economy, a regulatory liberalization that has the effect of integrating the North American continent for cyber-capitalism (Mosco and Schiller 2001, Winseck 1998) and its attendant construction of subjectivity. It is through the careful study of these transformations in our media industries, and of how they fit into larger political and economic processes, that we may better understand the terrain on which we struggle.

23. A special mention here needs to be made of the work carried out by Nick Dyer-Witheford, whose CyberMarx acted as the first relay between this tradition of inquiry and intervention and those that reach us from Italy.   While the study of the state and capital is vital to any strategic considerations, Dyer-Witheford's work has given substance to the ontological priority accorded to the working class and its struggles that emerges from the tradition of operaismo , while never leaving the conceptual ground of communication. His work has thus offered a radical recasting of the political economy of communication tradition - away from the object, towards a focus on the appropriation of communication technologies by what he refers to as the global "value-subject" (Dyer-Witheford 2002).  

24. Yet just as Danilo Montaldi, at the dawn of operaismo , was deeply influenced by forms of thought and struggle emanating from North America, so are we influenced by, amongst other traditions, particular strains of Italian autonomist thought and its offshoots, above all what some are calling 'post-operaismo' (Berardi 1997, Brophy 2004). But keeping with our focus on communication, we propose a variant, overtly combining aspects of French poststructuralism with the autonomist communication school. This comes together in what we call the 'Italian Foucault' (Coté 2003), a fabrication to facilitate conjectural analysis. The 'papers' of the Italian Foucault read in part as follows: resistance comes first; microphysical power flows through the social factory; a political framework is inadequate for containing social movements; power may be inscribed on the body but there is no limit to potential compositions of bodies; communication/information technology can dominate or extend bodies; diagnostics are needed for the dispositifs of commercial and alternative media; in the society of control we are never outside of struggle, and so on.

25. In short, we desire to build a conceptual toolkit that is always already constructed with open source code. We dream of transversal conceptual relations: effects produced in some particular way, by this or that group, can always be produced by other means. They already are produced by myriad means - the following events and their constitutive practices make that clear to anyone who bothers to look.

Events, Manifestations, Libidinal Eruptions

26. We've already read from an a priori script of infamy - journalists and television cameras outside the Gap or Starbucks always greeted by obliging protesters hitting their marks by 'protesting' in a predictable becoming. But it was not so long ago that mass demonstration had nearly faded from the Canadian imaginary (especially among the young), kept alive only by the antinuclear and women's movements. Then in the summer of 1993, amidst the towering pine trees of an old-growth temperate rainforest on the west coast of Canada's westernmost island, things changed.

27. About a four-hour ferry ride and drive from Vancouver is Clayoquot Sound, a site of unprecedented beauty and bitter contestation. Not only was it under disputed land claim by the indigenous Tla-o-qui-aht people (as is all of British Columbia) but that summer the whole area was slated to be aggressively logged and clearcut. Unexpectedly, and from innumerable directions, people came together to take direct action and block the logging roads to prevent an environmental desecration. By early summer, an impromptu camp had been established, autonomously self-organized, with actions planned each day via consensus. There was no 'central committee', as individuals and affinity groups gathered to oppose what they saw as wanton destruction. Participants ranged from youth to grandmothers and all operated under a strict code of nonviolence. One of the more telling aspects of Clayoquot was its strong eco-feminist guiding principles. Indeed, it was women of all ages who were the primary players, reminding us of our role as stewards of the earth and its reproductive capacity. The most common action was blocking the road - thus breaking a court injunction - and being carried off under arrest for civil disobedience. By the summer's end, 12,000 people had come to the camp and nearly 900 had been arrested, some two-thirds of them women.

28. What is perhaps of equal importance was the manner in which the summer-long blockade grew into a media spectacle. Each day protesters were carried away by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, generally under the glare of television news cameras. The preponderance of women and youth being jailed day after day for non-violent protest decidedly swung public opinion on their favour. Canada's music-video station MuchMusic realized the appeal in this environmental battle of the underdogs and broadcast an impromptu concert by Midnight Oil, inadvertently valourizing protest to a new generation of Canadian youth. In retrospect, we can see how this new articulation of resistance caught capital, the state, and the commercial media off guard. The success was evidenced in the fact that Clayoquot Sound was eventually designated a UN Biosphere Reserve. As for protests, a new generation had arrived but the state was not far behind with new repressive techniques and practice.

29. From the rainforest, the next site of eruption was the city of Vancouver.   In 1997, spurred on by the attendance of the genocidal Indonesian dictator Suharto, thousands of protestors descended upon the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit at the University of British Columbia. In response to the meeting, which sought a free trade zone in Asia-Pacific by 2010, the student union building was occupied and proclaimed a 'Free University' whence the commodification of education was discussed.   Amidst organizing by the East Timor Alert Network (ETAN) and APEC Alert, a small-scale perimeter fence was erected by the Canadian state to keep demonstrators safely out of the sight of delegates.   When protesters surged towards the fence, police began to pepper spray, a measure of repression until then unknown in Vancouver. The effect was amplified by the fact that a CBC cameraman was among those pepper sprayed, an event repeated endlessly for several days on many Canadian television stations. We should add that the media itself became central to the APEC story. The CBC reporter whose cameraman was sprayed further pursued the story and in email correspondence with a key organizer referred to the federal government as 'The Forces of Darkness'. When this was leaked, the 'myth of objectivity' was exposed; the state and others in the commercial media attacked the reporter for supposed lack of journalistic integrity, and he was suspended. The federal government took advantage of the CBC's sudden infamy and introduced a bill that would strengthen its direct political control over Canada's public broadcaster, which, theoretically at least, operates at arms-length. A public outcry, however, forced the withdrawal of the bill. As importantly, the original reason for the protests faded from the public imaginary. But for protesters, the event galvanized radical forces in the region and multiplied radical strategies of resistance and counter-creativity, beginning the long process of sedimentation.

30. On the surface, resistance to APEC seemed to emanate from white middle class students although in fact it was coloured with greater complexity. The currents of neoliberal globalization literally carried key players among those organizing to redirect that flow. Grassroots Women was a founding organization of the No! to APEC Coalition, and held workshops on free trade zones, mobilized against the summit, and organized a Women and Children Pre-Conference among other actions. Grassroots Women was an offshoot of the Philippine Women Centre, composed to address "their concrete experiences of displacement and forced migration, serving as cheap labour in the service sector and domestic work" ( In short, migrant affective labour - Filipino-Canadian women work primarily as care givers, in hospitals, nursing homes, etc. - was central to the organization of this supposed 'student-led' protest. Once again, Canada is benefiting from the circulation of struggle from the global South. And once again we see the concrete relays between the events and the local constitutive practices that comprise them.

31. So much has been written about Seattle that it has almost become a cliché. Yet, it remains a powerful moment for anyone whose activism came of age in this period. Only two-hours south of Vancouver, the event that shook the WTO, was at least to a small degree an effect of APEC a few years previous, both in the imaginary and the organizing. Here we will highlight only a few key points. Some say that Seattle marked the 'postmodernization' of the movement, often citing the coexistence of 'turtles and Teamsters.' For us, we saw different kinds of affinity and their limits. For example, trade union organizers were acting as marshalls, trying to corral protesters well away from the WTO meeting place. We also saw topless vegan dykes refusing the directives of organized labour, which in turn simply gawked at the 'No' painted on their chests. We saw the Canadian Minister of International Trade who, surrounded by the throngs of 'civil society' outside his hotel and bewildered by the sudden irrelevance of representational politics and the absence of the armed force that protects it, impressively scaled a four-metre hotel wall in a single bound with the agility of a bounding cat. We saw the emergence of important new strategic communication practices with the first IndyMedia, ensuring unprecedented media flow outside commercial networks. Finally, we left feeling invigorated by the event, charged with new potential for our everyday practices.

32. By the time of the Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting in Quebec City, April 2001, the stakes of such events had reached their apotheosis for the movement of movements. On the one hand, the mainstream Canadian media speculated endlessly and completely self-referentially on the violence certain to unfold. The Canadian state, having learned from Seattle, innovated its containment and repression strategy by surrounding the entire summit with a tall fence. During Seattle, protesters entered the United States in droves from Canada; for Quebec City, Canadian authorities honed the practice of closing the increasingly information-intelligent and discriminating border to the circulation of protest - even as it endeavoured to open it for that of capital. We should add, however, that some 100 protesters who likely would have been stopped otherwise, entered the country through Akwesasne First Nations land that straddles the Canada-US border, indicating that Empire remains riddled with various postcolonial holes (for an interesting non-native account of the clandestine crossing of the border through Akwesasne land, see this link: So again we see the interplay between constitutive practices and the event. And responding, we see how it is through these local practices, these slow readjustments, that Empire's nascent global containment strategy for new social movements is continually rearticulated. As was confirmed yet again by the tall fence in Genoa just a few months later, struggles are not the only entities/practices that circulate throughout the nodes of the post-Fordist global arrangement.

33. Quebec City also demonstrated a new level of sophistication, with the infamous articulating their own event self-organization. The besieged city was becoming a form, the place where the 'affinity group' was sedimented as the organizational principle, differentiating the logic of political articulation from that of the party or labour union. This included the creation of different coloured zones according to the degree of engagement protesters demanded. As we know, the riot police themselves had no intention of indulging such distinctions. And there was a perhaps unintended effect of the fence, as it became a galvanizing symbol, demonstrating the defensive measures constituted power had been forced to take by previous mass actions. French Quebecois groups like Convergence des Luttes Anti-Capitalistes mixed with English Mobilization for Global Justice, Francophone black blocs merged and dispersed with Anglophone. With countless others they all tore down parts of the hated fence, and tear gas settled like a shroud over the city for the whole weekend (invading the convention centre during some sessions). The event, then, became a plateau, where the unprecedented 'infamy' spilled over into participant's everyday life.

34. Thus hundreds of local projects proliferated and interpenetrated one another.   More Indymedias sprang up, radiating outward from bigger cities. South of Vancouver, Canadians and Americans came together to circulate struggles in celebration, actually closing the border crossing for several hours, and flowing freely back and forth - the whole time under the watchful eyes of a phalanx of American riot police. Events and constitutive practices were merging. When the G8 summit returned to Canada in the summer of 2002, the state confirmed its position as an innovative leader in post-millennial summiteering.    Shunning the metropolis for the hinterland, it used the physical geography of western Canada - the Rocky Mountains - as a wall against the now-predictable outburst of protest. The plan succeeded, but what was more important was the degree of refinement demonstrated by the media during the event, as they captured exactly the right images and instantly beamed them around the world.   By this point the sum total of the movement of movements became the bare asses of protesters outside of a Gap department store, the signifying practice swallowed whole and offered up devoid of meaning or context for ridicule and dismissal.  

35. Yet by Kananaskis the referent of the besieged summit itself was beginning to collapse, as the constituent practices that it signified continued to escape it like a precious fluid. What commercial media still fails to understand, to our advantage, is that those constituent practices continue to proliferate locally and sediment to various degrees. Away from the spotlights, critical masses, community gardens, farmer's markets, popular education programs, Food not Bombs, eco-raves, file-sharing, open source development, anti-militarism research, housing occupations, community bicycle repair centres, legal defence collectives, alternative research projects, skills sharing workshops, media monitoring groups and countless other self-valourizing practices are now an integral part of how the communities of resistance that have sprung up articulate themselves and their place in the world. These are noisy and quiet molecular revolutions which, taken together, cannot amount to a Red October, and should not have to. Indeed, their failure to do so leaves us becoming even more invigorated.

36. If we are so bold as to respond to that permanent question 'what is to be done' we might say 'more of the same'. And we might add that we should worry less about external 'representation' of local self-valourizing practices. We have our own mediatic experiments to look to here, our own challenges, and our own successes.  

37. In Italy the street television movement (comprised of microbroadcasters in local neighbourhoods linked by a network of websites) has been openly defying Silvio Berlusconi's dominance of the communicative landscape for three years now.   In this way local neighbourhood groups, from social centres to labour unions to queer and disabled collectives are literally broadcasting in the shadows of the mainstream media.   Their stories reach out to a radius of perhaps 500 meters, including thousands of inhabitants in their local neighbourhoods in the cities of Rome, Milan and Bologna, but also in small towns across the peninsula.   It is estimated that there are over 200 of such broadcasters in operation at any one time.   This is communicative direct action at its finest, as it not only resists what exists, but actively creates alternatives as it does.

38. These experiments draw on a rich legacy of horizontal communication. Indymedia, although only six years old, is a part of this legacy.   Like the 'movement of movements' it erupted onto the scene with, it is clearly in a period of transition. Its decentralized, open-source circuits were an exciting and innovative organizational structure that expressed the efficacy of the infamous protesters. But paralyzed by organizational difficulties brought on by its expansion and increasingly subject to charges of poor journalism, Indymedia is, according to many, in crisis (Whitney 2005).

39. Yet as older spaces grow, change, or close up, newer ones are created that take their place. The 'blogosphere' may be such a space, albeit a clearly contested one. To date the blogosphere has gained prominence as a pop cultural phenomenon largely devoid of 'political' content. Weblogs first appeared in the late 1990s as personal websites largely in the form of online diaries; they have since proliferated into myriad forms, covering topics ranging from music to technology to sex to politics (for a history of blogs, see the entry in Wikipedia).   And the hermetic focus of these discrete individual sites has been tempered by the prominence of their links - known as 'blogroll'. Indeed, the singularity of each site is contextualized by the dynamic networks its blogroll provides, and among bloggers, the quality of a blog is determined as much by its links as its content. So what was once seen as the indulgent musing of dilettantes may now be enunciated as another part of the unmediated expression of an emergent multitude. To be sure, this remains an ambiguous communicative space - one must ask oneself the question of who may speak within it, and certainly capital has already tagged it as a key site of future markets; as for the 'infamous' it remains to be seen, as the blogsphere is a contested space.

40. Regardless, for us, what we need are more people and collectives giving voice to their own practices. I think we already understand what the Canadian post-punk band The Constantines mean when they sing out 'We got an amplifier' (some see 'podcasting' as an emerging form of 'amplification' or 'pirate web radio) - as long as their purpose is to relay struggles and not to make a single voice so loud as to drown out all others.


Enda Brophy is a doctoral student at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.  He studies immaterial and precarious labour and emergent forms of collective organization within the information and communication industries.  He has been an active part of labour, anti-poverty and anti-war organizing. He has published in journals such as the Canadian Journal of Communication, Historical Materialism, Computers and Society and DeriveApprodi.  He has also translated the work of Italian social theorists such as Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Franco Berardi (Bifo).

Mark Coté is a visiting scholar with the Institute for Globalization and the Human Condition at McMaster University and his research interests include intersections of Foucault, Autonomist Marxism, Information Theory, Networks, and Affinity.   His essay 'The Italian Foucault' was recently published in Politics and Culture and (together with Richard Day and Greig de Peuter) he is co-editor of Radical Experiments in Utopian Pedagogy (University of Toronto Press, forthcoming).


*An earlier version of this paper was originally published for a special edition of the Italian journal of social theory, DeriveApprodi, dedicated to North American social movements (see Brophy and Coté 2003).

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