The Globalization of Mass Politics

Globalization has assumed a new form: global mass politics. Of course, political protests have been global for decades, as past marches against the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, and globalization itself demonstrated. The revolutions of 1989 and 1991 in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union blanketed a huge region within months. But the anti-Iraq War protests reveal a new dynamic. Up to 10 million protestors in some 60 countries and 600 cities took to the streets on schedule on a single day, February 15, showing that mass politics can now be approached globally.

Communications and mass media have long enabled "copycat" effects--protests in one place ignite similar actions elsewhere. The overthrow of King Louis Phillipe in France in 1848 was carried by the recently introduced telegraph to Germany, igniting revolution. Television images of the fall of the Berlin Wall spurred revolutionary changes throughout the former Soviet bloc. On other occasions, protests such as May Day marches were transformed into widespread social mobilization, as happened in France on May 1, 1968.

What is distinctive about the recent mass protests against US plans for a war against Iraq is that the February 15 event was planned ahead of time, at short notice, for a specific date, and with an explicit goal of worldwide scale. The decision to launch February 15 as a day of mass protest was apparently taken at a meeting of activists at the European Social Forum in Florence in November last year. In ninety days, these organizers turned out more than 5 million protestors worldwide.

There are three keys to this phenomenon: