If you're disgusted by Newt Gingrich's Orwellian doublespeak use of the word "revolution," then you are a progressive on-line who wants to do something about the debasement of meaning and politics occurring right now in our country. When you click on one of the web sites discussed later in this column, you'll be greeted by the slogan, "the revolution will be online." By negating this slogan, I want to appropriate it as the title of this series of essays on the progressive activist internet community. "The revolution will be online" alludes, in a confused way, to Gil-Scott Heron's great song "The revolution will not be televised." I want to borrow Heron's wit to emphasize the irony for activists using the internet as an organizing tool. Through its accessibilty and organizing potential, the internet offers a renewal of social and political hope, but progessives know that nothing really changes when people confine their visions to the computer screen. Nearly the same utopian claims were made for previous technologies as for the internet (what channel is the Progressive Channel?), and we are bracing for the internet to be co-opted to some extent, if not completely controlled, eventually, by the conservative and mainstream. But right now, at this cyber-moment, the internet is open, linking thousands of progressive folks and, most importantly, producing ACTION outside the cyberworld, into the real world.
The center of this student movement is the University Conversion Project. Founded to promote peace activism and investigative journalism on campus in response to the Gulf War, the UCP works to convert military culture to peace culture by advocating that universities take the lead by turning war dollars (ROTC, weapons and other military research) to peace dollars (new college curricula, including peace studies and career guides for young scientists to discuss peaceful applications of new technology). They also maintain a research library on right wing campus activity and publish books and videos on related issues.
The UCP's Campus Activist's Network (known as CANET) has been the driving force behind the student networking against the Contract. CANET maintains an E-mail system that links college groups protesting the Contract. This has yielded protests nationwide, though the mainstream media has (surprise!) all but ignored it. On March 29, 1995, protests and teach- ins were held at over 80 colleges nationwide (over 110 schools if you add the protests that took place on March 23). In early April, representatives from 22 colleges met to compare notes and strategies and plan for the future. To find out what's happening (and why) on college campuses, subscribe to CANET's email list, by sending email to email@example.com with a subject of "canet" whose body just says: sub can-rw firstname lastname.
Other notable university-based electronic sites contain important resources for Contract resistance and education. The sites at Bowling Green University and at Oberlin College have links to material on specific issues and legislative updates on the Contract, as well as links to a couple of tragic-comic Newt sites. Also worth checking out are the web sites at EDIN, or Economic Democracy Information Network, from UC-Berkeley's Center for Community Economic Research, which provides links to a wide range of progressive issues and email lists, their Campus Organizing Library, as well as a site at Northwestern University. For many folks, the most valuable function of these sites will be to introduce and contextualize the issues and arguments over the Contract---"to educate," as Mother Jones said, "for the coming conflicts." This movement bears watching.
But if resistance from the Left is restricted to the academic communities, then we can't expect much political change and charge in the long run. Fortunately in a depressingly perverse way, since the Contract threatens so many aspects of the body politic, the coalition against it is far- reaching. The most immediate and encouraging sign, in my view, is the National People's Campaign, who are holding a mass rally in San Francisco on May 6th, with speakers including Dolores Huerta and Jesse Jackson. The NPC, run by Urban Media House is a Bay area coalition of labor and people of color groups. Their web site contains essays on the Contract as well as its complete text. As more progressives get on-line, more links are possible across the political left spectrum, providing greater opportunites to form the necessary coalitions to defeat the reactionary forces united by the Contract. As an Nation editorial put it, "the new medium of Internet . . . is a hallmark of this generation of activists."