Student Activism International: The Power of Networking via the Internet

It is a common criticism of university activism that its boycotts and occupations don’t really have much effect beyond the consciences of those involved. In an age of international trade deals and corporate “synergy,” what can one isolated student body do against the might of a transnational giant? However, campus activist Internet networking is showing the power latent in those small pockets.

It is a common criticism of university activism that its boycotts and occupations don’t really have much effect beyond the consciences of those involved. In an age of international trade deals and corporate “synergy,” what can one isolated student body do against the might of a transnational giant? However, campus activist Internet networking is showing the power latent in those small pockets.

Pepsi Corporation’s Burmese operations were completely halted by consolidated student action across the world.

Burma is ruled by a brutal military dictatorship, which enlists its “citizens” as slave labor, and responds to democratic elections with something between contempt and indifference. For years, Pepsi, like any good corporate behemoth, ignored this fact, and invested heavily in the country. Another thing Pepsi invests in heavily is post-secondary campus service. In 1994 Pepsi signed a deal with the Toronto, Ontario university board making them the exclusive soft drink of all the city’s schools, and this led the soft drink giant right into campus activists’ hands.

The Free Burma Coalition at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, had been lobbying for a boycott on Pepsi products, as well as those of several other corporations who were manufacturing or selling their products in Burma; when Pepsi started pushing their wares heavily in Ontario, the issue went worldwide.

Students at Ottawa’s Carleton University posted notices on the Internet about Burma’s human rights abuses and Pepsi’s dealings in the country, and international response was quick and enthusiastic. Soon, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group at Carleton was electronically distributing hundreds of campus action kits, with pamphlets, letters, petitions, and “Gotta Boycott” stickers. The movement eventually gained the power and credibility that is often lacking in university protests.

The results? Well, Harvard declined a million-dollar deal with Pepsi, Stanford gave up nearly as much to avoid having Pepsi subsidiary Taco Bell on campus. More than 100 universities participated in the boycott. Stanford and the University of Wisconsin both landed in the Mother Jones magazine’s top six American activist schools. But the most impressive result was Pepsi’s complete pullout in January of ’98 from all Burmese trade.

Connect

The Internet is going through a sort of renaissance, especially among the hyper-connected student circles. People interested in social change and cultural criticism are finding the Internet holds a certain amount of utopian media democracy that made the technology so exciting when it first appeared.

The Student Activist Network (SAN) is an electronic mailing list with hundreds of subscribers across Canada, the U.S and abroad. SAN is a sort of activist newswire, providing news and information as well as hour-by-hour reporting on demonstrations, occupations, and movements nationwide. Check out this powerful activist information service by sending an e-mail to majordomo@tao.ca, with “subscribe san” in the body of the message.

Author: Eli Spiegelman

News Service: Adbusters

URL: http://adbusters.org/magazine/22/studentactivism.html