By Kate Gilbertson
GLOBALISATION HAS INCREASED awareness of the greater world as communication and trade across borders have eased. In other words, we are more connected than ever before. Yet conversations on the impacts of globalisation have insofar neglected the critical discussion on how the most fundamental, local forms of community organising and governance have been changed. Sure, ‘glocalisation’ is posted around every up-and-coming community from Minneapolis to Hackney, but we can think more critically than that. How has interconnectedness shaped responses to incredibly local and contextual issues? How have global issues become our own? And to what extent have issues meant for community organising been extended outside their community, and perhaps, decontextualised?
Political communities have never existed in a vacuum, they have and will always be deeply enmeshed with one another. Yet increasingly, we must ask where the boundaries of constituency lie given the entanglement brought on by globalisation and the extension of our community boundaries. As social networks expand beyond local religious and social institutions, so does the scope of issues to which we are exposed and drawn into. Community no longer simply means physical vicinity but rather a personal affiliation that transcends distance. With this change in how community manifests in our own lives, so has its definition concerning organising. Proximity is no longer the great unifier, and it may not need to be.
This changed dynamic of community that goes beyond physical bounds has fostered a newfound ease of empathy. In 2012, Brian D. Christens and Jessica J. Collura conducted interviews with organisers from throughout the Midwest which revealed this exact sentiment. Organisers cited that oftentimes their most ardent supporters came from across the world, as has increasingly become the norm. In reaction to social events, protests and posts echo around the world. Individuals organise to incite changes that they may never personally feel.
“Global citizenship is ripe
and it is here to stay.“
The organisers interviewed in Christens and Collura’s (2012) survey noted interconnectedness and consumerism when relating organising and globalisation. As interconnectedness has accelerated through social media, so has the consumption of movements and politics. Individuals are expected to digest the vast media presented to them with ease and endurance, while still being called by the causes that are physically near to them. At what point does this exhausted interconnectedness lead to burnout and disengagement? Such exposure and information may make empathy, simultaneously, more difficult.
The Decontextualisation of Movements
International attention is not immune to the known problems of social media and interconnectedness. Bluntly, it can decontextualise movements and sensationalise sensitive events. Gaining attention from individuals who are not given the context nor the tools to critically digest the topics presented to them can create harmful information gaps. Following the murder of George Floyd by Derrick Chauvin and other highly politicised incidents of police brutality, international attention fell upon Minneapolis’ police system. Amidst this media attention, the history of police brutality and local organisations working against it were frequently overlooked. When movements gain traction of this scale, it is easy for media attention to latch on to louder, more disruptive actors or organisations. This frequently occurs when issues enter the spotlight of public attention. While this can be beneficial to building momentum for a movement, it can also deviate it from its original purpose or decontextualise it in the face of onlookers.
Yet this interconnectedness may be harnessed to initiate effective change – both face-to-face and through media mobilisation. Additionally, if utilised well, national or multinational organisations may be even more of a critical tool for organising than they have historically.
I spent the last few months of 2020 and 2021 working with an organisation focused on reforming the juvenile sentencing system in Minnesota. Until the summer of 2023, juveniles were eligible to be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Reflecting on our tactics, they were deeply influenced by globalisation and the dynamic community as explored above. Utilising social media to tell the stories of juveniles sentenced to life, we connected with individuals across the US in similar local and national organisations. Undoubtedly, working with national actors furthered momentum beyond what would not be possible locally.
It is easy to call out injustice, and globalisation has only made it more convenient. The issue now presented to organisers is how they can harness this momentum. While working with juvenile sentencing reforms we faced this issue. As we reached wider audiences on social media, the absence of physical organising was increasingly felt. Alongside other community leaders, organisers, and local politicians a community day was organised – showcasing art from incarcerated individuals, featuring speakers, and utilising engagement activities. The work continued after I moved away, but the continued use of social media and dedicated organising efforts eventually helped pass reform legislation.
Many issues, like juvenile sentencing reform in Minnesota, will never make national headlines. Frankly, they do not hold the same traction as other issues, nor do they come from striking events in the media cycle. And that is okay. Yet working beyond, for lack of a better word, the sensationalisation of need requires creativity and ingenuity in tactics unlike ever before – especially when trying to reign in the attention of both the local community and the momentum that comes with a global focus.
Here we are presented with the double-edged sword of empathy – one that furthers attention towards movements, fueling traction for positive change, and a second that inappropriately distracts from the very roots of community organising – community. We cannot avoid the flood of international movements presented to us, but we can attempt to think critically about how interconnectedness presents itself in our own lives.
By: Kate Gilbertson
Photography: Amine M’siouri
NB: This article has been discussed with Radio UF. More insights here.