Previous month:
May 2008
Next month:
July 2008

Staying Power of a Network vs. an Institution

Clay has been doing great work tracking a few of those cases that many of us interested in network-centric advocacy like to watch. We watch them because many people worry about the "staying power" of a network vs an institution. Many people think the organization is the only mechanism for fighting the long drawn out fight. I am not sure it matters since I think we need both and mostly we are just neglecting networks but it is nice to see Clay follow one of his case studies through to the end.

I would argue the anti-war movement and network of loose activists also falls in this networks that stay mold but the Coalition for a Passengers Bill of Rights is interesting and Clay does the story well.

Here Comes Everybody

I've argued that the Coalition succeeded where early efforts at either lobbying or class action suits failed because the Coalition is ad hoc, amateur, and surprising. They didn't set up a big institution. They have a very specific and targeted goal. They attract people from across a political spectrum -- their members didn't need to agree about any other issue besides passenger's rights. And they appeared out of nowhere, getting the attention of legislators before the airline industry had time to frame a reaction.

However, the risk is that protest movements that rely on surprises simply get waited out by institutions. Once you get a tactic that works well, it can't be surprising anymore. (I speculated about this problem at Berkman about a month ago, and now here it is.)

So the test case here is: can a pressure group that doesn't have an institutional structure prevail in a situation where the airline lobby in the US Congress is well defended against citizen complaint? The next phase of the drama will be slower moving the first phase, but will ultimately matter more in what it tells us about protest culture in the current era.