Happy 5th Birthday Indymedia

Today is the 5th anniversary of the Battle of Seattle at the 1999 WTO Ministerial protests, and so is also a fine day to celebrate the birthday of Indymedia. Although Indymedia actually formed over months preceeding the WTO, it was five years ago today that the IMC took center stage as the conduit of information from Seattle.

In November 1999 I was just barely aware of the preparations underway in anticipation of the WTO, though I knew it was going to be a big deal. Many people from Champaign-Urbana went to the protests, and in talking to them afterward and hearing about the IMC I kept asking them and myself, “why can’t we do that here?”

Less than a year later, enough people here who were asking themselves the same question got together and made plans for the Urbana-Champaign IMC, which had its “official” opening on January 20, 2001.

Since 1999 we’ve seen some of the first IMCs change, split and go on hiatus, along with over a hundred others join the network. I’m amazed that we’ve kept it together in Champaign-Urbana for almost four years, especially since compared to places like New York, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, we’re pretty far off the activist mind-map. Even so, the U-C IMC is facing challenges, including trying to find a new home for our physical space.

There are many justified critiques of IMC, from battles over editing website newswires, to more significant questions about diversity, disparity between the global North and South, and the effectiveness of the media we make. Critiques are important, because they remind us of the things we need to address and give consideration.

I think IMC is still an extremely effective approach to making independment media and networking geographically dispersed communities with common media approaches, strategies and solidarity. It’s far from perfect, but we must recognize that IMC is one big experiment that is not quite like anything attempted before. While it draws on the rich history of the alternative press, community radio, public access TV and other oppositional media movements, IMC is a multimedia endeavor that attempts to leverage the power of electronic and social networks.

The free association of local IMCs without hierarchies is the most powerful and protective element of the IMC movement. While it presents new challenges for global decision making, it also helps make IMC easy to grow and hard to kill.

Five years seems like a short period of time, but it’s an important benchmark for an alternative or activist organization, especially one that is not run in a top-down fashion. At this point, I’d bargain that it would take much more forceful direct and coordinated state repression to stamp out IMC. Even as individual local IMCs come and go, I predict the network has another five years ahead of it, at the very least.

Santa Cruz IMC has a short feature on the anniversary with links to a Freak Radio program looking back on the WTO protests and the audio portion of the This Is What Democracy Looks Like documentary. NYC IMC also has a feature that includes links to articles examining the legacy of the Battle of Seattle.