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Genoa Protesters: Your Image Needs Work

Nancy Snow

THE FIX is in. Activists in Genoa, you were framed.

You know that the world missed out on your message of social justice and saw only melee, chaos and confusion at the Group of Eight summit in Italy. The shot-heard-'round-the-world, the death of Carlo Giuliani, forever framed you guilty by association. A frame, not of your own creation, hurt you. You allowed others to define you.

Who were you, anyway? If not the one-stop shopping label of "anti-globalization protesters," you were indelibly marked as leftists, Marxists or anarchists. Such name-calling made you easy targets as suspected enemies of the state and big business, dismissing your legitimate grievances.

And the media captured audience eyeballs for the television screen through your provocative black-masked images and street violence. No wonder the workaday world just cannot identify with you. Your reputation is sullied. Now it's back to the drawing board.

Where does a social justice movement go when it is best known for its negative images? You reframe your message, make it your own and keep sharing it until the more accurate picture takes hold. You make sure that the world sees the landscape of globalization and its human and social costs. You take responsibility for your own pictures and keep painting until your pictures tell your own stories. The world's people know that there are human costs to globalization. They experience them everyday - from Mexican nationals dying in the deserts of Arizona to poverty workers on the global assembly line. You've got your visuals, so use them.

You deserve some credit that you put President George W. Bush on the linguistic low ground with his pre-summit efforts to metaphorically morph you who question free trade from justice-loving to poor-loathing. A sure sign that your steady drumbeat of protest from Seattle to Genoa has had effect is the concerted effort your adversaries are now making to either garble or simplify your political message.

Don't expect the mainstream news media to tell your stories for you. Modern packaging of news is fast-paced, fragmented and in search of the most dramatic visuals to bring an audience to a corporate sponsor. The human costs of globalization, which target the ill effects of corporate power, are not going to be headline news. The media's attention is fixated on what is going on in world capitals where people in positions of economic and political power reside. The comings and goings of President Bush and Madonna make the headlines. Only 20 percent of the media's attention is focused on "ordinary" people, and when they are newsworthy, they are generally presented as individual victims or perpetrators like Carlo Giuliani, not as members of groups opposed to the existing power structure. The business of news is still business, not movement politics.

Further, about 80 percent of news is episodic in nature. It takes snapshots of events to capture an entire subject. The social context of a story, its root cause or effect, is often left on the cutting room floor. As a result, our picture is disjointed, incomplete and individualized. This is why the image of Carlo Giuliani, with arms raised, holding a fire extinguisher over his head, was what forever "framed" him as the media's postcard for those protesting the Genoa summit. Anyone else left standing in the street could not be trusted to protest peacefully, and so your message was declared null and void.

Like angry parents, the state leaders and Italian police gave a collective "we told you so" lecture to the protesters: We give you a protest ring and you can't be responsible. Did the world see the other image of Giuliani, after he was shot by police and his body run over by the police vehicle? Wouldn't fit the frame.

The globalization protest movement that began in Seattle and ended with death in Genoa has got to reframe its message to the world. So far, the dominant frame of globalization-that pro-economic growth, open markets and liberalized trade help lift all boats-has prevailed and mostly shut down the debate over whose interpretation of globalization will prevail.

Seattle was about gaining worldwide attention to the problems inherent to globalization-namely the primacy of pro-growth economics and corporate profit over social outcomes (health, education, quality of life). But gaining media attention alone is not what a global social movement needs, if you only end up getting framed.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Nancy Snow

Nancy Snow

Nancy Snow is a Senior Visiting Research Professor and Abe Fellow at Keio University in Tokyo. Her books include: "Truth is the Best Propaganda: Edward R. Murrow's Speeches in the Kennedy Years" (2013); "Propaganda and American Democracy" (2014) and "Japan's Information War" (2016). She can be reached at www.NancySnow.com.

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