Information and Power

There’s a passage that stood out to me in an article I read a few months ago, “Why Must We Be Small? Reflections on Political Development and Cultural Work in Brazil’s Landless Movement” by Tamara Lynne. (The piece is the Fall 2011 issue of Perspectives on Anarchist Theory; it’s not online, but you can see a glimpse of it on the Justseeds website.)

Speaking of her own entry into political activism via anti-World Trade Organization (WTO) protests, Lynn writes:

No teach-in, no books or notebooks, no academic discussion could have accomplished what thirty seconds of action told me about my own power and its connection to why we were resisting the WTO. However, post-WTO, the processes of political development I observed appeared to focus on information. There was an attitude that if people simply had the correct information, they would see clearly what to do and take action. This view misses the point that most people feel powerless most of the time, their experiences of themselves and their world are often submerged, and that many people do not have enough sense of their own power to speak up in the face of injustices in their daily lives, let alone in the face of unjust international trade agreements. (p. 44)

I’ve written a little about this topic before, about the potential and the¬†limitations of “information” in liberatory social movements. So, as an early-2013 thought, how might we who work in libraries offer information in various formats while also creating channels for people to grasp a sense of their own power?

To bring this to something rather more concretely applicable to the library context, I was also struck by a line in Anil Dash’s recent post The Web We Lost:

The technology industry, like all industries, follows cycles, and the pendulum is swinging back to the broad, empowering philosophies that underpinned the early social web. But we’re going to face a big challenge with re-educating a billion people about what the web means, akin to the years we spent as everyone moved off of AOL a decade ago, teaching them that there was so much more to the experience of the Internet than what they know.

His “we” is developers and technologists, not librarians (not that some librarians don’t also have those skillsets!). But still. Here we are, in our buildings, with our classrooms and computer stations, and whatever slice of humanity that uses our libraries looking for education and empowerment on any number of levels. How do we best use this opportunity our work affords us?

Happy New Year.