Mobilizing the Civic Imagination: New Media in the Context of Colombia’s Peace Agreement and Referendum

Imagination is a powerful tool for social and cultural transformation. People need to be able to imagine and speak about change first in order to transform the world later. Our capacity to imagine creative alternatives to current society and politics, as Henry Jenkins and colleagues have explained in By Any Media Necessary, can be understood as the civic imagination, a tool that helps citizens to exercise change, transform the world, and help to solve social problems.

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In the particular context of peace talks unfolding in Colombia during the past 4 years, the civic imagination has increasingly been mobilized through the use of new media. Leveraging digital tools and networks, actors from various sectors of the Colombian society have contributed to the production of a vibrant conversation about the possibility of ending the war, building peace, and creating a more tolerant and participatory democracy. Using a variety of new media platforms, activists, NGOs, the government, guerrillas, entrepreneurs, and everyday citizens, have created and circulated an impressive amount of content about the peace agreement, the prospect of reconciliation, reparations for the victims of war, transitional justice, and the possibilities of making a more inclusive society.

Using all forms of media, activists, NGOs, and the government, have created and circulated an impressive amount of content about the peace agreement, the prospect of reconciliation, the victims of war, and the future possibilities for buildign peace and democracy. These kind of content emphasizes the positive side of the peace process and, in most occasions, aims to promote the vote for the “Yes” on the forthcoming referendum. If the “Yes” wins in the elections, the peace agreements will be ratified, and the peace building process would be able to continue.

However, given the political polarization existing in Colombia, the civic imagination has been mobilized both towards peace and reconciliation scenarios, as well as towards voting “No” to the peace agreement in the referendum. While one side of the Colombian civic imagination focuses on the possibility of peace and constructing democracy after five decades of armed conflict, the other focuses on spreading fear, and very effectively creating myths about the peace agreements. Messages from the Colombian government opposition and conservative sectors of the society who advocate for the “No” in the referendum circulate widely and spread through new media, particularly on Twitter and Facebook.

Although legitimate concerns about the peace agreement exists, the opposition has avoided relying on facts, and instead has focused on amplifying rumors about around the peacemaking process. Misinformation has become the key strategy for promoting fear and supporting the “No” at the referendum among many sectors of the Colombian society.

In such polarized environment, the civic imagination is mobilized in two directions, both for supporting social change and peace building, as well as for maintaining the status quo and keep the war.

One of the most effective techniques used by the opponents of the peace process is to paint future scenarios in which the country will become socialist and communist, and governed by the FARC guerrilla if the “Yes” wins in the referendum. The civic imagination, in this case, is mobilized with fear, and the cold war ghosts of communism are reiterated with the image of Venezuela, Cuba, and their leaders Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. For instance, supporters of the “No” campaign often claim that those in favor of the peace agreement are “Castro-Chavistas”.

However, it is on the campaign for the “Yes” and pro peace where we see a productive mobilization of the civic imagination. One that is capable of visualizing a social transformation and a a different future. This imagination has been mobilized by multiple actors, and has been effective in promoting discussion and making people think about how Colombia would look like if we are able to transition to post-conflict. Although the mobilization has consisted on a mix of online and offline tactics and moves, I would like to focus on the ones that have been developed using new media. These initiatives reveal how Colombians have been using social media and digital tools for mobilizing the civic imagination.

Below is an expanding list of civic media projects that support the peace process in Colombia and encourage citizens to participate, learn, and contribute to what has been called pedagogy of peace.

  • Twitter hashtags : Colombians are actively using the Twitter platform for political discussion. As users experiment with new ways of organizing online, sharing ideas, and promoting the peace agreement, they have actively engaged in the creation of hashtags (#). Organizing Twitter-a-thons, or marathons of tweets, for instance, has become one of the tactics used for discussing the peace agreement, explaining it, and sharing arguments for supporting the Yes. Almost everyday during the past weeks a new hashtag has been created and thousands of Colombians have used it, making it a Twitter trending topic for the country. Citizens share not only texts while participating in the conversation around a hashtag but also links to websites, images, and videos. Below are some of the hashtags created in the past weeks by thousands of citizens on the Colombian twittersphere:

 #SiALaPaz #NoMásGuerra #PazenColombia #SialPlebiscito #votasi #TodosConLaPaz #SoyDefensorDeLaPaz #JuntosPorElSi #AdiósAlaGuerra #ObvioqueSi #ColombiaesPaz #SiSasPorLaPaz #GeneraciondelSi #LaPazNosUne #SienteelSi #QueremoslaPaz #SiMeLaJuego #El2VotoSi  #Sisas #SiPorque #tierradepaz #Yovotosí #QueremoslaPaz #SIAmoLaPaz #ConLaPazRenacemos #laPazSiesContigo #DescanseEnPazLaGuerra #TejiendoLaPaz  #GanandoLaPaz #Sisomosmás

  • Las palomas no son blancas’ (the doves are not white) , a web comic created by Juan David Olmos that illustrates the different chapters and sections of the peace agreement.

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  • Dejemos de Matarnos’ (let’s stop killing us), a multimedia site with animated videos,  infographics, and other materials that can be used to learn and teach about the peace process.
  • PlebiSÍto, a website dedicated to answering question about the peace agreement. They also have a Whatsup channel where people can ask any question about it.
  • 1000 Razones para la Paz, a website where citizens share their reasons for saying “Yes” to the peace agreement. The site invites Colombians to write their reasons for supporting peace and to generate a collective document with 1000 reasons.
  •  Podcasts: There are several readings of the the peace agreement available on Soundcloud and Speaker.
  • Todos por la Paz: A platform that serves to organize a volunteers, aggregates video testimonies, aggregates news related to peace process, hosts learning resources, and coordinates a network of volunteers.
  •  ConLosPacifistas: a Youtube video campaign started by the Colombian Agency for the Re-integration (ACR) that invites organizations and citizens to record versions of a collective dance video and share it on YouTube and other social media platforms. The collective video uses the format of the infamous Harlem Shake meme and dance craze. The music is the one of a cumbia digital track, and the performance for the first part of the video involves a person doing a dove gesture with her hands (evoking the peace dove wings). More than 100 videos have been created and shared so far.

The wide range of new media initiatives that has emerged in the context of the Colombian peace process and peace agreement referendum shows that a great number of citizens are actively developing new forms of participation and discussion, and are leveraging the networked communication environment with civic purposes. There is hope in that the wide majority of voters will ratify the peace agreement next Sunday October 2nd, and take advantage of this historic moment to continue mobilizing the civic imagination and building a more pluralistic and tolerant democracy in Colombia.

 

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