by Ghadah Alrasheed

With the outbreak of COVID-19, life feels surreal and strange as our sheltered world has been overbalanced. The ensuing circumstances, however, have also thrown into sharp relief social inequality, inefficient governance and racial disparity as we have seen clearly who had been the most impacted by COVID-19 . The disproportionate impact of the virus has shown how important for people and institutions to reshuffle their systems and think of alternative visions of future. It has also become more crucial than ever to locate and rediscover media and tactics that aid activists in amplifying their voices and getting more attention to their causes even when circumstances block access to previously available media. These activist tactics and media do not need to be technological, but they can combine what is possible in a certain socio-historical context. They do not need to exist as technical artefacts but can materialize as forms of social organization that can help create and harness collective action.

The five articles in this issue emerged from COMS 3411 Alternative Media and Social Activism class, which was taught at the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University in Fall 2020. Approaching a diverse array of movements and activist actions, the articles reflect on the communicative landscape of each case and explore both their contexts and communication opportunities: ranging from the farmers’ protests and I Paid a Bribe campaigns in India to Ni una menos in Latin America against gender-based violence to imagery and symbolism in Lebanon’s 2019 protests and March for our Lives in the United States against gun legislation.

There have been competing interpretations of what constitutes ‘alternative media’ but the contributors take a broad approach to alternative media as sites that stand in opposition to social and political oppressions and mainstream media’s narratives. They look at a wide range of alternative media, including imageries, bodies, zines, leaflets, online campaigns, speeches, interviews on mainstream media, gatherings in public space and other sites and means of activism. While exploring these media, they provide a critical assessment of the implications of the rise of digital and social media and of techno utopian visions of new media’s role in changing societies and creating revolutions. Through their assessments of the various activism sites and tools, the articles capture communication in its complex and nuanced shape and highlight human agency, eschewing technological determinism when exploring power and resistance.