Naomi Klein's anti-corporate activist handbook makes a comeback - maybe when it's needed most
For those who lived through the 1990s, memories of grunge, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the death of Lady Diana and Baywatch come paired with the emergence of global superbrands – Nike, Starbucks, Wal-Mart – and a small but vocal movement that spoke out against consumer culture and multinational corporations.
When the first edition of Naomi Klein’s No Logo was released in 1999, a loosely organized network of activists had just staged protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, effectively shutting down the city. The timing was perfect for a sharp examination of marketing, branding and unethical corporate practices, written by a journalist who was a self-confessed former mall rat and in the same demographic as many of the activists.
"Here we are 10 years later, and many of these arguments are really mainstream ideas," says the Toronto-based journalist, author and activist, who shifted her focus from branding to global free market policies in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.
"These days, there is much more public concern about corporate power over politics," says Klein, "which is really what the movement that was falsely called ‘anti-globalization’ was about: corporate power, corporate rule, unregulated capitalism. That movement peaked when capitalism was triumphant, at the protests in Seattle."
With that in mind, it’s disheartening that the past decade has seen acceleration in global marketing and branding strategies. The anniversary edition of what has been heralded as the "movement bible" might just come at the right time.
"Everyone is suspicious of a takeover of politics by corporations and leaving everything in the hands of the market," says Klein. "We see that in the U.S. health care debates and in Canada allowing influence of the oil lobby on our government. Yet, as these ideas become more mainstream, there isn’t a popular movement that is responsive."
Klein’s new introduction to No Logo contextualizes the evolution of branding, in particular how the techniques have been adapted for the Obama administration, and reminds us of lessons learned at the turn of the millennium. While the first three-quarters of the book looks at the power of the global superbrands and how their messages encroach on our public spaces, thoughts, consumer dollars and, ultimately, our identities and sense of self in the world, the real activist meat is in the last section.
"The final part of the book is about the emergence of a response. What was exciting about that moment  is that people were looking at economic systems. We lost a lot of that during the Bush years and subsequent invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s not that there hasn’t been activism – it just wasn’t looking at systems. It was looking at single issues: Trying to stop wars, trying to stop torture. But I think now there is a need to go back to talking about systems – to do more than talk about it, to organize."
On the eve of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (Dec. 7-18), No Logo speaks to a new wave of activism.
"There’s been a convergence around Copenhagen," says Klein. "People are working together across sectors for climate change. You have groups that have been focused not only on environment issues, but on poverty, development, critiquing foreign debt. The alternatives are at the centre of these protests, as are exposing false solutions and proposing solutions that have a chance of solving the problem. It’s a much more galvanizing message."