Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A little help from the Ultras, sports fans and revolution


  This is an interesting article on what role sports clubs played in the Arab Spring revolutions.  I've heard that from the beginnings of watching the revolutions in Algeria, Egypt and elsewhere that the anarchic, physical soccer fan clubs played an important role in the uprisings. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Free secure wifi for everyone? could be


"A section of Detroit will be the proving ground for a new open source wireless networking technology called Commotion. Commotion is a mesh networking technology that creates a wireless local area network for devices. The network can connect users to each other and with an Internet connection and can connect them to the greater web.
The network is being built by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute (OTI), which has completed the first phase of construction of this network in the Cass Corridor section of Detroit. It plans to publicly release Commotion in early 2013 so other places can experiment with the technology. We’ve covered Commotion and the OIT’s efforts before in our story detailing the technology stack for an open wireless network. The stack contains technologies such as Serval, which would enable the handsets to recognize the Commotion network, Tor, a program that can hide where a user is coming from and OpenBTS, an open source base station that runs software that can interface between VoIP networks and GSM radios."

This looks promising both in providing Internet connection to even the poor, and providing a secure network. I hope the idea spreads.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Occupy Sandy credited with keeping crime down


"Hold on to your riot gear, ladies and gentlemen, because police in New York City are saying that Occupy Wall Street activists deserve credit for helping keep the city safe after Hurricane Sandy. They're not saying that publicly, of course. That would just be too much.
In case you haven't been paying attention, Sandy recovery efforts are on-going in many parts of New York City. In areas like Coney Island and the Rockaways, crime has spiked, mostly from burglaries as the communities have struggled to get back on their feet, but things have been remarkably civil in Red Hook. The New York Post reported why on Wednesday night: 'Police sources have credited the drop in crime to an unlikely coalition that included the NYPD, Occupy Wall Street activists, and local nonprofits working together to keep storm victims safe.' Said one of these unnamed sources,'"This crisis allowed us all to remove the politics and differences we had to do our job, and come to the aid of the people. We all rose to the occasion.'"

There is much to learn from Occupy Sandy.  I read that in some ways they've done even better than the Red Cross.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Can a group get too large or formal for ICA to work?


"The old way of doing things, you could think of it as there are three steps in the campaign process," Ruben said. "Step one, listen hard to what members want. Step two, figure out what we can do on that. Step three, turn around and kick that back out to folks and say, 'Ok, if everybody stands on their head on Thursday, we'll get health care,' or whatever the strategy is that we've come up with. So the game here is to take that middle step, which is really the leadership step, and hand as much of it over to members as possible."
MoveOn will still weigh in on elections and other national issues, said Ruben, but the new bottom-up approach will mean much more attention on local issues.
"It's a huge shift and definitely a risk, but it's doable and we feel like it has the potential ... to dramatically increase the number of successful progressive campaigns and projects around the country and to give us a much more clout in these big national fights that have already been our focus, like a big election or the fiscal showdown," Ruben said.
Ruben cited a grassroots-driven campaign that originated with a Pittsburgh member who used the group's new petitions software, called SignOn, to urge local elections officials not to implement an illegal voter suppression law. Campaigners working for MoveOn latched onto the idea and helped spread it across Pennsylvania, running paid media and a traditional campaign against the law, which was ultimately overturned. MoveOn's campaign team, Ruben said, would have never thought to urge local officials to oppose the law, but breaking out of the Washington box allows more creative thinking.

* * *

    ICA only works with a simple goal and no leadership.  So when does a group last so long that ICA should be tossed for more formal organizing?  Can a group be too big or diverse for ICA to work?  What exactly are the boundaries where ICA can be successful?  These questions I hope will be studied.  In the Case of Moveon.org, they appear to believe that they can more closer to ICA than they have been. That's pretty interesting.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

More on Occupy Sandy


"The debate in the Occupy movement around “demands,” once so heated at the fall 2011 encampment in Zuccotti Park, has faded amidst so many immediate and concrete demands that Occupy Sandy now confronts daily on the front lines of the relief effort. The Occupy organizers in orange fluorescent vests rushing around the relief hub in a church at 520 Clinton Ave. in Brooklyn, or shoveling out sand from basements in the Rockaways, or going door-to-door and delivering food to elderly residents on the upper floors of the city’s public housing complexes, are part of a maturing resistance movement that is growing deep roots in communities across the city. In some cases, they are even working closely with some of the same people who conducted raids on Occupy’s encampment in the Financial District a year ago."

This is getting good. The Occupy movement is flowing to where it is needed.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Random Hacks of Kindness


"The RHoK events start with identifying, defining and refining problems as presented by subject matter experts and local stakeholders. From there, teams come together to develop open source solutions to address these challenges. Participating with RHoK provides a chance to be part of a global movement of technology for social good.
The impact of RHoK cannot be understated. In just two days, developers and volunteers at a previous Toronto event worked together to create a system to engage, promote, and improve First Nation and Aboriginal access to water and sanitation in a project called WaterVoices.
Expectations are high for Vancouver’s first RHoK event. As many as eight non-profits will put forward projects that require technical expertise, from initiatives aimed at ending poverty in Canada to connecting women peace builders. The RHoK Vancouver event is working with local talent who are donating their valuable skills and time, to supporting some very worthy causes. There are still seats available, and developers needed."


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Collective Action toolkit from Frog


"Informed by this experience, Sherwin and Fabricant set out to build a book of directives that could lead anyone, anywhere, through the problem-solving process. The team found inspiration in their own office, looking at how Frog had tackled problem solving with its own clients. '“What we’ve seen when we work with startups is that actually, when you start designing, you learn things along the way that change your view of the problem you’re trying to solve.' In other words, the CAT is non-linear. Activities range from Find Issues, Uncover Needs (a guide to doing research in your community) to Lights, Camera, Action! (a guide to putting on skits to pitch solutions to a large group of people). Each activity ends with a return to a core focus: clarifying your goal, again and again, as your project progresses."

I didn't know this was a cultural thing. I figured brain-storming was just a common human method of getting things done.  Huh.

Here's the free kit!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Occupy Sandy first hand


"At the same time, Hurricane Sandy has brought new networks to life and put thousands of people in the streets to rebuild communities with an explicitly political framing. It’s now widely agreed that, despite setbacks, Occupy Sandy’s organizing has put the official agencies to shame. Equity, solidarity and mass participation have been at the center of the effort from the get-go, driven forward by committed organizers with deep politics and foresight. All along the intention has been to see this as an organizing project rather than just a volunteer effort. Still, the question remains of whether those networks in motion now can rise to the occasion and begin to address the underlying crises."

A nice close-to-hand account of how Occupy Sandy is working.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Occupy movement forgives debt


"A new initiative is re-energising the Occupy movement. Called the Rolling Jubilee, it is a plan to use money from donations to buy distressed consumer debt from lenders at a marked down price, just as debt collection agencies normally would. But instead of hounding debtors for payments, it will simply cancel the debts. The hope is that the liberated debtors will themselves contribute to the fund, "rolling" the jubilee forward."

   This is such a brilliant idea!  Habitat for Humanity works like this somewhat.  You build a house with a combination of community input, sweat equity, and Habitat's partial funding, and voila, a home for a lower-income family.  Rolling Jubilee buys debt, pays it off with community input, and hopes those helped thereby contribute as well to keep the system going.  I love it.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

avaaz.org - helping collective action


"Today, thanks to new technology and a rising ethic of global interdependence, that constraint no longer applies. Where other global civil society groups are composed of issue-specific networks of national chapters, each with its own staff, budget, and decision-making structure, Avaaz has a single, global team with a mandate to work on any issue of public concern--allowing campaigns of extraordinary nimbleness, flexibility, focus, and scale.

Avaaz's online community can act like a megaphone to call attention to new issues; a lightning rod to channel broad public concern into a specific, targeted campaign; a fire truck to rush an effective response to a sudden, urgent emergency; and a stem cell that grows into whatever form of advocacy or work is best suited to meet an urgent need. "

Larger non-profits, governments, and others can make collective action easier by forming a helpful environment.  This is happening more and more.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Is the Occupy movement outdoing the Red Cross after Sandy?


The scene at St. Jacobis on Saturday was friendly, orderly chaos.  Unlike other shelters that had stopped collecting donations or were looking for volunteers with special skills such as medical training, Occupy Sandy was ready to take anyone willing to help. A wide range of people pitched in, including a few small children making peanut butter sandwiches, but most volunteers were in their 20s and 30s. A large basement rec room had become a hive of vegetable chopping and clothes bagging. They held orientations throughout the day for new volunteers. One of the orientation leaders, Ian Horst, who has been involved with a local group called Occupy Sunset Park for the past year, says he was “totally blown away by the response” and the sheer numbers of people who showed up and wanted to help. He estimated that he’d given an orientation to 200 people in the previous hour.
By midday, a line stretched all the way down the block of people who’d already attended orientation and were waiting for rides to be dispatched to volunteer. Kiley Edgley and Eric Schneider had been waiting about 20 minutes and were toward the front of the line. Like several people I spoke to, the fact that this effort was being organized by the occupy movement wasn’t a motivating factor—they found out about the opportunity to volunteer online and just wanted to help."

   Here we have a leaderless movement springing up to do one "simple" thing, providing help to those harmed by Hurricane Sandy.  It's people doing what they can at their own rate, where a bit of chaos is ok.  Notice how many people are willing to join in?  I do hope, however, that they are teaching food safety and such things that such an informal organizing might neglect.  The Red Cross has advantage of specialists, being able to pre-position materials and such, but it cannot be denied that ICA (although in this case a bit less Internet), works and helps people.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

NY Anonymous supplements new movie on Anonymous


"The documentary recently released by Brian Knappenberger tells the story of Anonymous as we moved out of the virtual world and into the real world, becoming the very well-known phenomenon it is today. With no central narrator, Brian allows the story to be told by anons, academics, journalists, and security professionals with very little mediation. There were three members of NYC Anon / Motherfuckery.org who were featured in the film, as well as some of our friends and allies. There were also some foes, and those who famously share contrasting opinions.
Naturally, it is impossible to tell a 5+ year long story in two hours without leaving out some critical things. Anonymous, being a very complex and multi-faceted beast, could not be a more difficult entity to pin down and describe to people which are alien to our culture. As an outsider, Brian Knappenberger has done an amazing job. But as veteran members of Anonymous’s first real coalescence, we are in a unique position to fill in some gaps."

   This is a useful article that helps explain how Anonymous works a bit more than the movie (which I haven't seen yet) could.  It covers origination and organizational aspects to flesh out what you learn from the film.  Good job!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Social Media sparks democracy


"One of the core pillars of our political process is the belief that democracy works best when the most people participate. Yet with the election just one week away, we are confronted with a number of challenges to ensuring that our democracy functions to the best of its abilities. With the acceleration of technology and increased access to information, however, it has been found that social media sparks democracy.
Tools made available by social media have encouraged alternative voices to enter the political arena, voices that in previous years have been muted. As a result of technology, participation in the political process is accessible and direct engagement is feasible..."

Monday, October 29, 2012

Using the Internet to win the war


"Perhaps it is the parallel war being waged by the opposition on YouTube to convince the remaining Syrians who support Bashar al-Assad that the regime now survives only on a thin tissue of lies.

One of the more popular chants during demonstrations has been “Syrian media is a liar!” To challenge the state’s censorship and its massive propaganda machine, the opposition has smartly used the Internet, relying on satellite connections to upload videos on YouTube. Many Syrians rely heavily on their satellite dishes to watch these daily depictions of what the regime actually does.
The effect is powerful. A string of myths has been knocked down, starting with Mr. Assad’s superficial attempt at political reform last year. Also gone is the regime’s pretense of widespread support in the Arab and Muslim world."

   If you can't control what your people see and hear, it's hard to be a successful dictator.


and here's another similar article today;

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sociological paper; looks good?


In their forward for social change, political action is understood through their own practices of collaborative creation and the commons as their principal value (economic and moral). They do not see themselves as “militants” or even as “activists” (although some participate in movements like the 15M)  because they move on horizontal network structures of sharing that opposite the classic conception of social movement as which links together structural organization, collective identity and political goals.
This case study, situated mainly in Spain, offers an example of new forms of mobilization that question the current frameworks of  “social movement”, an de-centre the focus of analysis from the organized “political action” to the everyday practices that entails to look at materiality, space, sociality and expectations of future.

* * *

   I think this must have been originally written in Spanish, as it's a bit tricky to read. Hopefully the english translation will be good.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Social media alters society


"The power and speed at which social media can be put to use was exemplified in 2009, when an agency of the U.S. Department of Defence sponsored a contest known as The Red Balloon Challenge. First prize: $40,000.
It involved the launch of 10 red weather balloons deployed at unidentified locations across the country. The object was to use social media to identify the GPS co-ordinates for all 10 balloons.
More than 4,000 teams entered the competition. The Defence Department figured it might take up to a month for the team messages to get out across the Internet and for reported information to be collected from the public and verified.
But the winner — a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — took just less than nine hours to find the red balloons.
They did it with financial incentives — offering to share the prize money with anyone who helped provide them with information."

This is kind of a bland article but it does show how social media can make things possible that were impossible before. 

Iceland votes for crowd-sourced Constitution


Last Saturday, the citizens of Iceland voted in favor of the new Constitution, EurActiv reports. The bill was drafted thanks to a crowdsourced process that started a year and a half ago.
The first results showed that 66 percent of citizens participated to the non-binding vote (Iceland has about 235,000 eligible voters.)
On the ballot, citizens could answer “yes” or “no” to six questions, including the role of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as state church and the declaration of all non-privately owned natural resources as “national property” (the “yes” won with more than 80 percent votes.)
Back in June 2011, I wrote about the participation process that was in the making:
The “crowdsourcing body in charge” is a council of 25 members elected by popular vote from a field of 522 candidates over the age of 18 ... The council is basing its work on a 700-page report prepared by a committee that took into account the recommendations of the National Forum.
Recommendations need to be approved by local staff before being passed on to the council and posted online for discussion, but then, when approved by the council, they are added to the draft of the document."
 This looks like a pretty complicated process, but it includes input directly from citizens. As I recall the US Constitution was written by a few smart dudes who hung out in a room together and argued until they finished the thing.  I like this new way better.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Crowd sourced mapping


"OpenStreetMap, a free crowdsourced online world map started eight years ago, has seen its ranks swell to over 800,000 volunteer mapmakers around the world — 300,000 in the last year alone — rapidly becoming the go-to source of map data for successful tech brands including Apple, Foursquare and Wikipedia, as well as for government agencies like the National Parks Service, all of whom are wary of Google’s decision to begin charging for heavy use of its Maps API starting in January 2012.
But as the project grows and matures, it’s facing a whole new set of challenges, the biggest of which is the question of whether or not to commercialize and move away from its open source roots."

Hm. A simple (well, single) goal, anybody can help as much or as little as they want, but really no end to the project. Heck, it's  still ICA I think.  But when something gets this huge it's probably hard to stay simple.  It will be interesting to see where this goes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

RIP Diaspora


I admit that I was one of those early cheerleaders who were sure that Diaspora could replace Facebook.  I'm sad that the vision it started with has faded.  Hopefully someone, somewhere, will be able to knock Facebook out with something better.

Monday, October 8, 2012

European Occupy Movements; where they're going


"These citizens and activists share an opposition to the way national governments and the EU deal with the economic crisis. They provide alternative meanings to the crisis and reclaim a more democratic society. Their strategies, actions, concepts of social change, movements and democracy however vary considerably, to the point that some of their discourses and tactics may appear contradictory. Some citizens want to build stronger democratic institutions; others don’t trust elected representatives any more and promote a change that starts at a local level and in daily life. The interviews and exploratory empirical fieldwork conducted in six European countries[1] under the heading of the 'Subterranean politics project' coordinated by Mary Kaldor and Sabine Selchow[2] (2012) pointed to four main cultures of activism[3] that animate this progressive sector: occupation/direct participation, local and ecological transition, expertise and advocacy, movement building and protest mobilizations."

This is an attempt at an overview of European Occupy-related movements.  A long but good read.

Let's start a Peer Progressive Party!


"Peer progressives believe that 'peer networks,' consisting of many people of roughly equal status freely swapping ideas and information, can accomplish things that top-down, centralized, hierarchical organizations can’t. Peer progressives 'believe in social progress, and we believe the most powerful tool to advance the cause of progress is the peer network.' That quote comes from the new book by science writer Steven Johnson: Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age (Riverhead Books), which I just reviewed for The Wall Street Journal."

OMG!  There's actually an ICA movement now??  Yay!  I try to be an ICA evangelist, and am glad to see something like this. Now off to order that book!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

OWS experiments with democracy and diversity


"But, if we take the time to look more closely, we quickly see that the Occupy movement embodies a crucial and important political message that is clear to those who participate. And far from having no structure at all, Occupy inherited a complex political structure that has been actively developed for nearly half a century. The fact that this structure is not perfect, does not mean that it is not there. With the rise of the Occupy movement this political structure, referred to differently everywhere, began to get a common name: horizontality. Horizontality is a term that is used to refer to a fiercely egalitarian, decentralized, networked form of democratic decision-making and it is offered by this movement not as a demand, but as an alternative political system to replace representative democracy."

The article labels this new system as a "horizontal decision-making structure" that allows input from the people at a grassroots level.  "Horizontal decision-making today has built on this long history to develop highly structured, yet fluid systems of democratic decision-making that incorporate many of the critiques and lessons learned from these previous movements.  First, horizontality is premised on the rejection of fixed representation as a political structure. Second, it functions through the political structure of networks and not the geographically delineated space of the nation-state. Third, it embraces a rejection of uniformity as the guiding ideal of democratic deliberation in favour of a system that fosters diversity. Finally, the movement takes equality to be always desirable but never fully achievable and equality is therefore treated as something for which each member of the polity has to take active responsibility. This creates a decision-making process in which the participants are continuously challenging (with varying degrees of success) inequalities and discriminations as they arise within their own structures of governing. "

Each participant in this system is allowed input, either in putting forward ideas or contesting something the body might be about to agree on.  As you can imagine, this wonderful idea can drag out decision making into hours of debate.  I witnessed this in a broadcast of the Denver OWS group when they spent about two hours debating what to call one type of action they were planning.  So while I admire the notion that everyone has input, I also think there needs to be some mechanism to "stay on target" as Anonymous says.

Anonymous is a group that uses horizontal decision-making to a degree. But they can be heartless when it comes to the idea of letting everyone have input.  You can be shouted down for getting off-topic.  If your idea seems stupid, you will be told to go die in a fire.  I don't like this method of weeding out the crazy ideas either, but I can see why they do it.  It DOES keep them on target, and it DOES shut down crazy talk that would otherwise divert and delay deliberation.

So what I see missing from horizontal decision-making (not quite the same as ICA but close) is how to quash ideas that will only derail the process, and yet still allowing every participant to have input.  Let's face it, not everyone has good ideas.  Not everyone can articulate their idea well even if it IS a good idea.  I don't have a friendly answer to this dilemma yet.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

crowdsourcing old naval logs information


"Britain's Royal Navy in the First World War - animated
Imagine the data you'd get from recording the original Captain's logs from every Royal Naval vessel from the First World War: location, temperature and time providing a unique record of climate change. The excellent Old Weather has been crowdsourcing every one of those log books - and the result, created by Simon Tokumine using CartoDB, is a fascinating insight into the British Empire at war - albeit of the records which have survived"

Well hey.  If you've got some interesting work that would be tedious and extremely time-consuming for a few people, maybe a couple thousand people would be willing to donate a bit of their time to do the job?  Simple task, people do what they want to help, project done when completed. ICA FTW!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Clay Shriky on a new form of democracy

If you don't know Clay Shriky, this is a good introduction to him.  He is explaining how open source systems could be used in a democracy.

Vancouver police and ICA finally catch suspect #1 in riots


"After a cross-country hunt, cops arrested their “most-elusive” Stanley Cup riot suspect, found working at a Saskatchewan potash mine.
Clad in Canucks garb on June 15, 2011, the suspect was labelled by the Integrated Riot Investigation Team as IRIT No. 1. His image was the first posted on a website used to identify alleged rioters.
Still unable to identify this suspect at the first-year anniversary of the riot in June, IRIT re-posted the suspect’s image on a top-10 wanted poster.
And Wednesday — after a search involving officers in Manitoba, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan — Jonathan Stephen Mahoney finally arrived back in B.C. to face justice."

You may remember after the riots that the Vancouver police asked help from the public to identify those who participated in the riots that destroyed a lot of property and caused injuries.  The public responded massively by sending in photos and video they had taken on cell phones and other devices.  Other publics then helped identify people from the photos posted on the police web site.  Dozens of arrests followed, thanks to simple cooperation between the police and the community over the internet.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Plumbing Collective Action


"Bulawayo City Council has asked its more than 1 million residents to flush their toilets simultaneously at 7:30 p.m. when water supplies are restored. City officials say "synchronized flushing" is needed to clear waste that would have accumulated in sanitary facilities which will have been affected by days of water outages.
Bulawayo's two main supply dams have been drying up because of drought conditions prevailing in the arid, southwestern part of Zimbabwe, raising fears of worsening water shortages before the rainy season starts in November.
Synchronized flushing was first introduced to Bulawayo two decades ago at the height of a drought that ravaged the southern African nation.
Residents told The Associated Press late Saturday that they weren't "aware" of the new system the city council was proposing. They said the whole issue wasn't properly communicated to them.
Old water pipes have not been replaced in years which saw world record inflation before the formation of a coalition government between longtime President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai."

I guess this doesn't have anything to do with the Internet, unless they were emailing people with a request to flush.  But this otherwise fits the pattern of ICA; a simple project a mass of people do together, and when the project is done, that's it.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Is the Arab Spring dead?


"Well, Syria is likely to become an even bigger battleground for a proxy war between Hezbollah, Sunni rebels, government troops, Iran and al-Qaida. And once Syria collapses – or even before – Lebanon could ignite as well.
My Iraqi friend was right. The Arab Spring no longer exists.  "

This is a really pessimistic piece saying basically that wars will consume any peaceful protests, so just give up, all you people who think you can change your government.

Yet, peaceful protesters DID change their governments.  So I'm not quite sure why the author insists that we need only think about war now.  This seems amazingly pessimistic after what happened in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere.  Just give up on collective action that kicked out a dictator and brought the first elections EVER to Egypt?  I don't think so.  I'm more optimistic than that.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

ICA used for safety concerns in Georgia


"In Georgia, Elva is being used to collect and share information about daily life in nearly two dozen border villages that participate in a 'Community Safety Network' developed by Saferworld. They are focused on such specific topics as shootings by troops or border police, the presence of armed groups, detentions of people for accidental or deliberate border crossings, and acts of physical violence, along with more subjective measures of safety and security. The information collected can be quite granular, as in tracking how often security providers and human rights monitors visit each village and whether or not those visits include speaking to local residents or not. 'People in these communities don't have access to the internet,' says Jonne Catshoek, Elva's project manager. So, in each village, a volunteer community representative has been recruited to respond to a pre-agreed weekly questionnaire via SMS. Each response to a question is coded with a different letter, and reps simply send one text message combining all those letters to a short code to send in their reports, which go straight from the mobile company via VPN to Elva's servers. Below is a sample page from the weekly questionnaire, along with an example of what a summary text message might read. It's an ingenious solution to an ordinarily complex data-gathering problem."

This is a great example of ICA and crowdsourcing being used to a good purpose.  A simple concept that requires little from each individual but collectively produces a useful tool for the whole community.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Will Diaspora ever beat out Facebook?


"Diaspora has grown into something more than just a project four guys started in their office at school. It is bigger than any one of us, the money we raised, or the code we have written. It has developed into something that people all over the world care about and are inspired by. We think the time is right to reflect this reality, and put our code where our hearts lie.
Today, we are giving control of Diaspora to the community."

It will be interesting to see how an originally small group effort gets turned into a crowd-sourced effort.  I look forward to the day that Diaspora replaced Facebook.

Friday, August 17, 2012

does Internet free speech require a minimum amount of critical evaluation to work properly?


"The government banned bulk phone messaging for 15 days, Home Secretary R.K. Singh told reporters in New Delhi yesterday. Ninong Ering, a ruling Congress party lawmaker from the state of Arunachal Pradesh, said in parliament yesterday that about 20,000 people had fled cities including Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune, and demanded action against those spreading rumors."

So maybe this was something that was taken for granted. One thing I noticed about Anonymous is that they critically evaluated most everything, and even tended toward "that's bullshit" even before evaluating things.  But perhaps there are some societies or cultures where critical thinking is not ingrained enough to reject common rumors online.  Just because someone says something on the Internet, it shouldn't be taken as truth immediately, just the same as in real life.  It seems to be a common problem among human beings.  Even on www.4chan.org's /b/ channel, this warning is needed; "The stories and information posted here are artistic works of fiction and falsehood. Only a fool would take anything posted here as fact."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Video activists change the course of revolution


"Across Syria hundreds of video activists – most of them young, male, and technologically savvy – have joined the revolution against the Syrian government. 'The regime is fighting the people in two ways. One is with the army. The other is with the media,' Yahya Abdulrahman, a physics student from Aleppo University explained.
The 21-year-old, who is from Aldana, north of Aleppo, added: 'There are parts of the Free Syrian Army that are fighting the regime. But there are other parts fighting the regime's hackers.' Aldana is without an internet connection, so Abdulrahman, also a video activist, typically gives his Nokia memory card to Mohammad to upload.
Abdulrahman took his first video of a demo on Aleppo University's science campus. He said he got the job because he was tall and good at running. During his second assignment, however, the security forces caught and arrested all of the students involved. 'I was shooting video. Five guys grabbed me," he recalled.'"

When the government says such and such is happening, and the people upload videos showing that's just a big fat lie, it deflates the mighty power of government propaganda instantly.  A few guys with cameras and Internet access can overcome an entire department of trained propagandists.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Should ICA activitists be paid?

I'm going to talk off the top of my head here about an idea that combines two trends I see. One is that jobs are being taken away by technology and people doing things much more cheaply or even free.  The other is that ICA creates amazing, useful product, but nobody gets compensated for making it.

So, is there some way for ICA activists to get compensated for their work, even when they do it voluntarily despite no compensation?  It's an question I have no answer for, but I think it may point to a monumental change in our economic system.  If people are doing things they like and want to do, and this activity enhances society, are these not the people we want to support?  If jobs are becoming scarce because of technological changes, isn't there some way to compensate people who are helping society, rather than forcing them into some job where they're uncomfortable and less committed?

Like I say, this is just a synapse going off in my head. I don't know where to go with it yet.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The media helps spread the word

ICA is powerful and all that, but boy can the media sure help.  My site on Lisa McPherson, who died at the hands of Scientology, generally has been getting about 75 hits per day.  After the news broke that Katie Holmes is splitting from Tom Cruise over Scientology, the hits have shot up to 4500 on the first day, and have been over 1200 per day since!  The media have stiff competition nowadays with bloggers, facebook, et al, but they can still pack a wallop.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What's this called, Crowd Nicing?


"Karen Klein, a school bus monitor of Greece, N.Y., depicted being verbally bullied in a video gone viral, may have the last laugh.

By late Wednesday on the fund-raising site indiegogo.com, nearly 4,400 donors had pledged almost $85,000 in a campaign called 'Lets Give Karen – The bus monitor – H Klein A Vacation.'"

So this is just a bunch of people on reddit.com who mostly don't even know each other, who find someone they don't know that has had a rough time, and they help that person.  For no particular reason.  THIS NEEDS A NAME!  I propose it be called "Crowd Nicing."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


"Flame's authors were able 'to generate a rogue Microsoft digital code-signing certificate that allowed them to distribute the malware to Windows computers as an update from Microsoft.' They accomplished this, ComputerWorld says, by using a previously unknown cryptographic collision attack on the MD5 encryption algorithm (Stevens and company demonstrated one method in 2008) which Microsoft security engineers explain in a blog post here."

So why didn't Microsoft patch a known hole that they warned everybody else about 4 years ago? And how secure will the Internet be when we all know that our software updates might actually be downloading viruses instead?  Thanks a lot Flame makers!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


"I can’t tell you how many times during this campaign that I was faced with a problem that I wasn’t sure how to solve — and then someone else would simply walk up to me with a solution. In a group working together as a non-hierarchical collective, if you take time to establish a shared intention both early and clearly, amazing things can happen. The intention of the Sotheby’s campaign was, first and foremost, to get the 42 workers back to work, and that focused our efforts. When a collective decides on an intention like this, it is not like an edict or command handed down by the leader; rather, it is owned by all of the participants. Each member of the collective is then forced to realize, first, that they are each only one part of the puzzle and, second, that they each have a responsibility to help develop creative responses to challenges the group faces. A collective that shares an intention becomes extremely resilient, and the collective is no longer dependent on the actions of any one leader to move forward."

Once again the nonhierarchical movement works with an already established group (the union) to accomplish a simple goal (getting workers' jobs back).  Note that the OWS wasn't subsumed into the union, and the union did not demand hierarchical control.  Another win for ICA!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lessons from Montreal


"There can be no doubt that the charismatic, articulate and brave leadership in ASSÉ and CLASSE has played a major role in the public perception of the strike, and these spokespeople should be commended for putting forward a point of view that runs counter to that of every powerful person in our society (that is a lonely place to be). However, the strength of the student movement lies in the limits it has placed on reliance on leadership, and the way that its politics revolves around direct action rather than charismatic personalities."

This is a useful lessons-learned article about the Montreal student protests.  It is another fine example of OWS as well, although with a bit of older organizational connections as well.  They did not do this OWS time-wasting concensus crap, where every detail can be debated ad naseum until nothing else gets done...

"One practice that made all of these separate votes and separate picket lines work together on a larger scale was a practice called “the floor”. Basically student groups would vote to strike but hold off on walking out of classes until enough other students likewise voted in favour of striking in their own assemblies. So, for example, one association might vote in favour of a strike, but pass a motion not to walk until at least 2,000 more students, in other assemblies at that school, voted in favour of striking. This would contribute to the sense of momentum while at the same time allowing for a high degree of coordination among a large group of students."

Sounds better.

"It’s easy to think that these things come out of nowhere, that there is such a thing as spontaneous social combustion. There is an element of spontaneity, and the social foment that exists on the streets in Quebec is partly a product of the tensions that can explode anywhere in society at any time. But from the militants I talked to, one thing that stood out was a strong connection between the veterans of the failed strike of 2007 and the new generation of strikers in 2012. The veterans have brought their past experiences in struggle to the current strike."

Learning from the past is always a good idea.  Veterans should be mined for their experience and lessons learned, but not seen as leaders.  Things change.

These guys had 400,000 people at a protest recently, considered the largest protest in Canadian history. They must be doing something right.

Can the Tea Party and OWS work together?


"In short, what I am saying is that the debate over whether one should criticize the role of the state or the role of capitalism in the limitation of, at least, our subjective experience of freedom, is unnecessary. When someone demands you choose either/or, the only answer, the answer that brings both sides into a common task is: 'Both' These are parallel critiques that can be productively fitted together. Each one, hived off from the other, simply does not go far enough.
If we in the peacebuilding world are concerned with 'creating space for dialogue,' we need to be sensitive to the reality that rejuvenating democratic participation and linkages between these seemingly rival movements now requires a dialogue about the space where politics takes place. It is a positive development when conversations about freedom in America shift away from a private enjoyment that wants to be left alone and put the emphasis back on gatherings that re-appropriate public space.
In short, the tea party and the occupy movement are trying to bring democracy back to the people and mobilize alternatives to the lowest common denominator. These two movements are the beginning of a search for what we at SFCG think is still possible: the highest common denominator. It’s time to start figuring out how to channel this energy in ways that will bring about real change rather than slogans about it."

This is a thoughtful article on how the Tea Party and OWS can find common ground to reach for improving our country.   The Tea Party emphasizes governmental abuse that stifles our economy.  OWS emphasizes corporate greed instead. But in fact both of these sources interact and interbreed anyway. Corporate money, especially after the Citizens United case, influences politics more than the masses do.  And politicians often wind up working for corporations after leaving office, perhaps as a reward for a job well done.  So I agree that both these grassroots movements should strive to work together.

"The New Eco-digital Commons"


"Participatory sensing is only one of the ways in which networking technologies can help create new bodies of aggregated knowledge that would otherwise be impossible. Consider the System for Rice Intensification, an international collaboration of rural rice farmers who trade advice on the Internet, open-source style, to learn how to improve yields without using GMOs or pesticides. The project has bridged the local and the global, enabling bottom-up, trans-national collaboration to improve rice yields on marginal plots of land around the world."

Can't you just hear Monsanto quaking in their boots?  If the crowd can accomplish what a giant corporation can accomplish for free, shouldn't the crowd at least get free Internet?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Students do ICA in Mexico


Student protesters rallied last Friday at the headquarters of Televisa and took to the streets Wednesday evening, with some 10,000 gathering at the Stele of Light, a recently completed giant monument, before marching down the capital’s Paseo del la Reforma boulevard to the landmark Angel of Independence monument.
'It’s really something that students would start from scratch to organize this,' said Alejandro Mora Ruiz, an 18-year-old high school student.
'We’re fed up with media that hide real information,' echoed Berenice Marin, who was nearly drowned out by chants among students from at least 15 private and public universities in the capital. She said the movement was nonpartisan."

Organized online, no hierarchy.  Thousands take to the streets and wind up changing things.  YEAH!

On the other hand, people are pushing back. So, as usual, it's a struggle.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pimply-faced kids now rule the world


"It’s the pimply-faced kid in the basement who controls the whole game, and Bradley Manning proved that.  The fact he had the 250,000 cables that were released effectively cut the power of the U.S. State Department in half. The Afghan war diaries and the Iran war diaries effectively cut the political clout of the U.S. Department of Defence in half. All because of one guy who had enough balls to slip a CD in an envelope and mail it to somebody."

He's got a point there.  Pimply-faced kids have always had keys to important things, though.  The difference now is that with the click of a button that kid can spread information around the world with the keys he has.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A History Lesson; the Great Strike of 1877

   The Great Strike of 1877 in the U.S. is a useful piece of history for Occupy Wall Street.  In a short time it reached across the United States. It had no leadership.  It utilized the latest communication technology, the telegraph.  But also, in the end it failed. 
   This was a time when the big corporations of rail, steel, coal, and others not only had few rules to follow but also paid little taxes.  In fact, at times it could be said that the corporations ran the country more than the government.
   An economic depression began in 1873. By 1877 roughly 27 percent of the population was unemployed.  Corporations were cutting wages and hours.  the strike began with rail workers in Baltimore, and word quickly spread up and down the rail line.  Word also spread from a new technology that allowed instant communication, the telegraph.  The rail lines ground to a halt.
   Uneasy corporate bosses and governors called for federal troops, who came.  Firefights happened in some places and people on both sides were killed.  In other places there was no violence.  But still the strike spread, reaching St. Louis, Chicago, and most everywhere east.  Each locality organized and went on strike spontaneously, with no leadership or organization coming to persuade them nor control them.
   In the end, it was the guns that won out.  The protesters were certainly in the right, being starved by their masters for no reason other than greed.  But the corporations had the iron fist of the government on their side.
   So what is the significance of this today?  OWS is a movement grown from the corporations sucking the money out of the 99% for simple greed.  OWS utilizes that newfangled communication technology, the Internet.  They are leaderless.  But hopefully, we are not in a time when our government only listens to the corporations.

Further Reading:
American Colossus, by H.W. Brands

A couple of interesting protests


"MOSCOW -- Prominent Russian novelists and poets led a street protest by more than 10,000 people in Moscow on Sunday without obtaining the required permit, and police did not intervene.
The demonstrators skirted the law by remaining silent and carrying no posters, even though the demonstration had clearly been organized as an anti-President Vladimir Putin rally.
The gathering was the latest of several impromptu protests that have taken place in Moscow since Putin's inauguration Monday, held by people unhappy that he is the country's formal leader once again."

That's one way to do it; when your government says no permits, just go right up to the point of doing what you need to do in order to have a permit. Wael Ghonim talked about doing such things in Egypt at the start of the protests there. They would simply gather somewhere with similar clothing. No talking, no protesting, just gathering.  And in some eastern European autocratic country people would gather in a park and just eat ice cream.  Even that angered the government though, because it was like-minded critics of the government gathering together.  Very suspicious.


"Social media play a major role boosting public discussion in China by breaking systematic cover ups. However, it seems clear enough that the Chinese government has shown a remarkable expertise in playing with censorship, leaking or blocking information at its convenience to lead public opinion. Who wins? Do China’s social media outlets really challenge the government’s control of information?"

This is sort of a strange article about whether rumor mills online in China can alter the government.  I don't know, rumors are rumors whether online or not.  The bigger point, I think, is that autocratic governments or organizations have a hard time granting just a little free speech. It seems to be that if you allow some free speech, you may as well just allow free speech.  China seems to be partially successful at utilizing online conversation, but also the attempts to censor free speech are not completely possible. For example, is you censor articles with certain words, the online community can just start using a euphemism for that word.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Anonymous; what is it?


"Even if spectacle alone is insufficient to engender political change, it is hard to overstate its importance for publicising issues and clarifying political stakes. With Anonymous, it is not simply that their DDoS tactics dramatise specific issues, such as with their campaign in the winter of this year against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. It is that in their totality - as a masked entity bearing the name Anonymous - it relays an urgent message about anonymity to contemplate. Given the contemporary reality of a corporate and state controlled surveillance apparatus, Anonymous stands out, compels, and enchants for a very particular reason: it has provided a small but potent oasis of anonymity in the current expansive desert of surveillance, much like the one quite literally being built in the Utah desert right now by the NSA."

Gabriella Coleman is one of the few people on earth who could be called an "expert" on Anonymous.  I like her style and most of her writings on the subject.

I look at Anonymous as having 2 historic parts so far; the protests against Scientology, and the online attacks on government, business, and such.  I suspect that not many people overlap in both these groups, but I don't know anyone (at least I think I don't) in the 2nd bunch.  Their campaign against Scientology was the cause that got them out of their parents' basements and out into the real world.  The online attacks let them go back to their basement apartments, but still confront actual organizations.

Anonymous in general is barely connected people who see something wrong while they're online and say "Oh yeah?  Well fuck that," and then do something about it.  They want to keep their anonymity, have fun, and do something reasonably useful if it seems worthwhile.  They have no leadership, no written code (except maybe this), and no real long-term plan or goal. If enough people think something is a good idea, it will be done. If not, you will be ridiculed mercilessly for coming up with such a stupid idea.

Friday, May 4, 2012

New Russian method of crowd control


"My producer Yulia and I followed him through the melee, laden down with extra camera kit.
But as we passed from one trade union crowd to the next group, a line of plain clothed men who were walking ahead blocked our path.
Andrey had got through and was forging on ahead so we pleaded with them to let us pass: "We're journalists. We need to be with our cameraman."

But they weren't having any of it. We were to walk at the same speed as the marchers, no faster."

Hm. So the idea is to just keep the marchers marching, and get the thing over with?  That's an interesting method.  So the plain clothes cops control the protest, sort of from the inside.  You keep marching, or else.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Should we be thankful for Occupy Assemblies?


"The anarchists’ way of operating was changing our very idea of what politics could be in the first place. This was exhilarating. Some occupiers told me they wanted to take it home with them, to organize assemblies in their own communities. It’s no accident, therefore, that when occupations spread around the country, the horizontal assemblies spread too.
At its core, anarchism isn’t simply a negative political philosophy, or an excuse for window-breaking, as most people tend to assume it is. Even while calling for an end to the rule of coercive states backed by military bases, prison industries and subjugation, anarchists and other autonomists try to build a culture in which people can take care of themselves and each other through healthy, sustainable communities. Many are resolutely nonviolent. Drawing on modes of organizing as radical as they are ancient, they insist on using forms of participatory direct democracy that naturally resist corruption by money, status and privilege. Everyone’s basic needs should take precedence over anyone’s greed."

I'll have to agree that the assembly allows everyone to have a voice.  It is a way to try to keep from developing a hierarchy.  In general I like it.  But I also have two complaints;

1) arguing over minutia for hours (which I saw watching a Denver Assembly) does no one any good.  If you argue over a position, a plan, or something important, then yeah. It's great.  If you just go round and round over nothing, then that's just time wasted.

2) the loudest person still gets the biggest voice.  The wall flower probably still won't talk.  The shy, the easily cowed, will have less voice.  The brash extrovert will be heard the most. It's human nature.  So don't think the Assembly somehow magically gets everybody equally involved.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

1% of an Internet social group are actually active?


"The 1% rule states that the number of people who create content on the Internet represents approximately 1% (or less) of the people actually viewing that content (for example, for every person who posts on a forum, generally about 99 other people are viewing that forum but not posting). The term was coined by authors and bloggers Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba,[2] although earlier references to the same concept[3] did not use this name. For example, a large 2005 study of radical Jihadist forums by Akil N Awan found 87% of users had never posted on the forums, 13% had posted at least once, 5% had posted 50 or more times, and only 1% had posted 500 or more times.[4]"

Would this rule apply to Anonymous when they started going after Scientology in 2008?  I have one little tidbit that might show percentages there.  I wrote "We Are Legion" about the Anonymous movement.  When I posted it online, I was completely baffled by the counter I had on the page, which was showing 12,000 visitors or so per day!  Where did all these viewers come from?  The actual count of the first physical Anonymous worldwide protest was about 8000 people.  So who were all these people interested in my reasonably obscure article?  Well, perhaps they are the 99% of Anonymous who are mostly passive.

Police as free speech squelchers


"The documents, however, have already been published online. And buried in the training guides are insights into three trends in law enforcement that have been occurring not just in Virginia, but nationally: the demonization of protest, the militarization of police, and turning local cops into “terrorism” officials.

The Demonization of Protest
Militarization of Local Police
Deputizing Local Cops as Counter-terrorism Officials"

Thinking back on when Anonymous started protesting worldwide in 2008, I think only Atlanta went nuts and brought out riot gear and way too many cops.  Now it seems that at any protest that is the norm.  I blame this partly on the Black Bloc and groups that use peaceful protests to cause vandalism.  But it's deeper than just that.  Here in the U.S. we have become paranoid about everything. We can't get on an airplane unless we're frisked first.  We have more people in jail than any other country.  And our government sees protest as terrorism.  We need to get back to our roots and realize that protest is a vital part of our culture.  It's built in to the Constitution.  And without it we are in a totalitarian state.


Monday, April 23, 2012

"leadership" at Valve


"Why do I need to pick my own projects? We’ve heard that other companies have people allocate a percentage of their time to self-directed projects. At Valve, that percentage is 100.
Since Valve is flat, people don’t join projects because they’re told to. Instead, you’ll decide what to work on after asking yourself the right questions (more on that later). Employees vote on projects with their feet (or desk wheels). Strong projects are ones in which people can see demonstrated value; they staff up easily. This means there are any number of internal recruiting efforts constantly under way."

Who needs hierarchy?  The projects that deserve attention get attention.  I could see that some people wouldn't have the personality to fit into such an atmosphere.  But other than that, this makes sense to me.  Decisions, hours per project, all that stuff is decided by the employees. Hence, no need for middle management. Hence, savings!  Where to put that savings?  Back in the employees!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Free speech zones in U.S. How far can they go?


"According to an updated map on the website for Federal Hall, as pointed out by Gothamist, demonstrators will be asked to stay on one side of the big George Washington statue — he was inaugurated at the building — in the 'First Amendment Rights Area,' a.k.a. 'freedom cage.' Visitors can enter from the other side, steering clear of the riffraff."

There are areas that have been designated by our court system that are MORE free speech zones than others.  Public sidewalks are pretty much all free speech zones.  Private property is not.  But how about sort-of-public places like malls?  That's a bit trickier (see Pruneyard case about that).  The courts weigh private property concerns with a Constitutional free speech right.

Also there are possible time, place, and manner restrictions that can pass court muster, if the government can give a compelling argument why free speech should be restricted.  Some states have laws that you can't protest at a private residence, for instance.  If some group has a parade permit for a designated street, there could be more restrictions placed on others' free speech during the parade.  So, it's not all just cut and dried that you can protest wherever and whenever you want.

All that being said, I'm not sure why in this particular case the government wants to make a little box where free speech is ok.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Ivory Tower attempts to catch up with Anonymous


"Texting, tweeting, Facebooking, microblogging, online video and cell phone apps are not new to students. What is new is the efficient use of all their capabilities in combination to reach important aims in a few hours which the traditional brick-and-mortar academic world would take months or years to accomplish.
The key is the creation of protocols which serve as formulae for easily setting up Internet based projects which achieve well-defined goals, are infinitely replicable, grow by themselves through social networks, and enable each student to carve out a Web niche which serves as the Internet’s focal point for the student’s chosen issue. In practice, this means that each student is experimenting with making their work more public, and yet more personal, at the same time."

It's nice to see the Ivory Tower trying to catch up with what's already been happening on the Internet.  Anonymous, the Arab Uprising, Occupy Wall Street, and other movements have already been doing this stuff.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Another article reminding us that the net can be used against protest too


"He writes that linking up on Twitter makes activists today more vulnerable to the regime they’re fighting, than, say the Algerian insurgency was against the French in the late 1950s. The Algerian fighters had tight, person-to-person cells that were difficult to penetrate. 'The whole point of these platforms is ease of access and use …  they are inherently easy to penetrate. As such, social media is the exact opposite of a useful tool for a revolution.  Had Twitter existed in the 1950s, perhaps Algeria would have stayed French for another decade or two.'"

ICA is a tool.  You use it as best you can.  You must realize that your opponent (the cult, repressive regime, whatever) is also aware of the usefulness of the Internet, and they have resources to utilize more powerful tools than you have access to.  With that in mind, it's a matter of being careful and smart.  You learn how to stay anonymous when it's important.  You don't keep emails from fellow protesters to be found when you are arrested.  If it's a horrid, tech-savvy regime like in Syria, there's some things you just don't do or you will get caught.

So I see this as a constant battle for staying ahead of the other side.  You stay sharp, stay informed, and do your best.  I'm reminded of the White Rose Society during World War 2.  They printed and distributed anti-Hitler fliers anonymously.  But eventually they got caught during one distribution.  It's a risk.  Do you take that risk?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tahrir Supplies web site; how they organize


The future of OWS


"Despite these problems, Occupy has an enviable brand, significant public support, a plethora of movements and an unqualified success in reorienting the national debate from austerity to inequality. The secret of Occupy Wall Street's strength is disrupting power in ways both simple, such as the "mic check," and grand, such as by occupying public space. Even if that space is now a rarity, Occupy Wall Street retains a disruptive capacity that defies prediction. It can be seen from Occupy the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), which released a stunning 325-page critique of the Volcker Rule (which seeks to curb banks from gambling with government-insured money), to Occupy Our Homes, which has successfully engaged in dozens of successful foreclosure and eviction defenses nationwide since November."

This is a nice fresh view of what OWS is up to and where it may be heading. I note that the writer says "If the movement becomes predictable, the faces all look familiar and the organizing feels like drudgery, then it will have lost. For now, no one knows what will happen next. And that's a wonderful thing."  Embracing rather than fearing some chaos in a movement is a strength.  It mean less hesitancy.  It means more fun.  It means less reliance on some hierarchy.  

Friday, April 13, 2012

Arab Spring activists gather at Stanford for summit


AMENDS co-director Meredith Wheeler, a sophomore, said that after the conference ends she hopes the organization will continue to be an incubator for the kinds of ideas and initiatives that shape the future of the Middle East.
'I hope that people take out a renewed sense of confidence in their ability to be change agents in their country of origin,' she said. 'And I hope that they developed the kind of network both with the people at Stanford and with the other delegates to really make their ideas a reality.'"

Woah!  This type of summit should also include OWS, Anonymous vs. Scientology, and others who utilized similar tools and methods.  I hope this interaction grows.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

the 99% spring


"From April 9-15 we will gather across America, 100,000 strong, in homes, places of worship, campuses and the streets to join together in the work of reclaiming our country. We will organize trainings to:
  1. Tell the story of our economy: how we got here, who’s responsible, what a different future could look like, and what we can do about it
  2. Learn the history of non-violent direct action, and
  3. Get into action on our own campaigns to win change.
This spring we rise! We will reshape our country with our own hands and feet, bodies and hearts. We will take non-violent action in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi to forge a new destiny one block, one neighborhood, one city, one state at a time."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

China takes notice of bloggers' views


"It was evident, however, that the leadership had taken cognizance of the rising discontent among the people which was beginning to become visible by the postings on the internet by the country’s 460 million internet users. The internet army set up by the government largely failed to block the bloggers."

It's nice to see that the Internet is influencing even Chinese governments.  The power of their own citizens' opinions now has to be taken into account.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

When your government (i.e. Syria) tries to smother news


"Kareem: I was the smuggler. The reason for my job was the complete blackout over the province of Dier ez-Zour and the fact that the government would slow down the Internet, block YouTube, and Facebook. It was impossible to upload a video. But once we had enough footage, I drove from Dier ez-Zour to Damascus. I had to pass three checkpoints on each trip. The checkpoints were long, with many people waiting an hour and a half at each one. Tanks, machine guns, and other military gear and personnel were stationed at the checkpoints, so I had to find different ways to smuggle out the videos. Saving the data on small micro-chips, we had to be clever about where we hid the footage because anyone caught filming protests is sent to prison. Issac knew this. He was imprisoned.
Guernica: What happened to Isaac?
Kareem: Isaac went to jail. Recently, he was released. His family pressured him to flee the country immediately. He didn’t say goodbye to me. He didn’t say goodbye to anyone. The risks are that high. I’m not sure what happened to him. We lose touch with friends like that."

This will be the new battle for some time.  The protesters gain a new technological advantage, and the government finds a way to stop it.  So the protesters have to discover a work-around.  And on it goes.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Tale of Two Squares; Comparing Tiananmen and Tahrir Square protests

This article is a comparison between two books. The first is Almost a Revolution, by Shen Tong. Shen was one of the organizers in China's Student Revolution in 1989 that took over Tiananmen Square and culminated in a brutal crackdown by the military where hundreds were killed. Shen escaped China and has lately been volunteering with Occupy Wall Street.
The second book is Revolution 2.0, by Wael Ghonim. Wael started a Facebook account promoting demonstrations against Hasni Mubarak's regime in Egypt. These led to the takeover of Tahrir Square by activists who held the square until they succeeded in removing President Mubarak in 2011. Ghonim was arrested and held for several days, but released in time to see the fall of Mubarak.
I believe that comparing these two books will shed light on differences in resources and methods that will be useful for future protests. This article, then, is not an attempt to write a concise history of either event. It is just a comparison of what two organizers wrote about their respective revolutions at different time periods. The comparison shows the power of Internet Collective Action in the case of Egypt.
Shen Tong was a student in Beijing when he became a political activist. In 1989 Hu Yaobong, one of the politboro seen as most friendly to students, died. The students decided they wanted to pay their respects to Hu Yaobong, believing that “to honor him at the time of his death was a way of challenging the current Party hierarchy” (p. 167). The students chose this event as a starting point to demand changes from the government:
Wang Den led a group of Beida students to the National People's Congress that afternoon with seven demands: restore Hu Yaobong's reputation; end the anti-Bougeois Liberalism Campaign; guarantee a free press, free speech, and the right to peaceful demonstrations; increase the budget for education; and end official corruption. A movement had begun. (p. 169)
The students gradually built up an organization, conducted marches, sought dialogue with the government, and increased their activities. In April the police beat up students at a rally and destroyed their bicycles. This brought out even more students and more activism. Beijing citizens took the side of the students. Many faculty at the universities sided with them as well.
The attempt to dialogue with the government went poorly, as the students were often left waiting for someone to speak with them, but no one came. But still the movement grew. The students started a low-powered radio station, a newspaper, a printing press for flyers, and a media room for the many journalists from around the world who had taken an interest in the movement. They used “dizibao” or information walls to post viewpoints and information. They organized several committees for different aspects of the movement. Shen Tong was a part of some of these committees.
After the mourning period for Hu Yaobong was over, the government declared any more demonstrations illegal. But on April 27 150,000 people went to Tiananmen Square to once again push for dialogue and political reform. Another big march happened on May 4, an important day historically for students. On May 13 thousands of hunger strikers from schools within Beijing and from other cities set up camp at Tiananmen Square, again demanding dialogue with the government and political reform. On May 17, two million people rallied, but on May 20 martiall law was declared and the military started moving into Beijing. All negotiations between students and the government failed, partly because the government was divided, and partly because the students did not have one single voice to speak to the government. On June 3 the military swept into Tiananmen Square and surrounding neighborhoods, killing hundreds of people and clearing out all protesters. This ended the public aspects of the student movement, and many of the protest organizers managed to flee the country. Others are still in prison.

    Shen Tong seems to partly blame the failure of the protests on disorganization within the movement. As one example of this, in May one student committee responded to the government's order to end a class boycott with five demands that must be met first. But then, ANOTHER committee put forth a different set of demands. This was "another indication of how the leaders of the student movement had the same goals most of the time but were unable to organize enough to speak with a united voice. There were so many of us, so many groups, often going off in different directions, that the government couldn't possibly have been sure what we were asking for and who was asking for it." (p. 228) Inside Tiananmen Square, the federation of all the groups there had a leadership group. The hunger strikers, however, gradually saw themselves as the most dedicated and thus most eligible to be in charge. Eventually, "the hunger strikers and the federation leaders were fighting over control of the square." (p. 272) There were so many people there from so many groups, that different people popped up here and there as respresenatives of the whole protest. A joint conference was arranged to try to work out a united front, but "we couldn't decide who the real student leaders were and who would lead this new organization." (p.285) Eventually the hunger strike group wrestled the main control of the Square. Then on June 3 the military moved in and violently emptied the square.
Wael Ghonim is an Egyptian and Internet nerd. He was a representative for Google in the Middle East, when some things happened that stirred him to activism. In June, 2010, he saw a photo on Facebook of Khaled Mohamed Said, an Egyptian who had been beaten to death by Alexandria police. Khaled had been a witness to some illegal activity by a few policemen, so he was hunted down and dealt with in the usual fashion. But this photo outraged Wael and many Egyptians. It was time to stand up to such abuse and corruption. Wael made an anonymous Facebook page called “We are all Khaled Said.” The page quickly gained a large following, and also quickly the followers organized a real-life protest by gathering in one place in like clothes and silently looking out to sea. Thousands participated. Wael posted on his page:
Last Friday this page was launched... On Tuesday Mohamed sent his suggestion and it was announced to everyone... On Friday more than 100,000 members had joined the page and thousands went out in Cairo and Alexandria implementing an idea that was never done before in Egypt... So can we do just about anything or what? (p.81)
Gradually membership and participation grew. A large protest was planned for Police Day, January 25th. On January 13th, neighboring Tunisia's president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali gave a speech in reaction to the protests against him in his country. As the Tunisian protests grew in size and strength, Ben Ali told his protesting citizens, “Now I understand you.” Wael wrote “Ben Ali's speech changed everything... the victory of the peoplte of Tunisia would send a strong message to the Egyptian regime and, more important, to our Facebook page members: we can effect change in Egypt.” (p. 131)
Wael kept promoting dissent on his Facebook page, and began eliciting support from established groups as well. He got the “ultras” or extreme soccer fans to join in. Others distributed flyers to promote their next event on June 25, to reach those not on the Internet.
June 25 was to be a huge rally across Egypt. The goal as Wael wrote was “not to overthrow the regime or to change the president overnight... Because the problem now is not the president... the problem now is an entire system that needs to change...” (p. 147) The basic outlined demands of June 25 were for the government to address poverty, annul the emergency laws, fire Minister of the Interior Habib el-Adly, and place a 2-term limit on the presidency (p. 166).
On June 25 people marched from many different points in Cairo toward Tahrir Square, and were often confronted by cordons of police. Sometimes after physical scuffles, people managed to reach the square, especially after the police were mysteriously called back from their lines. Tens of thousands of protesters had arrived, and the people spontaneously began chanting “the people want to topple the regime!” (p. 184). This ws not one of the pre-arranged chants. That evening the government blocked Facebook and Twitter, in an obvious show that they feared these tools (p. 186). The police tried to clear the square for the evening, but it took many hours as the protesters resisted. Wael tried to continue his rallying on Facebook and Twitter, but by now “the people on the streets began to move at a faster pace than the political activists. The mob was now in charge, whether it was rational or not” (p. 189). Two nights later, Wael was arrested and held for 11 days. On January 28 protests erupted in town squares across Egypt. Police used batons and water cannons to disperse the crowds, then resorted to armored trucks, rubber bullets and bird shot. Some protesters reacted to the ratcheting of violence by burning police stations (p. 214). A curfew was declared and the military came out to enforce it. Most protesters applauded the arrival of the military, assuming that they would take their side, as had just happened in Tunisia.
Protesters took over Tahrir Square and prepared to stay. Electricians linked to light poles to distribute power. Plumbers rigged immobile armored trucks into bathrooms. And all the time, protesters emphasized to the military that they were on the same side.
The government withdrew the licenses of foreign media. They shut down the railroads to prevent more people reaching the square. But the army announced that it would not interfere with the citizens' right to protest (p. 227).
By February, “hundreds of thousands of citizens in Cairo and many more across the different governates took to the streets with a single demand; Mubarak had to go” (p. 232). Mubarak reacted with an impassioned speech that did turn some from protesting. Thugs and infiltrators tried to turn the square into chaos. But on February 6 the vice president began discussions with opposition groups. The government's main negotiating point was that chaos would reign if Mubarak resigned.
Finally, as protests grew in size and strength, on February 11 Mubarak resigned, turning authority over to the military.
There are several similraties between the two movements described in these books. There were predessesor movements before the final revolution, such as worker strikes. These paved the way for the people to see that they could voice their views and be heard, at least by the population even if the government did not always respond positively.
Both times, protesters took over the major square in the major city of the country. The people organized all the activities and requirements for maintaining their presence, such as supplies, communication, and health care.
Both movements strove to be nonviolent. This was not always the case, as when in both cases some students physically pushed their way through police cordons. But the stated goal was to stay peaceful and try to have good relations with the police and military.
The protesters cooperated with various established groups, such as unions, soccer enthusiasts, journalists and professors. They sought not only support and cooperation, but input and suggestions for how to manage the protests and what to do.
Both movements were run by young people; students in Tiananmen Square and Internet users in Tahrir Square. The youthfulness brought some naivete as well as great enthusiasm. It also created unpredictability since the protesters had no established methodology.
Both Shen Tong and Wael Ghonim expressed their enthusiastic nationalism, and this was reflected at both revolutions and throughout both books.
There were both male and female organizers and leaders in each protest.
The government appeal in both situations was that chaos would ensue if the government fell.
The differences between Tiananmen Square and Tahrir Square are stronger and more important than the similarities. One difference was the inability of the Tiananmen Square protesters to present clear and specific demands to the government, as explained above. This caused problems both amongst the ranks of the students as well as during any negotations that did happen with the government. This problem can be partially explained in that the movement was not planned far in advance. It just sort of grew from the students' desire to express their grievances at an opportune time.
In Tahrir Square this seemed to be less of a problem. The protesters were often communicating online and working to form a consensus on what their next steps would be. Through this process and just as a reaction to how the government treated the protests, the essential demand boiled down to Mubarak leaving office. As I stated above, Wael had posted four demands on his Facebook account, but by the time the actual rally at Tahrir Square began, it all boiled down to getting rid of Mubarak.
At the beginning the Chinese students just wanted to open a dialogue with the government to discuss reforms. This was no movement to topple the regime. But to my mind, Wael in Egypt was pushing from the beginning to make more revolutionary changes. Corruption within the government was through and through, and he saw big changes were needed.
Shen Tong was continuously concerned with who the leadership of the movement was. He joined several committees such as the Olympic Institute, the “Dialogue Delegation,” the Preperatory Committee, etc. Leaders of each of these groups were voted in. They had authority of office and were looked up to. There was a constant attempt to make it clear which organization was the overall leadership. That this failed does not weaken the perceived need for such leadership. In Egypt, in contrast, there was no leadership. As Wael writes, “it was a revolution without a leader and without an organizing body” (p. 139). I believe this is a profound and growing change in how activities are accomplished today as compared to 1989.
The most important difference between 1989 and 2011 is without a doubt the methods of communication. Shen Tong in China had no Internet, no cell phone, no text messaging, no videophone. He had to use a public phone if he wanted to call someone. If he wanted to plan and collaborate with others, he had to have a meeting. If he needed to talk to someone on the other side of Tiananmen Square, he walked over there. The movement in China in 1989 set up their own radio station on campus, started their own newspaper, set up a press room, and used a public wall and flyers to disseminate information.
By contrast, Wael Ghonim in Egypt had a cell phone with built-in video recorder and text messaging, Facebook and Twitter on the Internet, and hundreds of thousands of others with these tools. Planning and collaboration was instantaneous, with as many people as wanted to be involved. If he needed to contact some other organizer, text messaging or a phone call was instant. Distribution to fellow protesters or worldwide was just as easy, quick, and cheap, be it text, audio, or video.
I believe this difference in communication between 1989 and 2011 not only made things easier, but it made for success. The ubiquitous tools for discussing plans, spreading useful data (such as police movements), and keeping people informed made everyone in the movement equally informed and equally involved. The movement did not have to rely on a hierarchy to make decisions, because everyone could give their input via the Facebook pages, Twitter, etc. A consensus could quickly form.
What I learn from this comparison is that protests should have a simple obtainable goal (and by obtainable I mean, hoped for). In Egypt, for instance, the goal was to get Mubarak to resign. There were more demands as well, but this was the core agreed upon demand. There is no need to have conferences and committee meetings for an obvious goal. And once that goal is met, then you can meet and decide if you want to keep going as a movement. But generally I see collective actions like this as heading to an agreeable simple goal, and declaring victory once reached. Pizza and beer, dissolve the group. On to the next project. I don't know if this could have been done in Tiananmen Square. They were unable to coalesce behind one simple goal for multiple reasons.
The rise of instant communication has given protesters a huge advantage. These are tools, not sure-fire techniques. And governments have methods available to thwart these tools. But still it is quite obvious that Egyptian protesters were much better off communicating than the protesters at Tiananmen Square.
Simple goal, no hierarchy, use all tools available to you, especially the Internet. I call this Internet Collective Action, or ICA, and have a blog about it (www.internetcollectiveaction.org). The group Anonymous used this powerfully against the Church of Scientology (www.lisamcpherson.org/pc.htm). Other groups have now run successful campaigns as well. ICA deserves more academic study as it is used more and more. Technology and society are changing fast in this age, but for now ICA works and it helps people.