Wednesday, December 31, 2014

making activism a group effort in Russia

"Navalny began to normalize anti-corruption campaigning, turning it into something that ordinary people do in their spare time, rather than the futile quest of lone idealists with high tolerance for risk."

This is a good article about how collective action is stronger than the work of a high-end single player.  The Internet is what makes this collective action possible.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Victory for Arab Spring in Tunisia?

"(Reuters) - Veteran politician Beji Caid Essebsi has won Tunisia's first free presidential election, official results showed on Monday, the final step in a transition to democracy after an uprising that ousted autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
But rioting broke out in one southern city, with police firing teargas to disperse hundreds of youths who burned tyres and blocked streets to demonstrate against the victory of an official from Ben Ali's old guard.
Essebsi beat rival and incumbent Moncef Marzouki with 55.68 percent of the vote against 44.32 percent, the results showed."

A successful democratic election is a good sign for the country where the Arab Spring started.  I hope this turns out well for all.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

London housing saved

"Having faced the grim prospect of eviction just before the holidays, residents of a housing block in east London are instead toasting an unlikely victory over U.S. property investors.
Multi-billion dollar asset management firm Westbrook Partners said Friday that it would abandon its plan to raise rents to market values — a move that would have tripled the cost to some residents — and instead sell the New Era estate to an affordable housing charity.
In ditching the plan, Westbrook appeared to bow to public and government pressure following a well-orchestrated campaign. New Era residents organized a petition with nearly 350,000 signatures and attracted major media attention to their cause, thanks in large part to the efforts of British actor Russell Brand. On several occasions, the outspoken comedian turned social activist marched in the streets alongside New Era residents and supporters, and demonstrated outside Westbrook’s office holding signs that read, "Social housing, not social cleansing.'”

I would like to know more about how this protest was organized. It appears it was mostly run from the renters themselves.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hong Kong activists unclear what to do next

"Protest leaders in Hong Kong have cancelled a vote on what the next step should be in their month-long street occupation, saying they hadn't properly consulted with the demonstrators before calling the referendum.
The two-day vote, which had been scheduled for Sunday and Monday, was supposed to have gauged support among protesters for counter proposals to offers made by Hong Kong's government following talks last week between student protest leaders and authorities.
'We admit that we did not have enough discussion with the people before deciding to go ahead with the vote and we apologize to the people,' the protest leaders said in a statement.
They also cited 'differing opinions regarding the format, motions and effectiveness' of the referendum."

I watched how the Denver Occupy movement worked and thought it was a definite time waster as they hashed out for hours items of minute concern, it seemed to me.  When you have to come to a consensus before you do anything, just expect to be jawboning for a long time, maybe even longer than your eventual actions.

crowdsourcing can be sabatoged

"However, the crowd was hopeless against a determined attacker. Before the first attack, our progress on the fourth puzzle had combined 39,299 moves by 342 users over more than 38 hours. Destroying all this progress required just 416 moves by one attacker in about an hour. In other words, creation took 100 times as many moves and about 40 times longer than destruction."

"While we take for granted the way in which social media scales-up our ability to mobilize crowds in unprecedented ways, we must confront the challenge of ensuring those mobilized crowds do not fall prey to mobs."

Life in general is like this. You can raise a child, send him to school and college, relish the outcome, and then some idiot shoots him in a robbery.  It sucks, but destruction is much easier than construction.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Crowdsourcing helps find missing boat

"On August 26th 2014, the Tunante II, a 12.5 meter-long yacht with four crew on board, declared emergency during a storm off the coast of Brazil. Within hours, the Argentinian and Brazilian governments pulled together a search & rescue force.
A Tomnod campaign request was submitted and approved, and a satellite tasking order was placed. As planes were forced to suspend their search due to bad weather, Tomnod loaded satellite images online so thousands of people around the world could scan each pixel of the South Atlantic Ocean looking for clues of the missing boat.
Renewed Hope
During the course of the search, both governments halted and resumed their active participation for various reasons. However on October 8th, an image was tagged on Tomnod which matched the description and projected location of the Tunante II."

Here's an example in which a mass of volunteers do a simple task to help someone in need.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

so how about that crowd-sourced Icelandic Constitution?

"Iceland’s recent experiment in redrafting its constitution has challenged the assumptions that a constitutional process needs to be exclusive and opaque. In 2013 the country came close to passing into law the world’s most inclusively and transparently written constitutional text. This experiment—sometimes dubbed the 'crowdsourced constitution'—should prove inspirational for people around the globe intent on writing, or re-writing, their own social contract.
The Icelandic constitutional process included three original features. The first one was a so-called National Forum—an upstream consultation of a demographically representative minipublic of 950 quasi-randomly sampled citizens. These citizens were gathered in a one-day meeting and asked to list the principles and values they would like to see embedded in the Icelandic constitution. They listed, among others, human rights, democracy, transparency, equal access to health care and education, a more strongly regulated financial sector, and public ownership of Icelandic natural resources."

Well, it almost worked.  And here's some ideas for the next country to try it.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

did the Arab Spring end in failure?

"Most academics have been wary of fingering Islam as a fundamental impediment to modernisation, yet some, and not only Western ones, suspect it plays a role. Timur Kuran, a Turkish-American economist, argues that Islam’s rigidly egalitarian inheritance rules have hindered the accumulation and mobilization of capital in a way that hampered industrialization. The unresolved issue of proper relations between Islam and the state represents a chronic conundrum.
For most of the time since the first caliphate governments have outwardly endorsed the notion that temporal laws must be subservient to religious rulings while doing as they wish and ensuring that jurists toe the line. In the 19th century the governments of Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia all moved to trim the influence of sharia judges, not under European pressure but because their unpredictable rulings were an obstacle to commerce as well as to government power.
The modern spread of Islamism as an explicitly political expression of Islamic thought has created another set of problems. Groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, a wellspring of Islamism since its founding in 1928, claim that the founding texts of Islam provide a template for every aspect of life, including government. The trouble is that these texts are open to widely varying interpretations. As the proliferation of Islamist political parties proves, it is hard to balance the notion of a fixed, immutable source with the changing whims of democratic politics. Instead, one dominant party is liable to try to silence rivals, a process which often involves outbidding them in a contest for greater 'authenticity'."

I must admit that I'm depressed thinking of what could have come from the Arab Spring.  But I'm not throwing in the towel just yet.  Many people learned that they could voice their opinion, and work collectively with others to push their views.  People are still learning this, and more and more will.  I'm convinced that the people understand better what they want from their government, and know there are methods for gaining that.  But the elite are well-entrenched.  It will take time to make changes.  Same in the U.S.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Brazilians has a strong digital culture

"'We don’t make a difference by sitting behind our computers,' said Marcelo Tas, a Brazilian journalist with more than 5 million Twitter followers, during a newscast with BandnewsTV the first week of the protests last June. 'We’re meeting up in the streets. And it’s not just happening in Rio and São Paulo. Small towns in the interior are protesting. We have a whole country protesting.'
'It’s a really important moment we’re living right now,' says Bia Granja, of the YouPix festival, which gathers hundreds of thousands together at festivals across the country, and millions together online, to organize around digital issues they care about. Last year’s festival in Rio hosted debates about Brazil’s internet legislation, the persecution of the Rio funk movement, and Globo’s factually inaccurate reporting of last June’s protests, interspersed with food contests, MC battles, a well-attended workshop for YouTube content producers (and Havaianas giveaways).
'We’re seeing big changes,' Granja says. 'Social networks are tools of empowerment we didn’t have before.'”

I had to read down pretty far in this article to start to notice anything very exciting. Maybe the first part was just history building up to the good stuff.

To summarize, Brazil uses the social media aspects of the Internet to give citizens a voice in their government.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Occupy Movement morphs and keeps going

"Many veterans of the 2011 movements nevertheless continue to believe that their electoral systems have become so broken that real change must come from outside. Rather than just making an end-run for government office, they believe they need to rebuild the economy and political structure, starting at the level of local communities and growing upward from there. That’s where some of the most interesting activism is happening.
Occupy alums have been especially busy promoting worker cooperatives, whose earnings tend to stay in local communities rather than being siphoned to big banks. One of the first enterprises to grow out of Occupy Wall Street was a worker-owned print shop, and in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Occupy activists helped affected communities set up their own cooperative businesses in order to be more resilient against the rich developers who arrived in the wake of the storm. Occupiers in Boston have been working with a non-profit called the New Economy Coalition to support new cooperative projects. People from around the country attended the Jackson Rising conference in Mississippi last month, which focused on using cooperatives to build lasting economic power in black communities hit hard by the last financial crisis. This so-called New Economy movement has been growing for years, but Occupy brought a new generation into it."

I admire the Occupy movement. They tried something. It worked to a degree, but they were basically squashed. So now they try other things and keep going.

Friday, June 6, 2014

What happens when low-wage earners suddenly get a raise

"Before the contract I was at $11.68 an hour, and when the raise came in I started making $21.67. Before I was making less than $300/week and after, it was $575. It helped a lot.
Before the raise, a lot of times I fell behind on my rent payments. It was a dilemma: which was more important, food or bills? So I made the bills and I'd buy whatever food I could afford afterwards. Luckily, my aunt lives here, so any time I was hungry I could go by her place and she could give me dinner or lunch. I'm very lucky I have family.
I'm 50 years old, and I don't have too many other options for work, but I appreciate this job. I'm always on time. I got sick a few weeks ago, I had a fever of 102, and I called my boss and he said "OK, we understand." We have better health insurance, better protection for the employees.
It's a tremendous change, getting this contract. Right now there are so many people living in poverty each week, doing what I did, struggling. Do you pay rent or do you eat? This country is a very rich country, with a lot of rich people, but so many are in poverty. It's only right that people who work hard get what they deserve. The minimum wage has got to go up. If it goes up, it makes a huge difference! The minimum wage has gotta go up."

Employees are people too.  Without them shareholders would be holding worthless paper.

Monday, March 24, 2014

People Power is overrated?

"This is not to deny the emotional force of the protests. Anyone who has ever attended a rock concert or a football game knows how much fun it is to be part of a roaring crowd. The experience is far more intense when you are standing in a crowd that might change history. Since the eighteenth century, philosophers have tried to describe the hallucinatory power of a mass movement. When Michael Walzer interviewed American civil rights activists they all told him the same thing about protests: 'It was like a fever. Everyone wanted to go.' It is precisely because he understands the euphoric power of crowds—and especially because he understands how they can embolden people cowed by an unjust state—that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is so determined to prevent Ukraine’s revolution from spreading.
Yet a successful street revolution, like any revolution, is never guaranteed to leave anything positive in its aftermath—or anything at all. In the West, we often now associate protests with progress, or at least we assume that big crowds—the March on Washington, Paris in 1968—are the benign face of social change. But street revolutions are not always progressive, positive, or even important. Some replace a corrupt tyranny with violence and a political vacuum, which is what happened in Libya. Ukraine’s own Orange Revolution of 2004–2005 produced a new group of leaders who turned out to be just as incompetent as their predecessors. Crowds can be bullying, they can become violent, and they can give rise to extremists: Think Tehran 1979, or indeed Petrograd 1917.
The crowd may not even represent the majority. Because a street revolution makes good copy, and because it provides great photographs, we often mistakenly confuse “people power” with democracy itself. In fact, the creation of democratic institutions—courts, legal systems, bills of rights—is a long and tedious process that often doesn’t interest foreign journalists at all. Tunisia’s ratification of a new constitution earlier this year represented the most significant achievement of the Arab Spring to date, but the agonizing negotiations that led up to that moment were hard for outsiders to understand—and not remotely telegenic."

People Power works and it helps people. But yeah, it might be overrated.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

protest movements still need underlying structure

"Protests like this one, fueled by social media and erupting into spectacular mass events, look like powerful statements of opposition against a regime. And whether these take place in Turkey, Egypt or Ukraine, pundits often speculate that the days of a ruling party or government, or at least its unpopular policies, must be numbered. Yet often these huge mobilizations of citizens inexplicably wither away without the impact on policy you might expect from their scale.
This muted effect is not because social media isn’t good at what it does, but, in a way, because it’s very good at what it does. Digital tools make it much easier to build up movements quickly, and they greatly lower coordination costs. This seems like a good thing at first, but it often results in an unanticipated weakness: Before the Internet, the tedious work of organizing that was required to circumvent censorship or to organize a protest also helped build infrastructure for decision making and strategies for sustaining momentum. Now movements can rush past that step, often to their own detriment."

The basic point here is a good one.  The Internet makes gathering large protests much easier, so they happen more frequently. BUT, we can't lose sight of the fact that protests are a tool, not an end.  There must be some structure and some thought as to what the ultimate goal is for a movement to succeed. So while we can be amazed at the size of the muscle (protests), we have to also look for the bone, or the structure behind it.  I think this is a good way to look back at the Occupy movement.  There was a great job getting people on the street, but not enough built up behind it. I think a lot of Occupy people are now working on that structure, having caught the bug on the street.