Monday, December 28, 2015

What happened to Occupy Wall Street

" Instead of welcoming other progressive forces and actually co-opting them, purists shamed 'liberals,' cultivated a radical macho culture more focused on big speeches at assemblies and arrests in the streets than the hard organizing behind the scenes, and turned Occupy into a fringe identity that only a few people could really claim to the exclusion of the hundreds of thousands who actually made it real.
Occupy Wall Street created a new discourse, brought thousands of people into the movement, shifted the landscape of the left, and even facilitated concrete victories for working people. But at the same time, a substantial chunk of its leadership was allergic to power. And we made a politic of that. We fetishized it, wrote articles and books about it, scorned the public with it. Worst of all, we used it as a cudgel with which to bludgeon each other.
Sure, the cops came for us — we invited them, after all. But we were the problem: When the state tugged hard enough, we tore at the seams."

 This is a look back, mostly, on what went wrong with the Occupy movement.  The main point seems to be that leadership was discounted or scorned, or even discounted itself, which then led many people to believe that the movement had no rudder, so they left.

"Our ego battles are a natural product of a movement that doesn’t have a clear answer for how leadership is to be appreciated and held accountable at the same time."

   I've been a protest organizer.  I've also been to many protests from different movements, including Occupy.  The author's whining about how leaders couldn't or wouldn't be leaders.  This to me is false.  The difference in these type movements is that leadership is a role, it's not a position of power.  It's a slot where hopefully the right person is performing useful organizing actions.  So long as that person does not claim any power thus provided as some sort of right, and so long as they are doing their role well, there should be no problem.  The problem is, like Anonymous people would say, "leader-fagging."  If the power of a leadership position gets to the person's head, then it's time to switch people.  Of course, this never goes smoothly... ego is such a terrible thing.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

the Arab Spring is not over

"The Arab Spring is more than a wave of political uprisings launched in 2011. It’s an intergenerational shift whereby a new generation of youth rejected regimes built by tyrants from a previous era. These demographic and technological trends have actually accelerated since 2011. For example, surpassed the global connectivity average in 2014, with 41 percent of all residents online.
Arab regimes remained stubbornly opposed to political change or evolution, but they have no solution for the deeper societal changes at work. The essential clash between an evolving society and static political system still continues, and in some cases has intensified."

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Wikipedia, the example of how Collective Action can work, is in trouble

"I think Wikipedia never solved the problem of how to organize itself in a way the didn't lead to mob rule...
And I think a small amount of that goes on. A lot of the behaviors that people associate with so-called social justice warriors today, I remember seeing back in 2001, 2002, with the new arrivals.
It's really hard to lay out what I think is the single biggest shortcoming of Wikipedia, especially if I want to do so in a way that is not going to make a lot of people pissed off at me. I don't want to be in the business of Wikipedia-bashing anymore. But I do think it has a root problem that's social. People that I would say are trolls sort of took over. The inmates started running the asylum."

Wikipedia's co-founder Larry Sanger talks about the problems he sees with the site.  And this is a problem that many collective actions have; trolls.  Or just saboteurs even.  How do you let the masses work together to create something good while keeping the bomb throwers at bay?  This is the question that should be asked at creation time, not fixed later.  Because then it might be too late.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

european collective action to help refugees

"In between nervous refugees and the frustrated policemen stepped volunteers clad in orange vests, calming people down, reuniting family members and generally oiling the wheels of a clunky and frequently changing system."

"Major aid agencies like the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, are mounting relief efforts, but some of the quickest responders along the Balkan route have been civilian volunteers.
In addition to locals who have helped out in their cities or areas, young Europeans are venturing across the region to provide urgent, direct and sometimes essential help to struggling refugees.
For some it is an extension of activism at home, often with human rights, anti-capitalist and environmental groups. For others, it is a response to what they have seen and read about the refugee crisis. And for a few, the decision to help came when they were in the Balkans and could no longer look away."

"Along the Balkan route, they not only offer food and drink but also help set up Wi-Fi hot spots and places to recharge cellphones, using their technical savvy to offer cheap and quick solutions to refugees who rely on smartphones for information, communication and navigation.
As different bottlenecks and crisis points appear along the refugees’ route, volunteers coordinate efforts and direct one another to where they are most needed, using social media and interactive maps."

this is pretty cool. Mostly young people using modern technology to reach out to people in need.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Maybe collective action at the national level doesn't work so well (EU)

"Its [the refugee waves] solution would be straightforward in the presence of a central authority empowered to take decisions. But this is not how the EU works. It works through co-ordination and harmonisation – through fiscal rules, banking regulation and neighbourhood policies. But none of them prevented the crisis, and none of them helps solve it. The problem was never a lack of rules or policies. It was the simple fact that certain things in life cannot just be co-ordinated.
Nor are member states big enough to act on their own - not even Germany. Angela Merkel is, for once, on the right side of the argument. But Germany does not have the capacity to absorb all the EU immigrants.
Viktor Orban, Hungary’s populist prime minister, produced a good rendition of the mindset that gives rise to collective action problems. He said last week this was not a European crisis, but a German crisis, since all the refugees wanted to go to Germany. Germany, I would add, acted in a similarly cavalier fashion during the euro zone crises.
The collective action problem is nobody’s fault in particular. It is hard-wired into the system. The EU’s job is not to prevent financial crises, or to save children from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea."

This sounds like when every individual [nation, in this case] wants to adhere closely to its own agenda and ideas, collective action falls flat.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Collective action leads you open to abusers? Wikipedia

"Hundreds of small British businesses and minor celebrities have been targeted by a sophisticated blackmail scam orchestrated by “rogue editors” at Wikipedia, The Independent can reveal.
The victims, who range from a wedding photographer in Dorset to a high-end jewellery shop in Shoreditch, east London, faced demands for hundreds of pounds to “protect” or update Wikipedia pages about their businesses. A former Britain’s Got Talent contestant was among dozens of individuals targeted.
Wikipedia has taken action against what it described as the 'co-ordinated group' of fraudsters by blocking 381 accounts. An investigation had found that the accounts were controlled by Wikipedia users offering to change articles about companies and private individuals in exchange for payment.
In some cases, the requests for money amounted to blackmail, Wikipedia told The Independent."

this is sad, but must be considered in all uses of collective action.  what happens when you have a loose nut screwing up your collective efforts?  How should you handle it?  This should be thought through before you even begin your action.

When your government has lost its heart, you step up

"With hundreds of volunteers and more than 22,000 Facebook followers, Migration Aid offers food, water, medical help and information to refugees who each day cross Hungary by the thousands, even as Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his populist right-wing government wash their hands of them.

All along the Balkan route to Western Europe — through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary — volunteers are stepping in to help refugees, defying their leaders’ indifference or hostility to the new arrivals.
As a solitary train left Budapest’s Keleti station on Thursday, crammed with refugees who thought they were going to Austria, Orban was telling top European Union officials in Brussels that the crisis was 'a German problem.'”

 when government officials have lost their hearts somewhere along the way, citizens can step in and make things better.  This is one place where collective action can make a huge difference.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A How-To for collective action

"Key Learning: Elements of ‘Open-source’ Principals
Principles that can be applied to campaigns and movement building:
  1. Action Worthy Problem & Solution: Does it matter to enough people? Is the solution you propose realistic and effective?
  2. Replicate > Repeat > Innovate = Anti-fragile: Instead of sticking to a multi-year strategic plans, establish an initial plan of action and create room for experimentation, even failure and error.
  3. Tiered Decision-Making: Recognizing specialization, respecting local leadership and decentralized responsibilities.
  4. Clear Purpose: Open-source campaigns function best with clear purpose, frame, values that serve as basic parameters.
  5. Point of Entry: Network weaving provides points of entry to the bigger picture and broader objectives beyond the local context or immediate policy demand (i.e. a national message or national/ international day of action)."
I haven't digested this yet but some good ideas here.

Monday, August 3, 2015

With collective action, is one simple goal enough?

In his own critique of the Hong Kong protests against limited public voice on elected candidates, activist Joshua Wong said:

'"First, we did not have any clear goal or roadmap or route for democracy. We did not deliver the message to the general Hong Kong public," says the university student, over lunch.
'Secondly, not enough people were willing to pay the price by protesting. We did not have enough bargaining power with the Chinese authorities.
'Say, for example, during the Umbrella Movement, if two million Hong Kong people had occupied the streets, along with labour strikes, and if this had continued for more than two months, we would have had enough bargaining power.'"

So, not a clear goal, and not a large enough protest.  I want to discuss the first part.

The Arab Spring was actually quite successful. The clear goal in most of the countries was one thing; get rid of the dictator.  And they succeeded in Algeria, Egypt, and elsewhere (but not, unfortunately, in Syria).  But what then?  This, I think, is part of the complaint Joshua Wong is making. Even if a protest succeeds in it's main goal, what is the plan after that?  I think this is a weakness in most collective actions.

It is easy now using social media to create a large collective action. Anonymous showed this against Scientology.  The Arab Spring showed this against dictators.  Having one clear simple goal makes it easier to bring people together and keep a cohesion in the ranks.  Back to the article...

"But Mr Wong is looking far ahead. He wants to rectify the mistake of not presenting a viable plan to the public.
He says that by 2030, the democracy movement needs to present a clear roadmap spelling out how it can achieve a legally binding referendum on the city's future."

Wong sees what I see. A protest needs not only a short-term goal but at least some sort of vision for where to go once your goal has been met.  But this is a 2-edged sword. On the one hand, once you succeeed, you're not floundering around wondering "what now?"  But on the other hand, the discussion about what to do after the simple goal is met means more things to argue about, more time to work things through, more time for factions to develop.  I see no solution to this.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ants work both individually and collectively

"Ants have an almost unique ability among animals to switch between individual and collective action, according to new research which uncovers the mystery behind their impressive teamwork.
The insects are able to transport objects such as food that are much larger than themselves by intuitively understanding when to be part of the collective muscle and when to play an individual 'scouting' role for the group, researchers found.
Experiments using the Cheerios breakfast cereal showed how groups of a dozen or more ants working in unison could haul much bigger items by pushing in the same direction. But crucially, when the group moves off-course or trouble looms, the ant who first realises the problem transforms into a highly individualistic leader."

This is pretty cool. There is really no leader. there is one ant who is in the best position to give directions at that time.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Anonymous is bigger than most thought

"The analysis looks at Facebook pages connected with Anonymous to gain insight into its international prowess. Yevgeniy Golovchenko, a graduate student in the school's sociology department, examined 2,770 Anonymous Facebook pages that generated a collective 22.2 million 'likes.' This is just the 'absolute minimal size' of the entire global Anonymous network, Mr. Golovchenko explained in an interview.
The point of the study was to 'show the enormity and connectivity of the Anonymous movement at a global level,' he said. The end result revealed a network greater than he expected. It was even 'a lot bigger than my Anon informants thought it would be,' said Golovchenko."

Anonymous still in the news too!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"the rich and poor social networks did not overlap"

"Even though the people facing digital inequalities in the marginalized areas came late to the protest, Facebook still provided a platform so the residents of Gurigica, São Benedito and Itararé could organize and manifest their demands in the street protest. But the social divide that takes place in Vitória affected the way information flowed, impacting the civic engagement of the poor. The organizers of the first protests belonged to an upper class that did not overlap with lower classes, online and offline, the marginalized came in late to the streets and their voices and requests were not privileged as the ones shouted by the rich."

This is an interesting study in how class divide prevents larger protests.  Something for organizers to think about in the future.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Looking back on the Arab Spring

"No matter what the current state of different Arab uprisings, this much is certain: That where the people once loudly demanded the downfall of certain regimes, many now want order and security before anything else.

Hassan Hassan, an Abu Dhabi-based Middle East analyst and a co-author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, says there are no visible gains for the people so far as conflicts and insurgencies in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, and Egypt continue to cut a swathe of destruction through the region.
'All that ordinary people are looking forward to is an end to the violence, and stability at some point,' he told Al Jazeera."

Sad article.  The Arab Spring succeeded in toppling dictators. But then what?  That is the question.  And can such a revolution be preparing for a smooth transition at the same time as it is toppling a government?  Personally, I think not.  And I don't know the solution to that.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Collective Action as a business model?

"The real damper on employee engagement is the soggy, cold blanket of centralized authority. In most companies, power cascades downwards from the CEO. Not only are employees disenfranchised from most policy decisions, they lack even the power to rebel against egocentric and tyrannical supervisors."

I'm just finding out about Gary Hamel, but I like the general flow of his ideas.  I heard him being interviewed on BBC radio last night and will have to look into this guy.  

Monday, February 9, 2015

Is crowdsourcing a myth?

"On November 24, an email from an anonymous Hushmail address landed in the team’s inbox. It taunted USCD about the team’s security lapses, claimed that the sender had recruited his own horde of hackers from the notorious 4chan bulletin board, and revealed exactly how he had used proxy servers and virtual private networks (VPNs) to launch his attacks.
'I too am working on the puzzle and feel that crowdsourcing is basically cheating,' read the email. 'For what should be a programming challenge about computer vision algorithms, crowdsourcing really just seems like a brute force and ugly plan of attack, even if it is effective (which I guess remains to be seen).' He signed off with the phrase 'All Your Shreds are Belong to U.S.'”

* * *
"By Stefanovitch’s reckoning, just two individuals had accounted for almost all the destruction, eviscerating the completed puzzle in about one percent of the moves and two percent of the time it had taken a crowd of thousands to assemble it. Yet the attacker had left one more clue, a blunder that pointed right back to his door. During the first attack, he had logged in with an email address from his very own domain."

* * *

"Luckily for platforms like Wikipedia or Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, the prospect for longer-term crowdsourcing projects are not so bleak. Game theorists have found that systems where individuals can build up a good reputation, are (probably) not as prone to devastating attacks from within.
But wily humans are good at finding their way around even the most secure digital systems. In a paper last year, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, used AI software to detect spammers in China’s Weibo social network with an accuracy of up to 99%. Despite that, the authors concluded that 'adversarial attacks are effective against all machine learning algorithms, and coordinated attacks are particularly effective.'”

Ok, so designing a crowdsourcing problem is critical.  And some problems cannot be handled by crowdsourcing because trolls and saboteurs can get into the system and wreck things faster than you can solve them. Got it.  But this doesn't destroy crowdsourcing.  The Internet itself is flawed because the original design did not take robust security into account. But we still use the Internet.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Did the Arab Spring miss important steps in Egypt?

"In short, at a time that could have made a critical difference, the revolutionaries did not realize the need to take initiative. As the protests to fulfill the democratic demand for presidential elections drew nearer, it was only a small group of revolutionaries that were dubious about the outcome. The rest merely made various public calls against military intervention when they should have focused on holding the main umbrella group, the National Salvation Front, to that anti-intervention principle as a condition, and established protocols to be followed if that intervention happened. That was their only leverage.
This is not to say the revolutionaries had control over, or were responsible for, the protests in any effective manner. Had the revolutionaries been silent at home on June 30, the size and the outcome of the protests would have been same, drawn from the broader, anti-Brotherhood segments of the population. Here, effective power, and the 'power of responsibility to provide alternatives' diverge – and it is the latter we must now examine."

 I'm reading Havel: a Life about the Czech president Vaclav Havel.  After communism fell in 1989, there was a power vacuum.  But there was also a group of people who had stood up to the communist government, who were well respected by most Czechs, and who were willing to form a new government from scratch. Somehow it worked, in a messy sort of way.
   Looking back on the Arab Spring, it seems to me that the revolution had one main goal, get rid of Mubarak.  There wasn't really much planning past that that I, from an extremely long distance away, could see.  Short-term thinking might be a problem inherent in collective action. I'll have to think about that.

And here's another overview;

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

protesting = terrorism? Come on NYPD

"'When I see counterterrorism folks amongst protesters, it sends me a message that I'm the enemy, and that they are trying to keep other New Yorkers safe from those protesting for their civil rights," said Sarsour. "It vilifies the people who are being peaceful and asking for something they should already have, asking for things like ending of police brutality.'

The police wearing the counterterrorism jackets at protests are perhaps the most palpable sign of the agency's transformation since 2001. Before 9/11 the NYPD had no counterterrorism bureau and the Intelligence Division focused its resources on gang activity. After the September 11 attacks, however, billions of dollars were poured into the department to counter the threat of terrorism, as a 2011 60 Minutesreport showed. Critics of the NYPD's post-9/11 turn have been arguing that practices devoted to fighting terrorism have violated the Constitution.
Now, they say, the NYPD is unleashing its counterterrorism tools on activists against police brutality, conflating legitimate protest with the threat of terrorism."

Good grief. I'm assuming that this is happening because all those cops assigned to counter terrorism have to do SOMETHING, but this is counterproductive on so many levels.  Mainly, it sends the message that protests are scary, dangerous things, and that those who are practicing their first amendment rights might actually be criminals.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"Impossible" seeks to have people help each other, one year old

"What is impossible?
A global community who help each other out. People share their time, skills and objects.

Build valuable profiles —
impossible gives you a place to record your acts of kindness (complementing your LinkedIn/Facebook profiles). We reckon it’s easier getting a job or a partner or a friend if people know how kind you are.

Thanks currency -
impossible users earn Thanks when they give to one another, a social currency that can be used with some impossible partners.

Is Impossible a business or a charity?
Impossible is a social business which means that no private dividends are allowed, and 100% of profit goes back into Impossible."

This has been going for a year and I just found out about it.  Lily Cole started it.  Seems to have a good reputation.