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A Conversation with Scott Crow, Part 3: Intersectionality & Technology

8:03 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Previously: Part 1, Occupy & Activism and Part 2, Mutual Aid

A black & white portrait of Scott Crow

Firedoglake’s Kit O’Connell concludes his interview with anarchist author and organizer Scott Crow.

One important tool which defines modern activism is the use of social media for organizing and building solidarity. While social media does little unless paired with “meatspace” direct action, it can be a powerful tool for motivating people, reporting on live events, and building intersectionality. When arrests first occurred at Occupy Austin, we heard from activists in Egypt who had staged an impromptu protest at the US Embassy.

Between times of “rupture,” social media becomes even more crucial for strengthening solidarity and relating about core issues. This can be seen in recent, vital discussions on Twitter over race, feminism, and the meaning and origins of Occupy. Likewise, more people are using social media and the Internet to educate themselves about politics and current events. To close our conversation, I asked Scott Crow how he thought social media was changing our political conversations.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: The word ‘anarchy’ or ‘socialism’ used to be these hot button words that could be used to turn people off. You used those words and people’s minds closed down. The mainstream media and the politicians use this constantly. “Obama’s a socialist!” But it doesn’t seem to be working anymore. People are less likely to believe you. Why do you think that’s happening?

Scott Crow: Because people are smart. And they can see that it’s propaganda. Even if they don’t have a ‘political analysis’ they can see that it’s total bullshit. And — can I say bullshit?

FDL: Yeah. You’re not going on the radio!

SC: I think you’re totally right. The thing is — with words like that — I can’t speak to socialism because it did get such a bad rap. But anarchy was always assumed to be chaos and bombthrowing. Because anarchy is the largest set of ideas in ascension in social justice movements — nationally, in the US, Canada, Mexico, even Europe — more than Communism (big C Communism). The New York Times and CNN, they can’t ignore it anymore. Sure, anarchists are out in the streets in black bloc throwing tear gas canisters back when they get shot at them, but they are also at the front lines of disaster relief, they’re at the front lines of occupying and reclaiming spaces that should be the commons — you can’t deny that. You can’t knock it off to a fringe element and people can see that clearly. We’re in an anarchist renaissance — there’s more anarchist literature produced in the last 14 years than there had been in the previous 50 or 60 years in the United States and even internationally.

Anarchy went underground. People stopped talking about it. They started to hide in other organizations. It reemerged in the 60′s but still at the fringes. But now there’s a huge body of work — more books have come out, more articles are written now. And the Interwebs help with that because it is an open platform to talk about things, because if you’re in Idaho or you’re in Texas or you’re in New York, you can be connected and hear people share ideas.

FDL: That leads into the intersectionality that’s happening. That’s not a new concept obviously but the Internet seems to promote it. In my view, when Occupy worked was when it was its most intersectional. That’s also when there was the most pushback against it from the media, from people who just wanted it to be the Democratic answer to the Tea Party.

SC: But that tension’s always there. There’s always groups trying to pilfer off of you, trying to suck like vampires. The labor unions, the Democrats, they’re always trying to do that. There’s a long history of that. Used to be Communists who’d try to control it.

FDL: But intersectionality seems like a key to growing any kind of movement right now.

SC: Absolutely. That’s the thing that attracted me to anarchy originally. I came to it late in my life. I came to it in my late twenties … but anarchy was one of the only political philosophies that seemed to embrace intersectionality and connecting the struggles. That it was important what was happening in prisons, in the environment, with animals, rape culture, what happened outwardly but also inwardly — how do we treat each other? While a lot of movements are about converting people to their party, their line, their nonprofit.

You bring up a point that needs to be reiterated. I think the Interwebs is very conducive to that. It’s almost like a cacophony —  where you can see something about animal liberation and then something about prisons right below it in your news feed. And you say, ‘Oh yeah, those are both important.’

FDL: And on the ground, doing the work it can seem really obvious. How is Palestine linked to Capitalism? Because Capitalism props that occupation up. But then it becomes time to regurgitate that into a sound bite and that’s where it starts to break down.

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What The Hell Happened to @OccupyWallst? Or, Our New Boss, Justine Tunney

8:33 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Yesterday, the almost 200,000 followers of @OccupyWallSt — viewed by many as the original and even “official” voice of the movement — were in for a surprise.

Along with this announcement, the Twitter icon changed to an image of a creature from Doctor Who called an Adipose. An account that purported to speak for a national movement now suddenly spoke very much in first person. Access that had been shared with a select sampling of Occupy activists nationwide now dwindled to just a single voice.

A white blob-like creature with a humanoid shape known as an Adipose

The new white face of Occupy Wall Street?

As a flood of critical tweets began, Tunney justified her drastic actions by saying she’d felt excluded from the OWS conversation since the beginning and was reclaiming the account ‘for a week or so‘ to share her voice.

Tunney’s viewpoints included calling out activist philosopher David Graeber, espousing vegetarianism and non-smoking, and insisting that the movement was only anti-Wall Street, not anti-corporation. She defended her employment with Google while simultaneously calling out the liberal middle class for their moral bankruptcy.

I was the founding organizer of this movement. But prejudiced people have always tried to deny me a voice in this movement. –Justine Tunney

The movement lost the way. So I’m helping people learn about its founding principles which lead to its success. –Justine Tunney to @YourAnonNews

Tunney’s tale of exclusion stems from being a transgender woman, a class of people often oppressed and silenced in our culture. Yet she plays this card without hesitation in response to her critics. This afternoon, as nearly every activist on social media held their breath in anticipation of the NATO 3 verdict, Tunney shared a sob story of emotional abuse on her personal account. As I pleaded with her to use her new soapbox to share solidarity with three activists that face decades behind bars, she responded by calling me a transphobic bully and temporarily blocking me on Twitter.

The fiasco spawned the humorous #IFoundedOccupyWallSt hashtag, but many who invested months of their lives — or even went to jail for the movement — responded with outrage and a sense of betrayal. It’s sad to see a leaderless movement so diminished in numbers and tarnished in the media further devalued by the bizarre personal agenda of a singular egotist. On one hand, this appears to be a sudden digital coup by a self-described anarchist turned movement dictator.

But looked at another way, this seems like the sad yet inevitable result of how the Occupy media team formed. Viewed this way, it’s a problem exacerbated by technology ill-suited to horizontal movements, a problem that played out at perhaps dozens of encampments and Occupy subgroups before coming home to Zuccotti.

While I spoke at length with a former media team member, Tim Fitzgerald (@DiceyTroop) today about the early days of @OccupyWallSt, his words were supported by many communications I’ve had over the last few years with Occupy members, and documented in multiple sources which I will link to where possible. I engaged with Justine Tunney for her side of things until I was blocked. Priscilla Grim, one of the team members ousted on Thursday, told me she’d be unavailable to comment on this matter until Monday.

Occupy The Media or Occupy A Park

Yesterday’s hijack was possible because Tunney did create the @OccupyWallSt account on Twitter and obtain the original domain name OccupyWallSt.org — the about page of which is currently a hagiography of Tunney and her friends. To take over, she presumably just changed the password and shut down whatever services were allowing other activists to tweet from the account.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of the origins and structure of the Occupy movement knows it’s ludicrous to claim leadership, but I think we can learn a lot about how activist media goes wrong from her example. Nathan Schneider’s Thank You, Anarchy (previously on the FDL Book Salon) tells Tunney’s side of the origin story:

Because of the General Assembly’s early hiccups in setting up a website during the planning process, the occupation’s online presence was left to the whims of improvisation. A transgender Internet security expert, Justine Tunney, registered the OccupyWallSt.org web domain anonymously on July 14 and started assembling a team to populate it.

[...]

[Tunney:] ‘… Right now I’m trying to get more developers to help me out with this. So far I’m the only person developing it, and that’s bad. I’m a firm believer in collective responsibility, because if I get hit by a bus, people are screwed.’

Others disagree with the notion that she tried to create a collaborative atmosphere. Activist and journalist Alexa O’Brien called the takeover “three years in the making,” and implied that Tunney had acted to seize power from the start:

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What Flood? 2 weeks of disaster relief in Austin, Texas (#ATXFloods)

7:30 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Collapsed house after Austin Halloween Flood

A condemned houses in the aftermath of the Austin, Texas Halloween 2013 flood.

In the early hours of Halloween 2013, Austin, Texas suffered from a record-breaking flood. Some 1,100 homes were affected by the floods with hundreds of those seriously. Flood response was dangerously delayed by a faulty flood gauge and improper human monitoring of the rapidly rising Onion Creek. Because of the city’s seemingly laissez-faire attitude toward the residents of the floodplain, many remained asleep as water began to pour into their homes:

Onion Creek was transformed into a raging river last Thursday. The Halloween flood set a new record for high water levels in the creek. More than 1,000 homes were damaged and five people died.

At a town hall meeting in the Dove Springs area Tuesday night homeowners had a lot of questions, and one comment caused concern.

‘We relied too much, me, on technology and gauges that were not working properly,’ said Police Chief Art Acevedo.

Flood survivor Norma Jeanne Maloney took to Facebook to tell how she and her partner Dawna Fisher were awakened by rising waters:

Dawna Fisher woke me up to tell me we had a problem. Half asleep I said ‘Say again, what kind of problem?’ ‘We have some water outside and it looks pretty high.’ I went to our front window to see a raging body of water about 3 feet high. I said ‘We need to wake up the kids we are in serious trouble.’ I woke up Ruby and she woke up Texie. I went back into our bedroom where the water had already begun to seep up into our floors, I heard my cat Pickup howling, yes cats howl, under the bed. I managed to grab him and while he clawed me to pieces ( and he has never ever hurt anyone ) I said to him, go right ahead pal, I’m not letting you go. Texie and I shoved him in a bag and zipped it up. …

We all had gathered in the living room wondering if anyone on earth knew what was happening and how we were going to get out. We saw someone trying to escape in their car, it flipped on its side and was washed away. I heard voices and saw a boat in the street and my immediate response was to open the front door to swim to the boat to get help for my family. Do not try this at home, it lets more water in. We began flicking our porch light on and off and were seen. A beautiful tall firefighter walked through the raging water and made it to our window and asked how many lives we had in our home including pets …

He said he would be back. We waited and watched the water continue to rise, our belongings beginning to float about the house. My daughter Ruby asked me if we were going to die. That was the hardest part. Of course not I said, wondering if I just lied to my child and if we were all going to perish. I said guys, I know this isn’t really your thing, but can we pray? Without hesitation we all grabbed hands in a circle and asked that we be spared, at this point the water was past our waists. … The firefighter came back, we heard our neighbors screaming and we said go back for them, they are elderly and need your help. Our neighbors (we know now) were screaming go get them, they have babies! On his last trip to our window they finally managed to get the boat near our living room window against the current and said they were ready to load us. These brave men loaded our family and our animals in the tiny craft and we were transported less than a half mile north up our street where it was completely dry.

As is so often the case in these disasters, city organizations and big nonprofits poured into the neighborhood to offer assistance and ask for cash donations in the immediate aftermath, but it didn’t last. The Red Cross turned up to serve thousands of hot dogs before halting meals a week after the floods. A city-operated shelter opened for a mere 2 weeks. And while the Austin city government offered buyouts to over a hundred of the worst damaged homes, residents are expected to wait months to receive that money:

Adios, Douchebag!

2:58 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Sheila Parks, author of While We Still Have Time and an ardent feminist friend of mine, called me on my use of the word douchebag today.

I’m not always a polite guy. I cuss. In my online and meatspace communication, I express myself bluntly when passionate. This word is popular among both men and women I know.

Wheatpasted art with George W. Bush waving: Adios, Douchebag!

Goodbye to an insult.

At the same time, I want to get my point across clearly, i.e. insulting only the people I intend. I try to avoid language which comes from kyriarchy — power over others — and have done my best to expunge my language of words which are racist, sexist, homphobic, ableist, classist etc. while still maintaining my ability to rant or cuss a blue streak when the need arises. On Facebook, I called out ‘racist douchebags’ who put me in the uncomfortable position of defending the winner of an already sexist institution — that is, the new Indian-American Miss America.

Which is when I heard from Sheila: douchebag, she told me, represents what the douche goes into not what it comes out of and therefore is always representative of women’s bodies. My use of this word was “misogynist to the max” she said. I edited my Facebook comment to remove the word, but continued thinking about how this language is used. I raised the issue on Twitter, sparking a lively discussion.

Some people agreed with my friend:

While others defended a usage of the word closer to what I’d intended:

My friend Kate Sheehan, the Loose Cannon Librarian, expressed her discomfort with the word then found this great article about the evolving meaning of “douchebag” from Dialect Blog. According to Ben Trawick-Smith, the use of the word as an insult goes back to WWII, but only rarely, and its use has increased dramatically in recent decades:

So douchebag seems to have been used in a vulgar context as far back as World War II or thereabouts. It’s worth noting, however, that this is the ONLY usage of the type found in 1950′s literature: all other examples of douchebag/douche bag refer to medicine or hygiene. I doubt the term was in popular currency at the time.

But it’s really the 2000s where we see ‘douchebag’ take off. Google books records the word being used 868 times, the overwhelming majority of which appear to be non-medical. This was truly the decade of the ‘douchebag.’ … So let’s put the pieces together. In 1960, when douching was a much more common practice and perhaps more prominent in the public imagination, douchebag would have had a much more disgusting connotation, and likely would have been avoided for this reason. But in the 21st-Century, at a time when many people barely remember what douching was to begin with, it might be taken as a less offensive insult.

Both Trawick-Smith and a Twitter comment agreed that part of douchebag’s appeal is how it sounds:

 ’[D]ouche’ follows the pattern of many other English profanities by being a monosyllable containing a plosive and a fricative or affricate.

The comments on the post provide an illuminating portrait of the word’s evolution in action. Susan commented,

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3 Ways Movements Spread Nonviolent Civil Disobedience

6:26 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More: Kit’s social media & blogging slideshow.

Civil Disobedience Misconceptions

We have entered an age of protest. Social media tools allow new ways to mobilize activists into public and private spaces and also provide new avenues for amplifying their actions. The Internet, when used properly, can drive activists to an action — or a worldwide coalition of actions — and then make sure thousands more people see and hear about them afterwards. Using simple tools like hashtags, we can monitor the response to actions in real time in a way never possible before.

A large street march with an Idle No More banner

An #IdleNoMore street march in Victoria, British Columbia. Successful movements use modern social media tools while empowering everyday people to take the streets.

Social media buzz during and immediately after a direct action is an interesting measure of its success. Actions which capture the imagination of their viewers, or which take place in very visible ways can quickly multiply beyond their numbers. Less than a dozen people took part in planning and executing Austin’s Free Santa chalk action, but perfect timing and smart use of social media drew international attention.

Of course, the critics will flood onto social media too. In some ways, they are also a measure of success — a tiny action with little impact is unlikely to attract trolls. The more of your opponents (and their sock puppets) who respond, the more you are getting noticed. Successful movements also find themselves under fire from mainstream media propaganda, like the NYPD and New York Post after recent arrests unrelated to Occupy Wall St. Unfortunately, this propaganda quickly becomes accepted truth — I’d wager that more people can repeat police & media-spun myths about widespread public defecation and destruction at Occupy camps than can speak to the movement’s actual demands, however clearly members have articulated them.

When I glanced at the #IdleNoMore hashtag recently, I was disheartened to see someone suggesting that the movement should cease civil disobedience and instead organize around cleaning up trash on the roadways and beaches of Canada and the United States. Obviously, some statements like this come from a position of racism (or at least privilege) — there’s a long tradition of telling the oppressed to just settle down rather than engage in troublesome free speech. Even taken charitably, such statements are ridiculous — the Adopt-A-Highway campaign is hardly a hotbed of revolutionary change.

Yet some of these statements come from genuine ignorance about the effectiveness of direct action as part of a movement. The same mainstream media that happily spreads anti-activist propaganda is loathe to share stories of the effectiveness of mass movements; when they do show up at a protest they are notorious for highlighting the “weirdest” looking, least articulate protester they can find in their sound bytes. Before last year’s #NoNATO protests, police deliberately kindled fear of widespread disruption among the city’s people and business owners. Chicago peace activist Sue Basko told me that because she was a public organizer of the protests with her name on march permits, she fielded many calls and emails complaining about public transportation delays and disruption, even though most or all of this disruption was caused by the NATO conference and its security apparatus.

Some people will always be “inconvenienced” by civil disobedience, mass protest, and other forms of nonviolent direct action. It’s the job of the activist to educate the public about the necessity of free speech in all its forms, even when it makes some people late for work. What follows should not be taken as another white guy telling Idle No More or other new activist movements what to do, but rather highlighting some of what I think they are doing right.

Create Your Own Conversation

It is important to court the mainstream media and major alternatives by sending out press releases and cultivating relationships with sympathetic journalists. Yet even the most understanding of reporters can’t tell your story as well as you can tell it yourself. Make smart, consistent use of whatever tools you have available to start your own conversation. The true effectiveness of street movements is how they break through the mass media’s messages and make real people have real conversations. Don’t waste your time fighting with trolls, but instead look for opportunities to cultivate dialogue.

In my opinion, it’s better to master a few social networks rather than to push to be on them all. Idle No More has spread effectively onto Facebook, Twitter and beyond by playing to the strengths of each site. Pinterest may be the hottest new thing, but if all you’re going to do is cross-post links to your Facebook page then you might want to wait. Don’t overlook old fashioned methods like flyering or street art. Devote your resources to the areas where you can focus and then see if you can build coalitions with existing activist networks elsewhere that can spread your message along with their own.

Teach People To Take The Streets

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Watercooler: Democracy Now on #Sandy

6:15 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Stay dry, y’all.

So much of today’s Democracy Now! program on Hurricane Sandy lines up with today’s myFDL articles that I had to share it as a closer to today’s coverage — nuclear power, climate change denial, human survival, and the crucial need to halt our damage to the environment and change our dependence on environmentally damaging finite resources. It’s worth the time just to hear Jeff Masters of Weather Underground call climate change the ‘Voldemort of our time.’ We also featured the David Swanson review of the latest book by DN!’s Amy Goodman.

Enjoying the dry, mild Texas weather with a steady supply of electricity, I felt accutely aware how lucky I am — and worried for the many people I know in the storm zone. My thoughts are with my family and friends in Connecticut, the many Occupiers throughout the region I’ve connected with since joining that movement, and of course Ellie Elliott, Scarecrow, Jane Hamsher, Cynthia and all firepups that live in affected areas. Check in when you can & stay safe!

Twitter provides the most up to date coverage of this actively developing event. Check the hashtag #Sandy and related ones like #SandyNYC for the latest from regular people on the ground (though beware of misinformation and pranksters). And share your news in the comments here.

This is our latest open thread — what’s on your mind?

Amplify Your Message With Social Media & Blogging (#OccupySupply)

12:51 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

Amplify Your Message

I’ve been part of Occupy Austin since November, and from the start I found myself drawn to social media as a major part of my contribution. I already had an established blog, and a Twitter account with a few followers. My Twitter following has exploded since I began livetweeting events and writing more about the global uprising. I’m also quickly bringing the main @OccupyAustin account towards a personal goal of 10,000 followers.

Hardware like digital cameras, laptops and smartphones paired with software like blogging and social media turn everyone into a potential citizen journalist. A Twitter account might only have a handful of followers, but with the right technique your message can reach hundreds of thousands of people.

I’m happy to answer social media questions in the comments here, or in any watercooler post I write. Happy occupying, citizen journalists!