A river that needs crossing political and tech blogs - On the political side, there is arrogance and ignorance, on the geek side there is naivety and over- complexity

My videos are on these two youtube channels visionontv 3,832,876 views and undercurrents 22,689,976 views

 

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Entries with tag climatecamp .

Outline of 20 years ups and downs of grassroots activism in the UK

In my expirence the flowering of the indymedia networks followed by the first years of climatecamp were the high points of activist culture. The end of climate camp was the low point of activist culture, after this the drift to NGO and fashion was wide and dissipating.

Occupy was a break in activist culture, it was the first mass “internet first” on the ground manifestation that happened disconnected to the past of activism because of the use of #dotcons tools as prime organising space. The old couture has been discredited by the failings of climate camp, the new dotcon tools had been celebrated and used well by Ukuncut etal. Were Ukuncut was a reboot of old climate camp crew, Occupy was a project of the #failbook generation in all its wide reflective madness.

Were are we now? The old left is rebooting with a broken mix of the blairite right and the Stalinist/toxic left both pulling at the radical liberal centre. Alt media content is being rebooted but the network it needs to build, to stop its drift to NGO burn out is missing. The right is ideologically bankrupt and visibly grasping, but stronger than ever.

In activism currently we are full of the biter taste of occupy and NGO worshipping of dotcoms and careerism. The working of the 21st century is potentially different to the workings of the 20th century the are groups, networks and individuals that embody this and a larger group/individuals who fight for the past century working practices.

The “certainties of the 20th century” are grasped in our frail and trembling hands, the first stage of a “network” reboot is to let go of these “certainties” one constructive path to this is to fill in the gaping activist memory hole by looking at what works and what dose not. The lost and flailing progressive alt needs foundations bridging this gap to build on.

The IS NO SHORT TERMISM HERE but the is speed and nimbleness, plenty of fun, creative motivated building to be done. Many of the foundation problems can be built in parallel as a “network” so it can happen faster than most can imagine.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

 

UPDATE:

 

Am currently working on two projects to take steps to medate the issues I ouline here:

Open Media  Network (OMN)

The Witches Cauldron - open activist archive

 

Where is our media?

Climate camp is a example of the transition from alternative media to social media. At the beginning of the Climate Change Movement Indymedia was declining. At the first two camps there was a healthy Indymedia centre providing internet, sustainable power and computers

There's always a stress between alternative media and outreach to traditional media. They're in competition and to a certain extent they ignored each other at climate camp. But for social change it is important for the two to go hand-in-hand. The outreach to traditional media should support the production of alternative media and alternative media should feed the best of its production into traditional media to amplify its voice. At climate camp there was only lip service to this happening, in reality the two groups split apart quite soon. Originally the groups were supposed to share the same physical space, but this did not last.

The agenda of traditional media outreach was about the shmoozing of traditional journalists.* Whereas alternative media was bogged down in providing real services in a field which to an extent is always dysfunctional. Like oil and water without a conscious emulsifier to hold them together they separated and throughout the life of climate camp the two never really came together. This happened to a certain extent because radical activists, and I use the word “radical” with "" marks, were prejudiced against people who do what is perceived as soft works such as media production. This is part of activist lifestyle. The spikey/floppy debate.

For a time activist/traditional media outreach ploughed separate paths both playing a role. With the growth of blogging and then most importantly social media - Twitter and Facebook. A new group of NGO focused careerists**  championed this initially successful new tool. The traditional media crew ignored social media***, mirroring the attitude of traditional media to social media at those times. The more naive alternative media embraced social media as an effective tool for social change. The realistic alternative media reluctantly embraced it as another form of media outreach, a form of outreach that bypassed the gatekeepers of traditional media.

The growth of social media impacted grassroots alternative media in catastrophic ways. The software NGO careerists**** championed social media and for the naive alternative media people this was the panacea, the future, the one way to gain a voice. Interestingly the traditional media outreach initially saw social media as a threat but they soon with reluctance embraced it. The few remaining radical alt media people struggled to work wih declining relevance, their tools ageing and disintegrating. With the problems of geek culture they had no way to compete with traditional media or the new social media.

Social media took over activist media. Traditional media still had a role as the traditional media belatedly embraced social media and learnt how to use it.

As I highlighted my other article the problem of geek culture damaged radical alternative media. The failure of traditional media outreach to complement activist media led to radical activist media being sidelined. The growth of individualistic blogging while temporarily bolstering individual voices inevitably led to a decline of of our cultural voice. The final blow the wholesale embracing of social media pushed by the NGO careerists.*****

In all these failures we have come full circle to where we started with a dominant hegemonic gatekeeper media world. If we are to rebuild an open media we have to learn from these mistakes and make sure that we do not continue to repeat them.

Lessons to learn

* Work out how to overcome the limitations of geek culture for activist media. Open is the solution here.

* The politics of media. We need to make sure that there is emulsifier in place between radical grassroots media and traditional media outreach. To achieve this the social movements need to rein in and refocus the traditional media message. Media production IS “spikey” and core to activism.

* Radical grassroots media is always incompatible with NGO careerists.****** We need to build in strong enough foundations so that our architecture cannot be subverted by these privileged people. This is for their good and our good.

Conclusion, the most difficult part of successful radical grassroots media is social, cultural and political. In this it's essential that it is not technologically led. Actually technology is the easiest part of radical media. The tools and standards that we need always already exist. What is missing is the willingness and the common-sense to use what we have.

Organise the 21st Century

Lets look at how we acturly organise.

Garssroots alternative streams (and mainstream river with more complexity) can be split into a number of streams

* The horizontals

* The verticals

In the horizontals the organising is actually pretty opaque – lets look at the tributary’s

Organic consensus – this is rare and generally fleeting, a working example is the rainbow gathering, generally as the project settles into place organic consensus is replace with one of the bellow organising strategys. The organic nature comes form shared myths and traditions.

Bureaucratic consensus – common but this tends to be only a surface layer obscuring the actual working practices which would be one of the others. It leads to ossification, see late climate camp process as an example of this. A current project is looking likely the “edge fund”.

Opaque affinity group – the is a group of people who are doing it but you don’t know how or how to take on a role. A lot of alternative are actually run like this, middle/late climatecamp is an example.

Invisible affinity group – the thing just appears as if by magic – lovely as far as it takes you. Given time this will burn out and morph into one of the other forms. Early Climatecamp is a good example of this as is early Indymedia

Open affinity group – the is hope in this hard to sustain one an example would be the tech group at Balcoby anty fracking camp. These are hard/tiring to keep open “naturally” falling into a different strategy.

Then the verticals are more in the open

Democratic centralism (SWP etc) top down and corrupt, good for the nasty crew at the centre that can last a long time by draining new blood from the alternative. Big noise and little effect.

Bureaucratic democracy (NUJ) good as far as it goes but endless meetings and heavy use of cross subsidy to sustain the sluggish process, problematically reactionary dues to glacial adaptation to changes around it.

Career Hierarchy – most trade unions and the labour party, conservative and sluggish, can be captured by functioning opaque/invisible affinity groups and then used for their own ends – an example the new labour project.

Generally the way things are on the river surface bears little relation to the undercurrents bellow the surface. Almost all organising that achieves social change is by opaque or invisible affinity groups. The more permanent static alt infrastructure is Democratic centralism or Bureaucratic democracy. The parts that merge into the mainstream river are career Hierarchy.

We live in turbulent times, enjoy your ride on the choppy river.

Where are we - an example of what works

An example of what works.

At Balcome the anti-fracking camp last summer we built a “visible affinity group” to do the power and tech for the camp. This was successful in providing working off grid energy for the camp of more than 200 people for 2 months.

However it wasn’t with out problems and did fail to build on this success when the time came to reproduce this open working model at the next camps over the winter.

How we made it work, a time line:

* Clear the space of the dysfunction by imposing open working practice's.

* This opens the space for functional working which has been excluded by the dysfunctional pushy minority.

* Open working practices nurtures talent and energy the space growers and blossoms, good shit happens.

* A tiny minority of seriously dysfunctional individuals will actively try and destroy this flowering, some emotional violence will inshuew in process of excluding them.

* The wider camp will become used to a working tech space and normality will settle back into place, at its best this is rinsed and repeated for each part of the camp.

* People will start to forget the open processes as artificial, constant vigilances is needed here to keep openness relevant and in place.

* As the camp is packed down a open meeting will bring this amnesia to the surface as everyone has an equal voice and the focus (affinity) that created the flowering will be trampled under the widening of the groups members.

In the horizontal alt the are only two successful working practices, most organising happens by “invisible affinity groups” climate camp and RTS are examples of this. Rarely “open affinity groups” are also successful, examples would be early Indymedia and this tech at Blacome.

I love affinity group organising

A ruff DRAFT

I love affinity group organising, its a very effective way of getting good stuff done. Lets look at the highs and lows of a few such inspiring groups.

First 2 years climatecamp were affinity group organised (manifested), it worked very well, the was no “democracy”. Process grew and smoothed this in-till the project “ossified” into the naive mess that you see in the film “just do it”, it went down hill when bureaucratic consensuses process brought a highrahcky into existences run by people who had no idea how to do real/horizontal things.

The first few years of London hackspace were afferently group organised (hacked), it was a exceptional frendly and open space, with few fundemental problems. Only later has it started to fall into the arms of “bureaucracy” which some naive people might call democracy. The common space, decision making and creativity are now “ossified” and the trolls are breeding and dispoling the decision making e-mail list.

In both cases the transition came about because of the limitations of affinity group organising – that small close nit groups, while nimbale/very effective move on. The resulting spaces are then filled with less imaginative/creative/lovely people who leave the space open to trolls and blind ego wankers.

Affinity group organising is the best we have for anerkist/libertarian/horizontal ideas about life, but the is no working horizontal process for passing on responsibility to new affinity groups – thus they are annual flowers, they fade and die too soon to be a real alternative to traditional society. What can we do about this?

The same happened to UK indymedia, though that was also different in some ways.

Balcombe - anarchist and conservative

(DRAFT)

Interesting to think about the things you are involved with and the things you do. Important to understand am not talking about the sciences or polatics of fracking here, am lifting the lid to see what I can see under the hood of both camps.

I had been staying in the Balcombe Protection Camp (BPC) for a week and was walking back from spending a few hours at the climate camp (RCP) along the beautiful bridal way, this seamed to sum up my feelings about the two camps. "#Balcombe protection camp is conservative and anarchic #reclaimpower is anarchist and conservative, thoughts on #frackoff camping”.

In the BPC we had a dysfunctionally colourful collection of disparate groups with the stongist being different “conservative' voices. But the overall process was arcnerkic in a creative way. Then at RTP we had a very functional mono-culture over all young and progressive lead by a affinity group of ex-arnercists who now largely work for NGO's.

Why would I call both camps conservative? Looking at the ongoing power struggles of BPC it becomes easy to see that the strongest voices are thoughs who have the lest progressive agenda’s – underlining it all are the squirearchy, they have the hands and fingers on the money, media and web sites. Then the is there natural allies’s the disempowerd working class who control the welcome centre and share responsibility for the money. Added to this you have the family history of occupy who some how fill this country space...

In the climatecamp (RTP) we have a odd mixture of old school lifestay anarchists and new professionals moving up the NGO pole. The meetings are slick, and all the decisions are made before the camp starts – this works very well as a one off and with funding might continue. Though am not shore if the few remaining “anarchists” will continue with this? Excelent actions, soughted pro tredtional media team, food, power, tolits and grhate legal backup. What more do you need? yes... that is a Q. a few peopule were asking...

My second comment a few days latter “Came back from #Protest #Fracking with the feeling of a Brothel of media prostitutes and corporate (media) cock suckers. Where is the balance of the (alt) contemporary media today?” both camps are hungry for traditional media coverage, the seams to be little belief or understanding left for alt-media or even social media.

A reply from Richard Hering “Where is the alt media? You could start here and watch all the videos http://grassroots.visionon.tv/fracking and if you want the latest, embed the player in your blog or site...” is like a cry in the dark and is ignored by both camps.

So neither is very progressive, but both have space for much more progressive input, you can turn up at both camps and as long as you are not relying on centralised resources you can have a big impact so both are relatively open as progressive spaces. In this seance they are both still temporary autonomous zones in the old anarchic speak.

I would like to make alt-media really work at such spaces. Todo this you would need:

1) a sorted team of people (3 would be a start)

2) own solar power and basic equipment

3) a big tent/small markey/carport

4) a budgit for transport and expesise 

Then turn up and make things happen – we did this very successfully at Kingsnorth Climatecamp.

Control freak's (DRAFT)

(Psychology) an obsessive need to be in control of what is happening http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Control_freak This has been an issue with many groups and individuals I have been involved with in activist organising.

It was key to the decline of the http://indymedia.org.uk project and the ossification the climate camp process and static nature of the climate camp website http://climatecamp.org.uk My most destructive experience of this till recently was the organising of the London European Social Forum, and the central role of the SWP and Ken Livingston's office in this. Currently I am involved in the organizing of the http://rebelliousmediaconference.org and I would like to highlight how this process is being damaged by Control Freakery during the on going process.

RMC (Peacenews) process and “pushing the agenda”

During the first meeting I attended a single speaker talked continuously for ¾ of the meeting, constantly expressing the lack of time and the need to move on – this is called “pushing the agenda”.

Taking charge of the minutes – and constantly not reporting the views in the record of people who do not fit into this pushed agenda.

Packing and controlling the agenda of each meeting, then pushing through this agenda, leaving no time or space for differing views.

Then when the inevitable rebellion happens blocking this procedurally in till it becomes irrelevant to the outcome of the project. Nitpicking might be a good way of describing this blocking. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micromanagement is used as weapon to stop productive open organising and to shut down process outside of the “pushed agenda”. 

Its hard to put your finger on what is wrong at the start of this process but as you go along it is soon made clear that it is a deep intolerance, a lack of trust and narrowness of vision that verges on stupidity.

As one of the core organisers of the RMC conference highlighted it is very hard to change this behaver, some back ground reading on the problems http://www.ec-online.net/knowledge/articles/control.html 

Issues that make this behaver more of a problem:

* Lack of solidarity among the organising group

* Unbalance of knowledge of the core differencet approaches in the RMC this has manifested as lack of understanding of technological change.

...

The ecology of hash-tag organising (DRAFT)

A look at ideas around Ukuncut, which grew from the winding down of the climatecamp movement.

The ecology of hash-tag organising
 
A group of driven people get together in a pub and come up with a strategy and a hash-tag – they then build a aggregating website to display the hash-tag and self organise around it. This facilitates exciting, dramatic and dynamic actions, which draw in more dynamic and active crew, the aggregating website allows fast feedback.
 
Mainstream media pick this up, a group of media savey crew start to feed this media. The mainstream media coverage brings in a flood of more “liberal” activists and normal people, this swells the actions and makes them much more affective. This swerles round for a while.
 
The targets start to recognise the damage that is being done to them and the threat that they might have to change – and start a two prong strategy
 
* PR offensive to show how they are changing
* Use of private corpurtae spy’s, the courts and the police to repress the demonstration strategy
 
The problems of hash-tag organising start here, as the mainstream media outreach has seceded in bring in many more less experienced (and more liberal) people there attitudes start to dominate the hash-tag organising space. And the more experienced activist voices are submerged in this flow. The effects of this are 3 fold:
 
1) Actions start to follow a narrow predictable pattern which quickly becomes stale
2) The forces of repression create strategy’s for dealing with these static ideas/actions
3) The voices of change are submerged under the voices of flow, and the flow cercals to 1)
 
This leads to the inflexible liberal elements wilting under the focused repression and the movement stagnating and often turning on it self. It seams to me that hash-tag organising has no way out of this cyclical.
 

The recent police violences at the student demo's is nothing new - rather a new group of people are experiencing systematic police abuses.

The recent police violences at the student demo's is nothing new - rather a new group of people are experiencing systematic police abuses. This film is about what happened at the Kingsnoth Climatecamp 2008, at the big G20 demo after this they killed a man.

The harassment and exclusion of legal observers, the violent arrest of women refusing to be searched, the aggressive interrogation of local residents, the threatening of journalists with arrest for doing their job, the confiscation of 100s of items such as childrens' costumes and crayons, attempted dawn raids on the camp, the use of batons and CS gas against peaceful protesters, and the forced search of 1000s of people and the adding of their personal data to a secret database. This type of political policing has to stop, and the right to legitimate protest re-established. 

http://visionon.tv

ClimateCamp Media

The Ratcliffe Swoop prosecutions caused a backlash against activist media that reverberated around the Edinburgh climate camp. We were not present at the Ratcliife Swoop, and played no part in the gathering of video there. When we saw footage posted of identifiable activists doing criminal damage, we were astonished, as throughout the history of video activism this has been an absolute "no no", without the express consent of the activists pictured. We immediately took this material down from visionOntv accounts where it had been posted, and told the Ratclifffe media team why we did so. Regrettably the footage was later re-posted by the producers to accounts outside of our control.  Having said that, as of writing, we have been unable to find out any details of the prosecutions and exactly which footage was used.

But as a response I (perhaps naively) thought it might be helpful to try to do consensus/affinity group process with activist film at the Edinburgh climate camp. To kick this off, we showed a sneak preview of END:CIV on the Saturday to a crowd of around 50-70 people which sparked off a good and respectful debate about aesthetic of activist film and the old spiky/fluffy debate about effective action. People came away challenged and thoughtful.

The next day after the action on the RBS HQ we showed the rough edit of it to get feedback and make sure it was OK to put out. It was enthusiastically received but there was also a very forceful verbal attack of “you must do this” “do it now, or you are endangering activists” and a refusal to answer simple questions about “why” in exchanges with one person. Finally, after some bad feeling, I found out that she had seen an “object for causing criminal damage” being held by one person in the film. OK, that is a genuine issue, so I agreed to look at it again. I asked her to show me where it was in the film but instead she rushed off to tell everyone that climatecamptv had refused to remove the “weapon” and that we were putting out films that were endangering activists. This led later to many different groups and individuals coming along to have their say over the next day about how the film should made.

See later where this led.

I had watched the film 3 times during editing for legals, and had shown it to to a number of other trusted people. After we had packed up the screening we looked at the “object” on the video and found it to be a plastic horn not an “object to cause criminal damage” at all. Humm... a storm in a teacup you would think, but read on.

Let's briefly go through it - the film of the action had a few legal issues.

* The pushing on the bridge (possibly assault) leading to the earlier dressing-up sections (unmasked) being possibly incriminating of this possible assault.

* We had no video of the breaking of windows (criminal damage) thus this was less of an issue in the film. Nor did we have film of any identifiable possible perpetrators.

* There was one additional shot which could potentially have been "creatively" used by police to prosecute an activist.

* The bridge-pushing was problematic as all the activists were unmasked, with all the FIT team on the roof and 3-4 corporate media TV/photo actively filming. Many photos/images would be available so on the one hand it was clearly done in the open, and therefore accountable. On the other, if they were charged, our video would likely be used in the prosecution, both for and against the activists. It's an issue we face many times and it unless we know otherwise we have to have to err on the side of caution. Without the opportunity to ask them whether they were accountable thus OK to show it or not, we decided to blur this section – rendering the need to blur the early stuff irrelevant as we now had no incriminating video of this “crowd” action.

The other potentially incriminating shot was removed, at the request of the individual filmed.

After running it past the affinity group made up of CCTV/visionontv crew and some trusted legal support we left it to a volunteer to polish the final edit for showing that evening before putting out to the web. In my experience you can never run a film past an audience too many times before it's finished from both a legal and an aesthetic point of view.

The day of action was very busy, and we were all running around filming. While we were out and about a number of people came in to look at the earlier action video being edited and asked the editor to make changes – he responede to their requests and made a lot of changes to hide and obscure many details throughout the film.

When we saw the film in the evening just before the screening we were shocked. Editing a film by committee is always a disaster and the film was now an incoherent and sinister mess making climatecamp look like a bunch of criminals. We now had a film we couldn't put out. This wasn't our volunteer editor's fault, it was a problem with the process we had begun but were not around to control. To top this, at the end of the day the editor had found the people who were at the front of the bridge-push and they had made it clear that they were unhappy being blurred out as it was the best thing they had done in ages. They were willing to be accountable for their actions, so we didn't need to thus put any obscuring in the finished film.

We now had to re-do the film from an earlier version. It was dark and we were late for the nightly screening, we had one computer to gather all the films up and convert then to the right format and re-edit this film – we decided it wasn't possible to screen the action film and concentrated on showing the other 9 finished but less exciting films we had ready. We started the screening with non-action films to cries of "we want to see the action". So an old version of the action film was rush-encoded and was ready half-way through the screening. Unfortunately this contained the ptoentially incriminating shot we had earlier taken out, and was screened to about 40 climatecampers. NOT good. Another person had a very solid go at us...

What did we learn from this?

Should protesters never trust any video/photo on an action OR should they trust video activists as THEY know what they are doing?

For me, not trusting experienced video activists leads to the very real danger that through bureaucratisation it pushes the working affinity group structure underground and renders it ineffective – the option of bureaucratic/consensus process isn't an option with film which is at its best a skilled creative story-based process.

But now we have to deal with the rumour mill which quickly churned around the "weapon" / plastic horn issue. Rumour has more power than truth when there isn't a functioning media. I heard the misinformation that we had put out footage of window-smashing weapons three times while leaving the camp to get home. And that's why I wrote this post as this rumour could distort the very real pro/anti-media debate in activism which needs to happen in a constructive way.

On the subject of social media and underground/wannabe mainstream film-makers/photographers, there are very real dangers that is the subject of another post.

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