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.”
Am currently working on two projects to take steps to medate the issues I ouline here:
The poverty of the alternative
Was looking at this site/project http://occupydemocracy.org.uk here is a reaction:
The tools we use for activism are dominated by top down vertical thinking - the horizontal tools are left at the bottom of the tool box when we reach for a digital front for our grassroots campaigning. Our organising mirrors this right-wing reality – most activism is organized by invisible/opaque affinity groups. The words (wind) are often hippy peace and love or dusty revolution - the reality is far blunter, just open your eyes and look, the isn't much of an alternative. This obvious realization is surprising as we actually have the most open and radical time to move in/ to create real alternatives. The tool box for horizontalism is overflowing with tools, the organizing process are a bit more complex.
To answer briefly two replays to this, for those who say “we just need to love each other”
For those who think dialogue alone will solve this issue
Q. What works and what dose not work?
A brief history of activism
This is a DRAFT
#Occupy has become bureaucratised and continues as e-mail lists and side projects, not very active.
#ukuncut has become institutionalised. Still active - presser protests in conjunction with NGO's
#climatecamp The anarcho' s left and most of the rest got jobs in NGO's a few continue in other campaigns. It has run its course, the influx of liberals had watered it down till its DNA failed. The healthy ones went onto Ukuncut. Fuckup, not conspiracy sadly. A spattering of global projects remain.
(google trends not accurate)
#submedia still banging the radical drum
#Indymedia failed from the opposite resion the activists excluded other groups in till the weren't a healthy mix left. Then the group dwindled by exclusion and inbreeding till its DNA was two narrow to evolve when it needed to change with the growth of personal publishing. It was replaced by blogs then corporate social networks. Still exists.
The are still some active IMC's would be intresting to look at why some are still working?
#undercurrents burned out of funding then failed to re-new with the fund-raising charity side not feeding into the active political production side. The charity/NGO side then shrank and dispersed. Still exists
(google trends not accurate)
#schnews had some lean times but seem to have survived in the radical project Though clearly fading on this graph of web searches
How I learned to stop panicking and love disorder
At protest camps after a time its inevitable that things fall apart. At St Paul's (Occupy 2011) today we had the health and safety rep shouting and waving petrol cans around while unscrewing the top in the middle of a crush of tents. “We must shut this down now.” He had a point, but this was a person at the end of his tether.
London occupation has reached the stage were those who have taken responsibility are starting to burn out, this happens with all protest camps, the danger is these key people can be the kindling that burns the camp to the ground. How do we put fire brakes into our organiseing structures?
Sometimes we need to open up spaces. By stepping aside, we open the space for someone to come in to fill it. If we believe in self-organisation then this moment of disorder is a healthy part of OUR society.
Rainbow "talks" to occupy movement in the US (bad sound)
Long video (bad sound) worth listening to if you are interested in social movements complementing each other rather than competing and fighting with each other - Rainbow "talks" to occupy movement in the US .
Thoughts on alt-organising from 2007
Alt-grouping and sustainability
This isn’t a statement of truth more a way to help look at a recurring problem, and to help active participants to mediate the problem to a better outcome.
It is to do with the sort of people who get involved at each stage of an alt-project's development. This is of course a generalization as people do fall into more than one grouping and shift between groupings during the project. Written from 10 years of direct practical experiences of the many different alt-groups that share the same dynamics.
First to look at the terms used:
Getting things done people
Are more interested in things happening than the process, though their process, as far as it goes, tends to be good otherwise they wouldn’t “get things done”.
Are the unsung heroes who do much of the work but receive little recognition. They are the “sustaining” core of any alt/project.
I am using the term in the positive sense to mean those who create and can work in structures. They solidify the project and thus sustain it, but when caught up with the “theorists” (who they are attracted to) and the “life stylist” groupings, they can institutionalize the dysfunctions as much as the original function.
Are a troubled “category” in alt-projects. The “consensus decision making process” tends to marginalize them as nobody has a “larger say” than anybody else. So their input, whether good or bad, tends to be submerged into “lifestyles”. Theorists who have come through any of the first 3 categories should defiantly be listened to with positive (but critical) ear. However this rarely happens as, as with the sort of “critical input” you are reading now, they have a tendency to come across as unfriendly to the majority of the project at stage 7 (the gathering) when these voices are most needed.
Grow out of the “hangers on” and are drawn to any open successful alt-project. At their best they “metamorphose” into one of the other categories and sustain the project. A sustainable alt-project has a clear and open way of facilitating this transformation. (or on the other side/more regularly is a functional closed project which also helps to keep the lifestyle drain to a minimum)
Project time line
1) “Getting it done” sort of people with inner drive start a project.
2) Soon mixed with “working people” and the few “bureaucrats”.
3) “Getting it done” people start to specialize into parallel projects. The weight of the project starts to fall onto the “working people” and increasingly the “bureaucrats”. We start to see “theorists” coming out of the first 3 categories and coming in from outside. “Hangers on” start to gather and a pronounced “lifestyle” side to the project begins to emerge.
4) The “getting it done” people start to burn out or move completely onto other projects. The “bureaucrats” start to be central to sustaining the project supported by the “working people’. The “lifestylists” start to form into groups around the “theorists”, and the "working people" are drawn into these groups.
5) The project is at its height but also starting to decay. Hopefully it can stay at this plateau for a period. The core project is the bureaucrats supported by the “working people” who are not fully caught up in “lifestyle” groupings. The lifestyle groups hopefully give as much energy as they take, but they are starting to exclude new “working” and “getting it done” people until the project starts to become dysfunctional.
6) The few remaining “getting it done” people with the longstanding “bureaucrats” and “working people” start to react against the decay, which sparks a debate amongst the “theorists” and “lifestylists” which generally paralyses any affective action to rejuvenate the project. The “bureaucrats” and “getting it done” people, alongside the majority of groups, call for a gathering to attempt to rejuvenate the project.
7) The gathering suffers from “the tyranny of structurelessness”, leading to a renewal of good will, but the consensus of the gathering exclude the “getting it done” and long term “bureaucrats” as they feel they cannot impose their view on the group. The consensus is created by the “life stylists” and “theorists” who have no or little experience of “getting things done”. Thus generally achieves little and refuse to even see the root causes of the project decay.
This process repeats itself with more or less success for a time depending on the particular nature of the project. For only practical action will keep the “bureaucrats”, “working people” and the now distant “getting it done people” engaged.
One of the parallel projects started by the “getting it done” people then draws the “working people” and “bureaucrats” that haven’t burned out into a new cycle. The burn-outs return to mainstream organizing/life.
This has been an attempt to give people a glimpse into the churning activist world, and help them make informed decisions on how sustainable to get involved – I hope it helps in small ways.
#occupy - mind the gap
#occupy its important to be aware of the difference between social work and social change, the small visible over lap shouldn't hide the gap.
The Trials of the 1% @occupiedjustice
To embed this:
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War: Inquiry into Tony Blair and the British government’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq
Programming social change
The future of the radical web is between a standards based approach and a make it up from scratch based approach. And the make it up from scratch based approach is by far the strongest path in activist programming.
A standards based approach would be something like this http://informationweek.com/thebrainyard/news/social_networking_private_platforms/231500441/opensocial-20-spec-stresses-social-media-interoperability
A make it up your self based approach would be like this http://piratenpad.de/hIyt3iFDp9
Obviously if we are building a sustainable alternative a standards based approach is more helpful. This is one of the resions why activist based tech projects are largely hopeless at achieving social change.