“We’ve got to radicalise the mainstream media,” piped up one of the attendees, “That’s where every other revolution failed.”I tried to hide my scoffing, but I’ve never been able to hide my feelings. Around me people nodded – one even suggested that the Guardian was the solution. On another side, people seemed to be praising Indymedia or other dull “citizen” news platforms. Overall everyone wanted to talk about the internet, but none of the organisers knew anything about it – except those from visionOntv and us, the Open Rights Group.
It was the “radical/rebellious media conference” – the conference that wasn’t radical enough to try and stand up to the “radical media” corporation that has currently trademarked all conference use of the term. And attending were 1200 devoted fans of Chomsky. All in all, I wasn’t there for most of it – but for the parts that I was, alternative media was discussed but none of it given the People. In room after room – myself guilty of it – we had hundreds of people listening to panels and not much more. All the rhetoric was accurate, but no solutions were presented.
My heart broke a little as someone mentioned in the feminist session that forums were the future. Had she missed Age of Wikis that had killed them (except those well-established and been running for ages)?
Toolkit for Radicals
People spoke ad-hoc on various solutions to changing the world – an old (white and middle class) man gave us a classic monologue of pseudo-Marxism. Religion is dead, he told us. The internet is it’s replacement – we all believe it’ll create our salvation. On the panel, a response came from the positivist end of the science vs religion debate – the Internet was as real as an electron. I sighed, trying to highlight that the Internet was a tool, not a faith and not a science. It can be used for good. Look at the way that FrontlineSMS has been used to connect people in many parts of East Africa, where the average person is more likely to have a phone than to have electricity in their home. Or the way that Ushahidi has been used in Haiti for crowdsourcing where people were still needing rescuing. Or even the how Global Voices had used blogging as a tool for grassroots advocacy throughout the Arab Spring.
The debates raged on – more endless discussions on the hope of Twitter, Facebook and other oppressors of Net Neutrality. The wizened older generations spoke of how they didn’t understand why you would want everyone to know what you were having for breakfast. People didn’t even seem aware that a digital age had been born,boomed, and broken – now insipidly infiltrated with corporate whore-age. Technology has become “cheap” because everything is sponsored. Liberation tools were hardly spoken of, except for Becky Hogge‘s comments on the FreedomBox. Practical Tools to liberate you from being stalked (such as ghostery, adblock plus, etc) were not mentioned.
We need tools to truly liberate us – tools that carried with them opportunities for direct democracy, independence and most importantly, collaboration. We need people who know the system so well that they know exactly how to subvert them. We need insiders: journalists, tech hacks, policy wonks, designers, etc to leak poison and create havoc. We needed an all-accessible (and more mature) LulzSec.
Community News, Direct
Throughout the conference, my thoughts kept meandering back to Peter Watkins‘ excellent documentary La Commune. Not only did it tell the tale of the Paris Commune of 1817 by using immigrant non-actors, it also was a harsh critique of mainstream media. Interwoven throughout the tale of the Commune is the role of information – the way in which our lives and problems are shared, and in which our lives and problems are recorded. In the heart of the media critique was collaboration; the Commune’s newspaper became the voice of the People, the actual concerns that people were facing, their real life issues and worries. Instead of churnalism, spewed out spin stories, and the desperate need to “Sell! Sell! Sell!” and thus to retain the current hegemony, this newspaper aimed to truly provide News. News that would represent everyone and help bring a sense of community in amongst those who had dared to rebel.
It was the solution, or at least a solution. Start small – in a community where people are genuinely repressed and want their voices heard. Engage those willing to take part. Exchange a press & its team and its costs for food/clothing/housing through a system of barter. Perhaps start in a co-op. Talk to everyone involved. Report what they say, not what you think. Print the truth, even when it’s ugly. Would it work? Could we grow from there? My cynicism led me to think “no”. I wanted a community paper in a country where community was no longer anything but political rhetoric. Interims are needed.
It was Hamish who led me to think about this and nod. And Laurence who first thought of it. Hamish felt strongly that the left “community” was lacking. We have spent so much time infighting, we have forgotten that our real battle was outside our petty squabbles. Hamish suggested we need to link to each other, have a collected RSS feed, try and build proper ties. Laurence suggested we have a shared server, where all the left can work together. But I have a much more radical proposal. We work together on the same platform.
You want to win back those swing voters, the radical politics and the real voice of the people? You need to become exactly what you represent. Workers did this back in the early days of Unions – to have a leader who actually works in your workplace and takes on the responsibility of leadership because they believed in their rights for fair pay, fair conditions. No hierarchy, just passionate and driven workers, all working the same job and gaining the same wages.
We need to have a Bloggers Solidarity – a shared platform for all our views – Social Democratic to Anarchist. That union should have the powers to become advocates for digital rights, the left view, the collective action against right-wing censorship and mostly – a voice against the mainstream media. The costs of the server and any maintenance work should be funded through crowdsourcing. The failings of Capitalist competition would end. If Global Voices can do it internationally, we can certainly do it here.
Please note: This blog is written in an entirely personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the views of any particular organisation in any shape or form.