I was trying to explain some particularly popular contemporary protest and demonstration tactics to a pal and this spurned a pretty lengthy discussion of what we thought of various tactics as well as what we thought the purpose of various tactics should be.

My take, in a nutshell:

The puppets are past their prime.

The puppets suck.

Burn the puppets and move on.

No, seriously.

Wait. Yes. Seriously. That was it.

Later, however, I thought more about the subject. I think there’s a whole book to be written about different tactics and perhaps a guide to choosing which tactic best suits your situation. Writing a book tonight seems out of the question, but since I’ve bounced these ideas off various people I might as well babble a bit here. Besides, it’s better than more babbling about how my hands hurt.

The thing that makes me nuts is how often a march, action or other event is planned with no thought given to what the ideal outcome is. Are you sending a direct message to an executive or board? trying to get media coverage to educate the public about an election, issue, problem, etc? Call me silly, but it seems ill-conceived not to know precisely what you plan to achieve before you take to the streets. That, and the fact that follow-up seems to be a foreign concept to so-many well-meaning organizations.

Without follow-up, you’ll probably be forgotten. Immediately. By the press. By the people. By the decisionmakers. What part of this is hard to understand?

There, that wasn’t so hard. It’s not like I’m asking you to become social scientists and conduct extensive surveys, write massive grant applications, conduct endless focus groups, and write the requisite conference paper presentation. That would be easy, instead, I’m asking you to do the human equivalent of herd cats.

No. No. Joking aside, if we can have trainings for street medics, for civil disobedience, and for other techniques, why can’t we take the time to do a little research. Ask the questions. “What’s our purpose?” (educate consumers? or voters? elect a specific candidate? what? what are you trying to do?), “What do we want to see happen?” (media coverage? a meeting with an executive? a resignation?) “What’s the best way to achieve those ends?” (what are the messages, symbols, or images that we need to get on the air and in front of the people we’re trying to reach?)

Is your point to educate consumers?

No media coverage = fast activist burnout and a truly rotten and possibly damaging waste energy, and probably a sense of failure.

If you’re going to go to the trouble to stage a big drama with costumes and theater make sure someone sees it. (and, if you aren’t the SOA Watch and can’t get Martin Sheen to come out, this is probably your best option). If you stage street theater without the mainstream media’s attention you’re pretty much just doing street theater, only without the hat-passing that would mean you’d at least make a few bucks for your time and energy. I’m big on the not wasting energy thing these days, I know, but it really is a big issue for protestors. (see also: burnout causes, cross-referenced with: creeping sense of futility).

And once you get yourself on the 11:00 news? Getting coverage is half the battle. But half the battle is still only half the battle, and the second half will kick your ass if your message doesn’t make sense. And if your message makes no sense, what’s the point? To take our medley of violence metaphors to the logical conclusion: if you aren’t scoring points for your own side, you’re just handing your intended targets ammunition to fight back with.

We’ve all met protesters who seem to actually be in it for the martyrdom and arrest record. Fortunately, they’re rare. The exhibitionists, narcissists, and egomaniacs are a slightly larger problem since they often fail to distinguish between press for self and press for the cause, and you’re trying to wield political influence with your protest (one presumes) not get on Star Search.

But it’s the stupid puppets and street theater that gets the attention of the cameras. And this is when we make a bargain only Faust could love…we engage in what the media expects to show their viewers and hope like hell we aren’t harming our message.

There’s so much to say on the subject and there’s no right answer for all applications. No flowchart, no howto manual, no weekend training session complete with trustfalls will provide us with a template of surefire tactics for every occassion. Too many variables (community, goals, resources, etc) make one-size fits all methods a silly idea to even ponder, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking questions all the time about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. And most importantly of all, we need to ask what do we do now.

Or maybe I just have issues with the damned puppets.

I have to rest my hands for a while. Posting will become sporadic.

I guess it’s pretty obvious that we (Code Pink) didn’t get to Colombia for the week of peace. The Latin American Working Group has a page of terrific resources and information about the week of peace and the peace movement in Colombia on their site.

The one page fact sheets about the political, economic, social and health consequences of US foreign policy towards Colombia are excellent, as is the interview with Ana Teresa Bernal, who initially invited us to the week of peace in the first place.

“Overcoming the Logic of War”
An Interview with Ana Teresa Bernal, leader of the National Network of Initiatives Against War and for Peace (Published by the FOR Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean in the Puerto Rico Update, Number 37, Autumn 2002).

Watching Telemundo is a poor substitute for being in Bogota this week, I have to say.

Also on the LAWG site, there’s an update about the latest US aid package for Colombia:

Tell the Senate that Colombia Aid Must Be Debated!

Urgent Action! Tell the Senate that Colombia Aid Must Be Debated!
Contact Your Senators Immediately to Help Change US Policy Toward Colombia

The US Senate is about to debate another massive aid package to Colombia for 2004— and like all of the past aid packages, most of this money will go to the Colombian military and police. Colombia is now the third largest recipient of US military aid in the world, after Israel and Egypt.

The US Senate could debate the 2004 foreign aid bill, which contains over $500 million in aid for Colombia, as early as the week of September 8th. However, they do not plan on debating the Colombia aid package. In fact, the US Senate hasn’t debated Colombia policy for two years—they have approved the money with no discussion. This is despite the fact that the goals for Colombia policy that Congress set out three years ago have not been met– and in many cases, things have gotten worse. We need your help immediately to ask the Senate why it is not talking about this policy, and then ask them to debate and change it.

A massive amount of money with a terrible impact. Our taxpayer dollars—over $600 million this year, and more next year if the Bush Administration prevails—go to fund counterinsurgency and counter-drug operations and to protect an oil pipeline in Colombia.

Funding the Colombian armed forces, who collaborate with brutal paramilitary groups, has accelerated the armed conflict in Colombia. In 2000, 12 civilians a day died violently in Colombia. That number rose to 19 a day this year, as paramilitaries, guerillas, and the Colombian military step up their side of the conflict and catch civilians in the crossfire.

Dropping herbicides on land owned by small farmers has killed some drug crops, but has taken food crops with it. Water sources are contaminated and people go hungry, especially because most do not receive alternative development assistance afterwards. Many move elsewhere and plant coca again.

Plan Colombia has not curbed drug abuse in the US, one of its main goals. According to the US Office of National Drug Control Policy, drugs are just as available on US streets now as they were three years ago.
The US House has had very strong debates on Colombia, and the votes get closer each year to cut military aid to Colombia’s brutal armed forces. With so much at stake, we need to tell the Senate to follow their lead, and debate and change this policy!

Action Needed! The Senate may debate the 2004 foreign aid bill as early as the week of September 8th, so action is needed immediately! Stop in to your senator’s state office and meet with a staff member, or organize a fax or call-in campaign, asking you senators to debate and change US policy toward Colombia when the foreign aid bill comes to the Senate floor. To find the phone number or fax number of your senators’ state or DC offices, please see www.senate.gov. A sample letter is available below which can be modified and faxed to your senators at their DC offices. Put any faxes to the attention of the foreign policy aide.

Visit the page if you would like a copy of the sample letter, which I know that you do.

now that I’ve posted this I see that it’s not only absurdly long but a bit redundent and incoherent. Nevertheless, I promised no editing, so there will be no editing. That’s how I’m justifying the fact that I’m too lazy to clean this up, anyway…)

Anyone who has taken one of my classes (or spent more than 6 minutes with me) no doubt knows that I find Wired to be a deeply flawed publication that has not only failed to evolve beyond the early elitist techno-rah-rah days, but has in fact devolved in terms of representation of progressive issues. You can’t blame Conde Naste’s takeover, either, this has been going on practically since issue 1.

Sure, it’s fun to live in the techno-elitist-libertarian fantasy world Wired represents now and again. After all, “everyone” is online now (except for those damned social parasites who keep themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty and welfare cause they’re too lazy to get a job), right? Right.

Why am I so wound up about Wired today? You may be asking yourself. You’re still here, so you must be asking that. Or, you’re really, really bored. Either way, I’m going to tell you.

I just excavated down into my email far enough to find this article from Wired News, Today’s Tech-Dependent Activists. The article had been sent to me by a couple of people and had also sparked an interesting debate amongst them. I’m going to call them Activists here, to make things easy, even though most of them (myself included) eschew the word. I’m also not pulling any of their ideas into my babbling, I take sole responsibility for whatever emerges.

Before I babble about my impressions of this article and what it represents, I want to clarify that I’m not revising, rewriting, or giving deep thought to anything here. It’s just off the top of my head. I’d swat my students if they tried to pass off the kind of rambling I’m no doubt about to do as anything more than, well, rambling.

I’d also like to point out that the conception I, and the folks who brought this article to my attention, have of social responsibility is not of the “shop at fresh fields, protest visibly, and be smug while talking constantly about how great we are” school. We’re too old for that kind of attitude and I think I can fairly say we all view “activism” (for lack of a better word) as something more akin to buddhist practice. Small, quiet actions that day by day radiate out making a difference. Banner drops and actions are critically important for many reasons and participating can help keep you connected, but it’s what you do afterwards that has the most impact.

Having said all that, these are just my opinions and impressions. So back to the article:

In addition to picket signs and megaphones, activists protesting globalization policies at next month’s meeting of the World Trade Organization in Cancún will be armed with a number of new, high-tech weapons for getting their message across.

These include using peer-to-peer networks to distribute video to television stations and setting up wireless access points so that activists can post updates to their weblogs. The aim is to help demonstrators make a bigger impact, even with fewer people, say protest organizers.

OK. Fair enough. I’m not getting how this makes these particular activists “tech-dependent”, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the sheer complexity of getting to Cancun and getting a message out once you get there, and this keeps me reading.

“Technology gives us the ability to shift the power in the protest to the dissidents,” said Rabble, an activist with the Independent Media Center who requested that his real name not be used. “It’s an incredible tactical advance from the days when the police were the only ones with a reliable communications network during protests.”

Fair points, if short-sighted.

Young activists argue often that Seattle marked the beginning of technology in activism. I’m not sure how they think leaflets, underground newspapers, posters for wheatpasting and the like were produced before 1999. I do understand that “technology” has become short-hand for “new media” and I agree that these technologies give those on the scene unprecedented opportunities to get their message out. (Not to mention that movements like the SOA Watch have been using email and the internet as an effective tool for organizing for years, long before the hip glitz of the Battle for Seattle).

Money often equals power, there’s no question about that. But having the money to use groovy new technologies doesn’t automatically equal increased power. It all still boils down to what you do with the information you gather. Information is not power unless you know what to do with it.

During the WTO meeting, which will take place from Sept. 10 to 14, Rabble and others plan to use a peer-to-peer video-sharing service called v2v to transmit broadcast-quality video of the protests to television stations and other activists.

They also will set up wireless networks at the protest welcome center in the nearby town of Ciudad Cancún, and will stream audio recordings of interviews and speeches over the Internet for rebroadcast on participating radio stations.

This is good, although you have to keep in mind that the people who are in a position to own and use such equipment and the people who are in a position to access the results back home cannot forget their obligation to make this information available to everyone so as to truly change popular opinion.

People who rely on their communities and mainstream media for their news, are still best-reached by the organizations that flack for the WTO. They’re bombarded with the message that free trade equals jobs and better wages, and it takes time for their realities to reflect that this isn’t true. By then the horse is out of the barn. The nightly news portrays protestors as elitist rich kids whose only contact with the poor is when they’re being waited on.

Becoming too reliant on one type of communication and dissemination can reinforce that view to onlookers. You have to have email access on your cellphone to be an activist? That’s not my cause, I’m staying home. (OK, that’s simplistic, but I don’t feel like it’s that far off the mark).

Have you ever been to a protest on the National Mall where everyone is chanting a slogan about what democracy looks like, only to look around and realize that there, in a place nicknamed “Chocolate City,” you’re surrounded by a sea of what at least appears to be white privilege? Is this really what democracy looks like? Are the users of the web the true “democracy”? Is everyone else marginalized because they can’t be out in the streets?

It seems to me that a democracy only as strong as it’s most vulnerable citizens. Those who can mobilize the energy, make the time, to go out and protest have an obligation, in my opinion, to seek social justice because they can. Many people can’t protest for myriad reasons, but that doesn’t mean that their voices should be silenced in the struggle. Hell, they’re struggling to live, to provide for their children. Maybe they can’t be arrested in civil disobedience actions because they do not have the post and forfeit money, or it would negate their ability to receive social services that can mean the difference between life and death to their families. Or they can’t afford medication to control a medical condition, meaning they can neither work nor protest. Or maybe they’re just tired. Whatever the reason someone isn’t out on the streets (and frankly, they don’t need a “reason”, I just can’t come up with a better word), it doesn’t mean they should be shut out.

But it’s not enough to protest on behalf of the “less fortunate”, you still have to get your message to people. Not just the people on the streets or the people who watch the 11:00 news that night. The organizing and the information sharing and the lobbying and educating needs to go on after the streets are quiet again.

You have to give people, all people, the information they need and the motivation and opportunity to vote and express their opinions that the middle class has. Just having the technology isn’t enough. Once you get the word out, your obligation isn’t over. That’s like saying a teacher’s role is over once they hand out the textbooks.

The technologies are part of a growing collection of modern protest tactics, many of which originated during the highly publicized anti-WTO demonstrations that took place in Seattle in November 1999.

“There are always technological developments in activist practices,” said activist Mike Bonanno. “Since 1999, the importance of e-mail lists and Web publishing to help organize people on the ground and disseminate information has not diminished.”

Bonanno is a member of the Yes Men, a group that builds parody websites as a way to protest the policies of various organizations.

During the Seattle protests in 1999, the Yes Men launched GATT.org to protest the WTO. He says the group will continue updating the site during the Cancún meeting as a way to point out what they believe are flaws in the WTO’s policies.

“We plan to use the GATT.org website to continue representing the positions of the WTO more honestly than they care to represent themselves,” said Bonanno. “This has always been a goal of ours: to explain how WTO policies hurt the poor and the environment, but doing it with a healthy dose of satire.”

Representatives of the WTO did not respond to requests for comment.

Surprisingly, one high-tech protest tactic that is likely to be absent from this year’s demonstration is the use of distributed denial-of-service attacks to shut down the WTO website.

The electrohippies, a British group that called for such attacks during the 1999 meeting, have since disbanded. And many protest organizers today say they would not support such an attack if another group made a similar call.

“Taking down the website might be fun and headline-grabbing, but I personally don’t think it’s a good tactic,” said Rabble. “The WTO does not function because its website stays up; it functions because corporations and governments give it tremendous power.”

As more solidly middle-class people become dependent on the web for everything from bank transactions to car registration renewals, any kind of attack on a website – no matter what the site represents – plays poorly on the nightly news. When your goal is to make the evils of the WTO transparent to a broad audience, flashy actions can be tricky.

Parody and satire are critical tools that we must employ strategically, and it’s great to see it being used as just that, one tool among many. The idea of the web as the be-all end-all of social change is, thankfully, receding, as more and more people realize that putting something on the web is only one step, human action and reaction to that information is still what brings about social and political change.

Another tactic that is not likely to make an appearance is the use of mailing lists to create “flash mobs,” a way of mobilizing large groups of people by sending out a single message to awaiting recipients.

“The ‘flash mob’ concept generally works best when enough people are around to receive e-mail and react quickly,” said Bonanno. “It gets more difficult if such communications technologies are not available to people.”

Just 10 percent of Mexico’s population regularly goes online, according to the country’s Internet association, AMIPCI. The percentage is expected to be lower on the Yucatán peninsula, where Cancún is located, because of poverty in the jungle-covered region.

It’s critical to remember that the people who would be mobilized in this way are most likely those who have travelled to the site to protest. There’s nothing wrong with mobilizing them in this way, but when not everyone is in the loop things can get tricky fast. Think how quickly communication breaks down in a simple game of telephone. Multiple that by thousands, throw in a plethora of different languages, protest philosophies, etc., and the idea or relying on the concept of flash mobs probably becomes less appealling.

I have to give the author credit here for not using any trendy terminology revolving around the word “smart” (see also: smartmobs.com). I could spend the rest of the day ranting about the subtle and not so subtle ways we equate access to technology with superiority and never get to the point. (not that there really is a point here)

The increasing pressure on public libraries to slap filters on public internet terminals makes it much harder to reach those who rely on these connections to access the internet. Hell, it seems as difficult as ever to get your average “activist” to wheatpaste outside gentrified areas of the city at all, let alone think about other ways to reach The Other in their communities. (My distinctions about Other here are based more on thinking about class than race, but those variables depend on the issue at stake and the geographic location of both that issue and the protest itself).

Despite this, organizers say they are confident that the available technologies will allow them to mobilize participants more effectively than ever before.

“Even with the distance and expense associated with getting to and protesting in Cancún, we’re expecting between 10,000 and 20,000 people to participate,” said Starhawk, an organizer with the RANT Collective.

“The Internet has allowed us to have a different kind of global conversation,” she said. “Organizing for Cancún wouldn’t be as effective without it.”

(To be fair, I’ve been following Starhawk’s organizing online for Cancun and I agree with her 100%. I’ve also participated in one of her actions and have various other associations).

There’s no question that technologies like the internet and cellphones are critical to modern protest organizing, particularly in far-flung places. Technology gets people there, but when all is said and done it’s having people there and what they do when they get there (and after they leave) is still what matters most.

Howard Dean’s campaign, so very internet-oriented, reminds me of a re-run of the Nader campaign. Not in terms of tactics, but in terms of demographics. In the case of Dean, I wonder if the people of privileged classes, organizing in a way that excludes socio-economically vulnerable people, will be able to sustain the momentum they have. The dot.com bubble has burst, but the delusions that technology equals a utopian future still blind us to other possibilities.

Are communications technologies enabling people to organize and protest and engage in activism in new ways, or are people using communications technologies in new ways to make activism more visible? It’s not just semantics, it’s a question that gets to the heart of why some people who lack disposable income for shiny tools are becoming increasingly marginalized in activist circles. Protest is still, when all is said and done, about mobilizing people to sway public opinion and/or the opinions of law-makers or other governing bodies.

If no one knows about the protest, it’s a bit of a bust, so of course the more people you have documenting it the better. Or if it’s wildly misrepresented by the media, who love ignoring peaceful protestors to focus on violent activists, for example, you have a better chance of disseminating alternative viewpoints. But to say that activists are dependent on technology is to suggest, among other things, we’ve given up thinking all together and just go where we’re told and pose for the best photo-op.

Sorry I don’t have a witty conclusion, but a conclusion would suggest that I’m done thinking about these issues when in reality this is only pieces of what should be a much larger conversation.

“US Anti-War Activists Hit by Secret Airport Ban” by Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles

After more than a year of complaints by some US anti-war activists that they were being unfairly targeted by airport security, Washington has admitted the existence of a list, possibly hundreds or even thousands of names long, of people it deems worthy of special scrutiny at airports.

The list had been kept secret until its disclosure last week by the new US agency in charge of aviation safety, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). And it is entirely separate from the relatively well-publicized “no-fly” list, which covers about 1,000 people believed to have criminal or terrorist ties that could endanger the safety of their fellow passengers.

The strong suspicion of such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is suing the government to try to learn more, is that the second list has been used to target political activists who challenge the government in entirely legal ways. The TSA acknowledged the existence of the list in response to a Freedom of Information Act request concerning two anti-war activists from San Francisco who were stopped and briefly detained at the airport last autumn and told they were on an FBI no-fly list.


Lest you think this is a problem only to use wrong-headed Lefties, I’d like to point out that the article also states:

It is not just left-wingers who feel unfairly targeted. Right-wing civil libertarians have spoken out against the secret list, and at least one conservative organization, the Eagle Forum, says its members have been interrogated by security staff.

(this story originally appeared in the Guardian).

In happier news, the finches who hang out in my back yard are exceptionally happy with their new finch feeder (which, unfortunately also doubles as a hawk feeder). Wild finch frenzies are incredibly amusing, and relaxing, to sit and watch while drinking tea and pretending that Martin Sheen really is the President. Try it. Trust me, you’ll feel better.

Join VETERANS, SCHOLARS, and ACTIVISTS in discussing the causes, implications, and potential consequences of the U.S. War against Iraq–a war that may not only change the face of the Middle East but the geopolitics and security concerns of the entire globe.

Kay Chapel, American University
4400 Mass. Ave NW
Washington, DC 20016

Saturday, March 22, 1-5 pm

Speakers include:

Daniel Ellsberg: Author, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, Former Defense Department Official who released the Pentagon Papers

Bobby Muller: President, Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation

Joseph Cirincione: Director, Non-Proliferation Project, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Wayne Smith: Executive Director, The Justice Project; Former President, Black Patriots Memorial Foundation

Susan Shaer: Executive Director, Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND)

Jo Marie Griesgraber, Advocacy Director of Oxfam America

Clovis Maksoud: Professor, School of International Service; Director, American University’s Center for the Global South; Former Arab League Ambassador

Eric Gustafson: Executive Director, Education for Peace in Iraq Center; Gulf War Vet

Peter Kuznick: Professor of History; Director, American University’s Nuclear Studies Institute

John H. Brown: Former State Department Official

Dave Cline: President, Veterans for Peace

John Ketwig: Author, A Hard Rain Fell; Vietman Vet

Jonathan Schell: Nuclear Expert, Author, The Fate of the Earth and The Abolition

Gene R. La Rocque: Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.); President Emeritus, Center for Defense Information

Jamie Raskin: Professor, American University’s Washington College of Law; Author, Overruling Democracy: The Supreme Court vs. the American People

Andy Shallal: Iraqi-Americans for Peaceful Alternatives

Salih Booker: Director, Africa Action

Ariela Blatter: Head of Iraq Crisis Response Team, Amnesty International

Eugene Fidell: President, National Institute for Military Justice

Charles Sheehan-Miles: Veterans for Common Sense; Gulf War Vet

Nancy Lessin: Military Families Speak Out

Charlie Richardson: Military Families Speak Out

Karin Lee: Friends Committee on National Legislation

John Kim: Veterans for Peace

Joe Eldridge: American University Chaplain

Barbara Greene: Wesley Seminary Center for Theology and Public Policy

Jamie Vasquez: Veterans for Peace; Vietnam Vet

Sponsored by:
Veterans Against Iraq War,
Veterans for Peace,
Veterans for Common Sense,
Vietnam Veterans Against the War,
Military Families Speak Out,
American University’s Nuclear Studies Institute,
OneWorld U.S.,
Historians Against the War

plucked from the ashes of the punkprincess.com archives, reposted 02-28-07

This was odd. I ran out to grab a seaweed salad for lunch and when I came back there was this amazing pink boa in my chair.

No card. No note. It’s even nicer than the hot pink one I’ve been wearing to code pink rallies.

Thank you to whoever brought me this wonderful gift. I shall endeavor to use it for good.

Today at work everyone was just sort of bumping into the walls and mumbling to themselves, war seeming to be forgone conclusion. First Iraq, then we’ll get to Iran.

I have to believe that the war can still be stopped. I have to believe that war is not inevitable.

I cannot lose hope. We cannot lose hope. It’s too precious and too hard to recapture once we let it go…

plucked from the ashes of the punkprincess.com archives, reposted 02-28-07

Teach-In on Building a Just Peace and Real Security: Listen to Women for a CHANGE!

Friday March 7, 9am – 5pm
Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, DC
9th and P St, NW
$10-$20, lunch included
Childcare available

There’s more info if you follow the link up there.

To fully warp my brain into a million pieces, I’ll be galloping from there to Atomic for some birthday rabble-rousing.

International Women’s Day, Peace March

11am Rally
Gather at Malcolm X Park located at 16th St. between W Streets and Euclid, NW.

1pm March to Encircle the White House
The march will leave at 1:00 p.m. from Malcolm X park to encircle the White House.


Program Highlights

Speakers Include:

Alice Walker
Amy Goodman
Janeane Garofalo
Dr. Helen Caldicott
Granny D
Barbara Ehrenreich
Rania Masri
Michelle Shocked
Hyun Kyung
Jody Williams
Cheri Honkala
Maxine Hong Kingston
Susan Griffin
Inga Muscio
Terry Tempest Williams
Zainab Salbi
Medea Benjamin

And now I must get some coffee and settle down to work on an article about theremins. I leave you with this fabulous Faithism:

“As a pug owner you need to just weather the farts.”

There’s really no need for context, is there? No sport in that at all.

plucked from the ashes of the punkprincess.com archives, reposted 02-28-07