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<nettime> The Debate on the Tactic of Electronic Civil Disobedience
Gidget Digit (by way of Felix Stalder) on Wed, 12 Aug 1998 04:38:19 +0200 (MET DST)


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<nettime> The Debate on the Tactic of Electronic Civil Disobedience


The Debate on the Tactic of Electronic Civil Disobedience
(just another case of Dirty Bodies clashing with Clean Efficience?)

The president of the World Bank, in his speech to the political and
technological elite at last summer's "Global Knowledge for Development"
conference, used the word "revolution" no less than 16 times, in a brief
10 minutes.  He was referring to the already over-hyped "information
revolution", where executives of Microsoft, WorldCom, and AT&T are the
revolutionaries.

The Electronic Disturbance Theatre is heralding this same "information
revolution" with a call to cyberwar.  But the people's movements will not
be driven by a Java applet.

The internet has obvious limitations as a medium which depends upon one's
ability to read and write (usually English) and one's technical access,
all piled on the amount of time one can spend plugged in.  It is also
equally obvious that it is currently one of the cheapest forms of global
communication, and as more relatively low tech computers become equipped
with e-mail and list service, there is increasingly better access to
grassroots information.   All of these factors make it a good tool to
improve our communication strategy, but a poor place to choose as a site
for direct action.

Yet, several yanquis in a high-wired, post-modernist academic environment
are organizing "Electronic Civil Disobedience" as if power is no longer in
the streets.  As if the Spectacle is the main stage of engagement.  And
this suits the suits just fine.  It removes the debate from the public
sphere and places it in the private.  When the <I>Electronic Disturbance
Theatre</I> talks "direct" action in corporate networks, with hordes of
businessmen already self-defined as 'revolutionaries', grassroots
activists should see right away that this is definitely not our area of
strength.  Their "information revolution" is largely about deskilling
workers.  Terms like 'flexible' labour, or 'outsourcing' are code words
for removing benefits and long-term support and forcing people into
socially isolating piecework. The ECD tactic neither organizes electronic
workers into sabotaging nor unionizing against this "progression", and
worse, it de-mobilizes and de-politicizes solidarity activism.

Much Ado About Virtually Nothing

 "Electronic Pulse Systems" are designed to centralize "swarms" of
computer users in order to "automate" the repetitive process of reloading
a web-page. In theory, with enough participants, the "FloodNet device"
thereby overloads the target server. A "denial-of-service attack" is
another name for this ECD 'hack' or 'jam' that causes a temporary
interuption in an opponents public web page service.  Used on the White
House back in May, it had nil affect, and used on Zedillo's site, June
10th, it actually backfired.  (This action took place after Mexican human
rights organization AME LA PAZ specifically asked the Electronic
Disturbance Theatre to avoid choosing targets in Mexican cyberspace.)
Activists may recognize the ECD similarity with the old trick of getting
large numbers of people to continuously re-dial a target's phone lines, or
tie up fax machines with garbage data.   Organizing ECD seems to be like
getting as many people as you can together and going to stand in front of
a billboard.  It's an ineffective use of activist time and resources.
Because it's on-line though, it is currently attracting mucho hype from
mainstream media.

Warrior Machismo

There are several reasons for the speedy spread of this particular meme.
With often two or three rounds of announcements leading up to an "act" in
the unfolding play, there is no doubt that the Electronic Disturbance
Theatre understands spin.  It's a weird mix between rhetoric appealing to
sixties-non-violent-civil-disobedience folks, and adventurist "electronic
tinkerers" of the brave new world.

Such appeals as to "today's nomadic warriors who wander on the net" is
pure romantic nonsense designed to coax the DOOM-playing wanna-be
"revolutionaries" into doing something remotely political.  Much better
use of time to help those without access, who are already active in
struggle, to use the tools for their needs, than try to work within the
capitalist view of the masses as consumers.

Rather than politicizing through praxis, ECD siphons off the energy of the
movement on the ground, when folks who may become more engaged in activism
with encouragement and participation are told to reload a web page, or
send an e-mail to a politician.  Many would contend this does more to
assuage gringo guilt than effect any real change.

                    SUBVERT AND REPURPOSE-- POPULAR THEATRE

Sit-ins and blockades are not old-school and obsolete.  When a government,
whether the US Federal, or your local school, has no popular support, they
are still damn fine "devices" for publicly unseating illegitimate leaders,
and for physically re-placing them with people power.  That physical
change is the basis of the establishment of rebel autonomous communities.
And that "transformatory" change is also educational because popular
theatre is part of the streets.  Real "mass, public participation" by
necessity means that human beings have to form direct face-to-face
relationships with one another, in order to facilitate decision making for
themselves.

Floodnet runs counter to this, and I don't only mean centralized
automation of the process. It actually quantifies democratic participation
into hit measurements.  Yes, it is easy and convenient to "participate
from home or work" (if you have a computer!) But all this emphasis on
being able to attack without your body, just by hitting a button, ignores
the realities of boundaries -- in the time needed for organizing, the
locality of human relations and needs.

DIRECT ACTION GETS THE GOODS

Why send an e-mail of complaint to the politician, when you could work to
make him obsolete?  Our priority needs to be in building the autonomous
municipalities and the tangible solidarity here in the north, that would
support and work in concert with the struggles of our zapatista and
mexican comrades.

In essence, this is the central meaning of direct action that the
Electronic Disturbance Theatre cannot edit out in Microsoft Word.  It is
immediate.  As organizers of the international Reclaim the Streets
movement contend, "Direct action enables people to develop a new sense of
self-confidence and an awareness of their individual and collective power.
It is founded on the idea that people can develop the ability for
self-rule only through practice, and proposes that all persons directly
decide the importance of the issues facing them."  Such praxis comes
through seeing, touching, listening and truly working with people next to
you on the picket line, in the march, on the soup line, in your
neighborhood.

It is eventually socially isolating to sit in a room alone and type
because the medium only extends part of your body.  The information
transmitted across the net about demonstrations may help to determine the
general size and scope of our movements.  But when the "act" of
"disobedience" is simply hitting a button, when the net is relied upon by
organizers as a site for mobilization, then we miss entirely the real
character of resistance.  Worse, it will become painfully obvious to
people in struggle that our other senses of communication are dangerously
underdeveloped.

Analog Zapatismo

"Electronic Civil Disobedience" to defend the Zapatistas might not be
*such* a bad idea if there was already massive resistance in the streets.
Right now, the claims of the Electronic Disturbance Theatre to be 'just
another affinity group' carrying out 'one tactic in a range of available
tactics' ring hollow. But to its credit, the EDT says it does want to help
in setting up and defending a server in a zapatista support base.

As the urgent situation currently stands, there is a "low intensity" war
going on, which breaks out in massacres or mass imprisonment when Mexican
state police and Federal agents forcibly enter and try to dismantle the
autonomous communities.  It is a matter of life and death that we mobilize
people --bodies, physical support-- to bring medicine, food and
communication supplies, and to bear witness with our physical presence,
either there, or here in the streets, and at the businesses whose
investments perpetuate this war.   [A Mexican Solidarity Network is
beginning to emerge in several norteamericano cities, but when reading the
desperate pleas for help which come out across e-mail support lists from
Chiapas, it is clear we have a long way to go.]

 Our power is still in the streets, and we should not welcome a move to
the realm of the electronic with a rally call, but rather with intelligent
information gathering, a critical analysis of the electronic environment.
Instead of declaring cyberwar deep in capitalist territory, we need to
take a peaceful, cautious approach to the technology with the goal
improving the communications infrastructure in the service of the movement
on the ground.

This will necessitate broadening access, slowing down the devastating side
effects of the "knowledge economy" by sharing constructive skills,
hardware and software so that people of the south can tell their own
stories, not suffer the fallout of cyberwar.  Building this infrastructure
and autonomy will do far more to defend and expand public space within the
networks and on the ground, than any "electronic civil disobedience".


keep it real.
!Venceremos!
^ i don't even know how to make this upside down in said Microsoft
Word.TM


------------------------------------------------------------------------
"There ain't no such thing as shitwork.  It's all work, and it's all got
to be done."            --adapted from The Grapes of Wrath, by Steinbeck
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    and speaking of work, join the Active Resistance -- ar98.tao.ca
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