So, the spectacular fall of the Tribune Company is clearly more than the decline of one company – it is the most visible symbol of the tanking print media industry that is swept up in systemic changes that have destroyed business models and jobs nationwide.
For the activist PR person, it also signals a need for innovation. It’s no longer enough to bang out press releases to the AP and hope for the best; even trying to ‘be the media’ is getting tired since everybody is going to be the media soon – for example, Indymedia centers no longer serve the same function when self publishing software means that anyone can be their own media outside of the framework provided by IMCs.
One of the first casualties will be the decline of ‘publicity’ as such – without big-bore media outlets running the news cycle, the sphere of public discourse will become more fragmented and less accessible. Organizers and media people will need to think more in depth about their targets, whose support the targets need, and how to influence those supporters via the specific media channels. I think one point of attack will be via industry conferences, publications and message boards (check Officer.com, a message board for cops for an example). In a way, attacking via these forums will be like a new office-takeover, targeted at a company and its peers/competitors as a way to put on economic pressure.
Check out this: Fillipo Minelli’s “Contradictions” It’s a one trick pony, but wow, what a trick. (should be read in conjunction with Staying Sick’s “Mining” post)
I think this is what I keep trying to get at in my skepticism about the potential of new technologies in building movements. I think that social networking technology has a place in movement building, but it’s a very narrow one – just like we can look kindly upon the once controversial radical anti-Vietnam War movement, the movements that become visible on the internet typically have a long history, and are amenable to the people able to enjoy the net’s many pleasures: typically living in developed nations, with a certain degree of race or class privilege.
Henry Jenkins gives a particularly good description of the power of new media technology to build new forms of consciousness and thought, but he also points out that the consolidation of decision making and cultural authority in these technologies cements the power of class divisions that keep the majority of the world from accessing them in the first place.
And that’s the real value of the “Contradictions” project – it simply intervenes in the digital cultural economy by reminding it of the world outside of the echo chamber.
let me play next! from debbychen's flickr
I remain unconvinced about the politicization of videogames – I don’t really believe in organizing on SecondLife, socialization via EverQuest, or any of that bullshit, generally. I think that videogame environments (and Facebook environments) are designed for highly-specialized purposes, and attempting to hijack them for political ends is more or less useless.
Which is not to say there can’t be lessons learned. TechPresident featured this article on MyBarackObama (‘myBO’ for those in the know), calling the system the campaign season’s best videogame. I think the name appropriately characterizes the Obama campaign’s ephemerality, it demonstrates how organizers can benefit from thinking about new media.
What keeps people playing MMORPGs and slavishly attached to Facebook is accumulation. They offer ways to cement your existence in time and space – Facebook gives you a record of all your freinds, MMORPGs allow you to create characters and build them into something permenant, collecting gold, skills and experience. Movements might look to mirror MyBO and build structures of participation that lend a sense of permenance to the relationships built in organizing, as a way of building-in acomplishments to the grueling, grinding work of creating a movement. (this also means blogging, and creating your own media history as a way to lend legitimacy and permenance to the work you do on a daily basis)
As I’ve pointed out before, a widespread economic recession (increasingly trending towards depression) predicts a new relationship of consumers to their consumption, with a new eye towards substance as the new style. It may be that the popularity of culture-jamming anti-consumption strategies in recent decades were in reality forced by an economic situation that made consumption so appealing.
Now that consumption is becoming much more conspicuous, the situation might allow a shift towards more explicit challenges to capital, at least temporarily. So, instead of the imagistic tarnish of Nike’s image, the focus might be more on the relationship of workers to Nike CEOs, that shows the owners getting rich while kids get exploited.
The key will be in describing what recovery looks like, as more than a return to prosperity, but also prosperity that allows for mutual shared wealth and collective wellbeing. I think Obama gave one good rhetorical starting point when he described an ownership society as a “you’re on your own” society. The recovery should be about reviving a community, and explicitly calling out those who have grossly profitted off of the American worker.
standing on shoulders. from Fritz Liess' flickr.
Queer liberation struggles provide an interesting parable on the path of radical action in America – what began with an uprising, a rebellion in the Village at Stonewall has now become a mass-mobilized, legislation focused movement, able to rally tens of thousands of people in the street.
In the beginning, radical action was absolutely necessary: this required street fighting, throwing fake blood, character assassination against Reagan and more, because the question was about invisibility. Queer people didn’t exist except as the seedy underbelly of good society, and the task was to put them on the cultural radar.
That struggle waned as AIDS became part of the national health agenda, discrimination against gays became increasingly taboo, and marketers recognized them as a target demographic. Recognizability was no longer the issue, but concrete rights were.
Now, the Prop 8 protests show a movement reaching a stage of decadence: they can afford mass mobilization because gay rights appeal to so many, and the mainstream mode of political dissent (street protest) fits the goal of creating change through mainstream forums. But it shows how movements require a diversity of tactics (including confrontational alienating ones) to accomplish their goals. A movement in germination needs to confront and radicalize, then build its own mythology to support legitimate forms of the movement in the future.
This week, the President of NYU participated in one of his regular dog-and-pony town halls with the Student Senators Council. These events are rife with problems – they’re only a very weak form of student input, questions are filtered/censored by members of the Student Senators Council, and students have no way to independently verify whether their Administration is lying to them. (except when they get caught: during the meeting, the prez claimed that a report on pay discrimination at NYU showed no problems, which is verifiably false)
As promised, members of Take Back NYU! attended the meeting to break the monotony of jsex’s rambling, to some effect – the President got a little worked up, but finally made an (undiplomatic) response to TBNYU!’s demands for accountability, transparency and democracy at NYU. The answer, as he made very clear, is no, no, and no to each of the demands.
Despite much hullabaloo from campus media-types, every question submitted to the town hall was answered (including one about animal rights which moderator Whitney Petrie pretended didn’t exist, saying that all questions were answered before it was asked), and members of TBNYU! carried on a spirited debate with the Prez over the issues they’ve been pressing for over a year – perhaps the only open criticism he sees on a regular basis.
Criticism of TBNYU!’s tactics at the Townhall are as misplaced as they are disingenuous – the point of the campaign is that the President is wearing no clothes, that his high-minded claims to enlightened leadership are misleading, and that students should regard the administration as just one member of a large NYU community with competing interests in how the school is run. Students have an interest in affordable, accessible education, the administration has an interest in a larger university that expands their reputation and lines their pockets, and these interests are in conflict. Students should only take the administration seriously on the condition that the administration takes them seriously, and that has not happened.
think about it. from marcomassarotto's flickr
In the last week, there’s been a creeping transformation… of a man changed from a movement to a governing body, someone becoming very solid, very fast.
He appears in public, among mere mortals, against a backdrop of plain blue, rather than rising above and through adoring crowds, as he did in the past 20 months.
He floats policy positions, rather than floating on air.
He commits himself to partisan battles in the Senate.
He hobnobs with the icons of evil that we supposedly purged from our Great Nation not so long ago.
A gradual deflation of expectations, rather than a pop of frustration. Welcome to the movement transformed.
Today two important events will be taking place at NYU -
The first is a march led by NYU National Organization for Women in support of budget disclosure to check against pay discrimination at NYU. Marchers will lead a procession from the Kimmel Center at 1pm, holding symbolic ‘glass ceilings’ above their heads to demand an end to NYU’s secrecy surrounding its finances.
The second is an ongoing project to encourage NYU students to remove their personal checking accounts from large banks that support environmentally devastating practices like mountain top removal or coal power, and instead place their money in local banks like the LES People’s Federal Credit Union that offer higher returns and invest in local people. Folks will be in the lobby starting at 11.
from kptyson's flickr photostream
Last year, just before NYPD officers were acquitted (predictably) for the murder of Sean Bell, the New York City media filled with stories about anticipated violence on the part of black folks, and the NYPD took the occasion to showcase some of their new crowd suppression tools.
But the violence never materialized. And hasn’t, for a long time – not since Rodney King, at least, and that was one acquittal, out of thousands. But every time another cop goes free, the rumor mill gins up new ‘anticipated unhappiness’ or some bullshit.
And it’s happening again for the election: The Boston Globe reports that police the cities of Detroit, Chicago, Oakland and Philadelphia have geared up for a night of violence if Obama loses. Not only does this serve as needless race-baiting (those cities are pop culture code-words for dangerous urban black folks), but it encourages the further militarization of any totally legitimate protests that do occur. It sets the wrong tone, identifying black people in America with irrational, riotous violence, but also sets the stage for the truly violent suppression of free speech and assembly bound to follow in the wake of this election.
Welcome to NYU
“Walking to school, on a day that was sunny/nearing the library, trying to study/when what to my wondering eyes does appear/but red white and blue, and CNN gear.” – ‘Twas The Night Before Voting
CNN set up camp next to NYU and CMJ with it’s “League of First Time Voters” mobile something-or-other, come to inspire new students to actually vote. First of all, I’m confused why a television network, with it’s presumption of ‘objectivity’ would take it upon itself to actively promote what about half of America chooses not to do – that is, vote. Second, the whole spectacle looked like an orchestrated pander to college-age folks, with edgy, stylized lettering and a “graffiti wall” where students could “express themselves.”
It also shows the basic format of political expression and corporate control – feel free to express yourself (on THIS wall), but make sure to express yourself, or else you’re not a real American. It’s a co-option of certain types of ‘expression’ as political resistance – but it also meant we got free buttons. CNN’s investment in this type of outreach shows the investment America’s corporate-political elite in voting, as well as the real potential of voter-abstention as a form of resistance.
This has got to stop. from nobihaya's flickr.
I’m getting really tired of the media-technology fetish.
I attend an elite university with excessive tuition and a very privileged, talented student body. The people I pal around with have a lot to lose from being arrested, going to jail or getting kicked out of school. I think this is why folks at NYU so often default to talking about media and public image when thinking about social change. Media studies, public relations are the totally abstract, disembodied struggles, they require no sacrifice, and little to no personal risk in the service of a cause.
It’s also the reason I see NYU students pouring so much of their time into thinking about how media determines the ways-of-the-world. I also think it’s why NYU has so many technology-fetishists. Seriously: I’m really tired of hearing about how technology will foster democracy or converge our cultures – Jeff Jarvis has some good ideas, but has gotten to the point of outright deifying Google.
Ultimately I don’t think anyone has given a comprehensive or effective description of why corporations, governments, etc. have to care about their public image as such. Thinking about creating real power means getting into the specifics of that power, which probably also includes getting in the way of things.
Don't be like this man. from andy in nyc's flickr.
Began ruminating on radical/non-state activism’s response to the Obama campaign. Here’s some initial thoughts-
I think the best way to approach newfound faith in the Obama government system would be to end run around it and just talk about specific issues. I don’t think it makes sense to try to take on the message head-on and say “don’t have hope.” I think concrete, specific struggles are the best way to get folks to recognize the ongoing failures of representative democracy in America. If Obama really doesn’t represent ‘change’ in the way you want, there should be no reason to be directly confrontational with his central messages.
My good friend who is in town also pointed out that some of the most important movements of the past 30-40 years came on the heels of very hope-y presidential campaigns. The late 60s movement came after LBJ and the ‘war on poverty,’ Seattle was during the Clinton years, after we were introduced to the “Man from Hope” who then betrayed pretty much everyone.
I think that Obama represents a substantial left-ward shift in American politics that requires rad folks to acknowledge his role in leading the country, but not make him or his message a centerpiece of any campaign. He has constructed an immensely powerful message around himself, his biography, and what it means for America, and I think trying to dislodge that in a time when he’s been very successful would make radical people sound like the person in the image above, rather than people interested in ‘real’ change for the world.
I’ve been doing a lot of blogging about Take Back NYU! here, but now TBNYU! has it’s own web presence so I don’t have to carry the PR load all by my lonesome.
Check out the new Take Back NYU! website at http://takebacknyu.com
this should be your new favorite website.
In trying times, at least we can know that rich people are funny. A total fucking meltdown and a power-grabbing Mayor have provided excellent opportunities for the return of the ‘Billionaire’ meme. (the meme began with Billionaires for Bush, and since taken on a life of its own)
Billionaires for the Bailout have made appearances in DC, backing the new age of corporate welfare in the name of leaving No Billionaire Behind. Just yesterday the Billioniares for the Bailout faced down the menace of Ralph Nader on Wall Street, standing firm in the face of the Radical Left’s attempt to undermine our support of the folks really in charge. The meme is overseas: the Billionaires made news all the way in India.
Back closer to home, the well-organized Billionaires brought out support for their friend and colleague Mayor Bloomberg on the issue of term-limits extensions, even if the repeal would still allow non-billionaire candidates such as Speaker Quinn or Anthony Wiener to run. As I’ve pointed out before, many New York City-focused movements are stiff, boring affairs, and I’m glad to see the Billionaires jump in to a high-profile battle like term limits- with Bloomberg’s media machine and billions to spend, folks opposing him will have to come up with something better than “the people have spoken” and “just say no” style appeals – I hope the Billionaires for Term Limits Except For Billionaires inject some energy and wit into the Bloomberg push-back.
from victoriabernal's flickr photostream
First reaction: those drinks were strong.
Second reaction: toss-up, maybe a little bit of Obama lean. McCain came out of the gates strong with the Joe story, but it lost its impact when he kept riding the point – it stopped being a compassionate story and started looking more and more like a talking point as the debate wore on. Reagan told stories like this but switched them up and kept moving on as in casual speech; McCain is no Reagan.
Obama fell behind in verbal talking points, but kept still. By that I mean that McCain was a blinking, figidity, interrupting mess while Obama spoke, which hurts McCain on the new key Obama talking point -that McCain is ‘erratic’ and out of control of his campaign (himself).
Third reaction: Obama made a coherent and cogent defense of a women’s right to choose in a Presidential debate. That is very nice. I think that’s the biggest impact his campaign has made – that he articulates intelligent defenses of progressive ideals, like he did on healthcare in the second debate (“I believe healthcare is a right”) and in his acceptance speech.
However, the danger is that he undermines many of those values elsewhere: I don’t believe coal power is good, tort reform is downright evil, and Obama NEVER ONCE TALKED ABOUT WIRETAPPING TORTURE OR PRESIDENTIAL POWERS. Seriously folks. This campaign cements the fact that torture, wiretapping and an imperial presidency will be part of American politics for years to come. And that is terrifying.
I’ve decided to keep up my criticism of Obama even as I campaign against McCain because I don’t think people should be caught unprepared for the sweet talkin’ back stabbing President Obama might become. And this debate only made me more wary.
That being said, Obama is one of the most interesting and compelling symbols in the history of American politics, and I don’t want to lose track of the important things he’s doing for our political discourse. He is advocating progressive ideals, he is talking on the grossness of the way Bush ran the last 8 years (rhetorically at least), and doing it all in a way that makes people feel empowered.
I just hope they really are.
so so exhausted. Reportback and thoughts from the last week in Pinocchio land.
First: I think it’s time to rethink the fundamental units of activism. Creating change might require breaking from organizations that identify as ‘campaigns’ or ‘coalitions’ with their highly structured relationships and instead develop protocols for affiliating more flexibly. Broad networks of individuals with diverse but aligned interests identify with certain points of unity and then work together on particular projects or interventions. For instance, with this campaign, the news cycle moved faster than Pinocchio folks could react, partially because we drew on too small a group of people to work with, owing to the (relative) narrowness of the campaign vs. the scope of the whole election season. The most damaging moments of the election so far came via short-term (and funny…) events: McCain’s “celeb” ads and backlash, Letterman’s soliloquy on McCain, Tina Fey as Palin, the insane shit at McCain/Palin rallies… each of these developed short, punchy narratives that fit into a broader constellation of ideas without ever cohering into a narrative arc per se. The only thing that developed into its own issue this election season was the economy, and that moved so fast few folks had time to react to it – suggesting the usefulness of organizing more generally, and then focusing on rapid, narrower interventions.
Second, working on internet distribution requires a carefully cultivated voice and tone. This isn’t like sending out press releases; effective net-action means a commitment to producing good content and commentary consistently. Obama is winning the media war partially because he’s so personable. People like him, and so blogs (primarily) willingly enlist to his cause and become force multipliers. That’s how smaller operations should strive to work as well – by working to make other blogs willing force-multipliers for a message.
The blog-world (BLOG-O-SPHERE) is an echo chamber, where people link and read other folks that more or less agree with them. Tight knit groups form and ideas travel party through recency and newsworthiness (who gets the breaks first), but moreso by making interesting commentary around the news of the day. Generally, people who write smart things well will become more successful (though doubtless there’s more to it, a method to the madness). This means that groups wanting to put out material via blogs need to consistently build a voice that makes them sound like folks that know what they’re doing – a bit of insider baseball, so to speak. The author of content needs credibility just as the content needs to be credible, and that requires work ahead of time to get things going.
This is why everyone that affiliates with an organization that wants to work blogs should blog themselves – either under the name of the group or under their own name. It allows them to develop an ethos for distribution, and to control the first impressions of work they produce, because it (hopefully) means that people come to you for content. Instead of having to blast out emails about new work press release style, you can rely on the credibility built up over time, or have folks regularly reading your work to the point where they willingly distribute your work for you.
This week in Pinocchio Politics: Doubt! A sudden materialization! Games!
Last week began with a smattering of chaos, what with the ongoing saga of the downfall of industrial civilization as we know it – thought it at least produced interesting web content from Pinocchio Politics partners, as you can see here.
The point being that trying ot keep up with the latest news-cycle was running us in circles – the brand and its offshoots would do much better with longer-range planning that probably honestly needed to be done months ago. As appealing as it seems to build instant campaigns out of shifting coalitions and proprietary press lists, effective organizing requires face to face, long term strategic thinking from the get-go.
The best breaks this campaign has received came from people who we knew, not from any kind of web-focused outreach. Many of the best creative ideas, the most interesting developments in terms of the message, and the funding came from people we met in other contexts, and collaborated with to build the campaign.
The upshot from these thoughts is that I think this campaign needs to shift back into the mode of creating news, rather than spinning it. The reason working with people you know in a long-term framework makes sense is that it allows you to buck the news cycle by focusing on your strengths and not reacting at every turn. Look: we know that campaigns try to ‘win’ news cycles by generating heaps of distracting bullshit – and that’s a trap for their opponents, but also for the activists caught up in working on the election. I always thought that working on the election matters because it helps define the symbols/frames that shape the country for (roughly) 4 years, and if that’s true, then we can’t get spun by the news cycle, but rather need to keep the bigger (non-electoral) goal always in sight.
All that being said, we made a sweet game of bingo. Play it at your next debate – or over the next weeks, when McCain will continue to spew really nasty stuff.
not birthday cake
It’s been one month since Take Back NYU! delivered its demands to the NYU administration and asked for a reply within… one month.
And guess what:
There was no reply.
Between Sept. 2 and Oct. 2, a lot went down. NYU/Polytech got sued. NYUAD got a Chancellor (who supported a Living Wage at Swarthmore, an interesting precedent for the labor-rights challenged NYUAD project) and a Master Planner. A student went public with his plan to pay tuition my soliciting donations online. The biggest (dumbest) NYU news story was that a J-School student (those still exist?) got told she can’t blog about being a stupid J-school student by her stupid J-school professor. I refuse to link this story.
Just as important, the economy started collapsing. With NYU’s endowment peaking, the university has staked its future in the condition of the stock marker and economy in general. That means bad news, at least in the short term: it looks like a number of universities are getting cut off from their short term assets. It would be really really nice to know the type of trouble NYU is getting itself into.
Then there was a disaster of a Town Hall, where President Sexton drove home the point that he has no idea how to conduct himself in public – yelling at students, claiming that students taking out loans should reconsider whether they belong at NYU.
On the other hand, TBNYU! kept a low-profile in the past month, except for the totally sweet (PUN) event HAVE YOUR SCHOOL AND EAT IT TOO – pictured above – that featured people making graham cracker/candy/frosting representations of their ideal universities. I expect that low key to change, and soon.
Economic peril, out-of-the-blue decisions on NYUAD, a blustering buffoon of a University President – all of these things point to the need for more democracy and accountability at NYU, a need that Take Back NYU! clearly meets.
The only meaningful thing to come from Lehman. from Esaraph's flickr
This whole economic crisis is causing me a lot of unexpected stress. Very unexpected. I suspect it’s because the affair is playing out in this wildly abstract language: ‘credit lines’ ‘bank failure’ ‘debt swaps’ etc. – the only thing concrete about it is everyone’s seething hatred of George W. Bush’s lame-duck guts. Seriously: when was the last time someone talked about paychecks? Or houses? Or jobs (for jobs’ sake, not this ‘health of the economy’ indicator bullshit)? Compare New Deal propaganda that focused on job creation and common labor with the blather streaming from the government now about credit lines and what not – they talk about similar things but in wildly different languages. Despite the total abstraction of it all, I keep hearing very shrill, disturbing things, and it may be producing neurosis.
A great deal of ink and worry has been created about something that seems to be totally invisible. That invisibility is reinforced by a ‘bailout’ plan that only solidifies the fundamental lack of democracy at the core of our economic system – the ‘unilateral power’ claimed by Henry Paulson to carry out decisions on buying back bad debt echoes the power wielded by the capitalist elite to control people’s lives via the management of debt, employment and production.
Furthermore, I’m disturbed by the Congress’ inability to do ANYTHING whatsoever, even when the bills put before them provide massive benefits to their friends and benefactors. Therefore I have no faith in the ability of Congress to pass a bill that would in fact benefit folks losing their homes or seeing the value of their paychecks shrink.
I’m still struggling to find a good way to express my hatred of the Bush Bailout and simultaneously express my disgust for the Democrats that went along with it, and the Republicans that didn’t because it just wasn’t evil enough. It’s just a giant clusterfuck of sinister, self interested corrupt assholes. The only thing that seems to make sense is how much I hate George Bush for developing into such a ineffective, disheartened President. We really need a fucking leader of some kind, and he just offers polices that are simultaneously totally worthless and terrifying.
Mostly I’m angry. I want more rage inserted in this discussion. A tiny cabal of filthy rich men in suits living at the tip of a phallic island in the Northeast corner of the US have managed to nearly upend the entire way of life for hundreds of millions of people, and that’s fucked up.