Mixing it up

Back in Novem­ber I start­ed a blog post that ran out of umph and stayed in my drafts. At time time I was react­ing to the pro­gres­sive debates about safe­ty pins as a sym­bol but it seems we’re are in anoth­er round of self-questioning, this time around the Women’s March and oth­er ini­tia­tives. As I find myself fre­quent­ly say­ing, we need lots of dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple orga­niz­ing in lots of dif­fer­ent styles. So maybe this blog posts’s time has come again.

Maybe this is just anoth­er stages of grief but I’ve been notic­ing a num­ber of online dis­cus­sions in which pro­gres­sives are shut­ting down oth­er pro­gres­sives for not being pro­gres­sive enough. Every time I see a pos­i­tive post, I can pre­dict there’s going to be about three enthu­si­as­tic “yes!” com­ments, fol­lowed by a 500-word com­ment explain­ing why the idea isn’t rad­i­cal enough.

Folks, we’ve got big­ger prob­lems than try­ing to fig­ure out who’s the most woke per­son on our Face­book feed.

Suc­cess­ful social change move­ments are always a spec­trum of more or less politically-correct and rad­i­cal voic­es. It’s like a chord in music: strings vibrat­ing on dif­fer­ent fre­quen­cies sound bet­ter togeth­er. Some­times in pol­i­tics you need the crazy rad­i­cals to stir things up and some­times you need the too-cautious lib­er­als to legit­imize the protest mes­sage.

Some years ago I was part of an cam­paign in Philly that tar­get­ed what many of us felt was a pro­pa­gan­da push around Colum­bus Day. An attempt by all of the con­cerned activists to come togeth­er pre­dictably went nowhere. There were too many dif­fer­ences in style and tac­tics and lan­guage and cul­ture. But that break­down in coör­di­na­tion allowed each sub­cul­ture to pick a tac­tic that worked best for them.

The Quak­ers did their vis­i­ble agit­prop lead­ing and got detained. The anar­chists made cre­ative posters and set off sur­rep­ti­tious stink devices. Some anony­mous pranksters sent out fake press releas­es to dis­rupt media cov­er­age. The resul­tant news cov­er­age focused on the sheer diver­si­ty of the protests.

If protest had indeed come from a sin­gle group fol­low­ing a sin­gle tac­tic, the dis­sent would have been buried in the fourth para­graph of the cov­er­age. But the cre­ativ­i­ty made it the focus of the cov­er­age. Diver­si­ty of tac­tics works. Mis­takes will be made. Some pro­gres­sives will be clue­less – maybe even some of the ones con­sid­er­ing them­selves the most woke. It’s okay. We’ll learn as we go along. We might laugh at how we used to think wear­ing safe­ty pins was effec­tive – or we might won­der why we ever thought it was mean­ing­less sym­bol. What­ev­er hap­pens, let’s just encour­age wit­ness wher­ev­er and when­ev­er it’s hap­pen­ing. Let’s be gen­tler on each oth­er.

Joan Baez cites Quaker upbringing in presidential endorsement

From the musician’s Face­book page:

My choice, from an ear­ly age, has been to engage in social change from the ground up, using the pow­er of orga­nized non­vi­o­lence. A dis­trust of the polit­i­cal process was firm­ly in place by the time I was 15. As a daugh­ter of Quak­ers I pledged my alle­giance not to a flag or a nation state but to humankind, the two often hav­ing lit­tle to do with each oth­er.

Quakers and the ethics of fixed pricing

From a 1956 issue of the then-newly rebrand­ed Friends Jour­nal, an expla­na­tion of the ethics behind pro­vid­ing a fixed price for goods:

Whether the ear­ly Quak­ers were con­scious­ly try­ing to start a social move­ment or not is a moot point. Most like­ly they were not. They were mere­ly seek­ing to give con­sis­tent expres­sion to their belief in the equal­i­ty of all men as spir­i­tu­al sons of God. The Quak­er cus­tom of mark­ing a fixed price on mer­chan­dise so that all men would pay the same price is anoth­er case in point. Most prob­a­bly Friends did this sim­ply because they want­ed to be fair to all who fre­quent­ed their shops and give the sharp bar­gain­er no advan­tage at the expense of his less skilled broth­er. It is unlike­ly that many Quak­ers adopt­ed fixed prices in the hope of forc­ing their sys­tem on a busi­ness world inter­est­ed only in prof­it. That part was just coin­ci­dence, the coin­ci­dence being that Friends hit upon it because of their con­vic­tions; the sys­tem itself was a nat­ur­al suc­cess.
 — Bruce L Pear­son, Feb 4 1956

 

A social media snapshot

When I first start­ed blog­ging fif­teen years ago, the process was sim­ple. I’d open up a file, hand-edit the HTML code and upload it to a web­serv­er – those were the days! Now every social web ser­vice is like a blog unto itself. The way I have them inter­act is occa­sion­al­ly dizzy­ing even to me. Recent­ly a friend asked on Face­book what peo­ple used Tum­blr for, and I thought it might be a good time to sur­vey my cur­rent web ser­vices. These shift and change con­stant­ly but per­haps oth­ers will find it an inter­est­ing snap­shot of hooked-together media cir­ca 2012.

The glue services you don’t see:

  • Google Read­er. I still try to keep up with about a hun­dred blogs, most­ly spir­i­tu­al in nature. The old tried-and-true Google Read­er still orga­nizes it all, though I often read it through the Android app News­Rob.
  • Diigo. This took the place of the clas­sic social book­mark­ing site Deli­cious when it had a near-death expe­ri­ence a few years ago (it’s nev­er come back in a form that would make me recon­sid­er it). When­ev­er I see some­thing inter­est­ing I want to share, I post it here, where it gets cross-posted to my Twit­ter and Tum­blr sites. I’ve book­marked over 4500 sites over the last seven-plus years. It’s an essen­tial archive that I use for remem­ber­ing sites I’ve liked in the past. Diigo book­marks that are tagged “Quak­er” get sucked into an alter­nate route where they become edi­tor fea­tures for Quak​erQuak​er​.org.
  • Pock­et (for­mer­ly Read it Lat­er). I’m in the envi­able posi­tion that many of my per­son­al inter­ests over­lap with my pro­fes­sion­al work. While work­ing, I’ll often find some inter­est­ing Quak­er arti­cle that I want to read lat­er. Hence Pock­et, a ser­vice that will instant­ly book­mark the site and make it avail­able for lat­er read­ing.
  • Flip­board is a great mobile app that lets you read arti­cles on top­ics you like. Com­bine it with Twit­ter lists and you have a per­son­al­ized read­ing list. I use this every day, most­ly for blogs and news sites I like to read but don’t con­sid­er so essen­tial that I need to catch every­thing they pub­lish.
  • Ifttt​.com. A handy ser­vice named after the log­i­cal con­struct “IF This, Then That,” Ifttt will take one social feed and cross-post it to anoth­er under var­i­ous con­di­tions. For exam­ple, I have Diigo posts cross-post to Twit­ter and Flickr posts cross­post to Face­book. Some of the Ifttt “recip­ies” are behind the scenes, like the one that takes every post on Word­Press and adds it to my pri­vate Ever­note account for archival pur­pos­es.

The Public-Facing Me:

  • Word­Press (Quak​er​ran​ter​.org). The blog you’re read­ing. It orig­i­nal­ly start­ed as a Move­able Type-powered blog when that was the hip blog­ging plat­form (I’m old). A few years ago I went through a painstak­ing process to bring it over to Word­Press in such a way that its Disqus-powered com­ments would be pre­served.
  • Twit­ter. I’ve long loved Twit­ter, though like many techies I’m wor­ried about the direc­tion it’s head­ed. They’ve recent­ly locked most of the ser­vices that read Twit­ter feeds and reprocess it. If this weren’t hap­pen­ing, I’d use it as a default chan­nel for just about every­thing. In the mean­time, only about half of my tweets are direct from the ser­vice – the remain­der are auto-imports from Diigo, Insta­gram, etc.
  • Tum­blr (Quack​Quack​.org). I like Tum­blr although my site there (quack​quack​.org) gets very few direct vis­its. I most­ly use it as a “links blog” of inter­est­ing things I find in my inter­net wan­der­ings. Most items come in via Diigo, though if I have time I’ll sup­ple­ment things with my own thoughts or pic­tures. Most peo­ple prob­a­bly see this via the side­bar of the Quak­er­Ran­ter site.
  • Face­book. It may seem I post a lot on Face­book, but 95 per­cent of what goes up there is import­ed from some oth­er ser­vice. But, because more peo­ple are on Face­book than any­where else, it’s the place I get the most com­ments. I gen­er­al­ly use it to reply to com­ments and see what friends are up to. I don’t like Face­book per se because of its pater­nal­ist con­trols on what can be seen and its recent moves to force con­tent providers to pay for vis­i­bil­i­ty for their own fan pages.
  • Flickr. Once the dar­ling of pho­to sites, Flickr’s been the heart­break of the hip­ster set more times than I can remem­ber. It has a ter­ri­ble mobile app and always lags behind every oth­er ser­vice but I have over 4000 pic­tures going back to 2005. This is my pho­to archive (much more so than the fail­ing disk dri­ves on a suc­ces­sion of lap­tops).

Honorable Mentions

  • I use Foursquare all the time but I don’t think many peo­ple notice it.
  • Right now, most of my pho­tos start off with the mobile app Insta­gram, handy despite the now-tired con­ceit of its square for­mat (cute when it was the art­sy under­dog, cloy­ing now that it’s the billion-dollar main­stream ser­vice).
  • Like most of the plan­et I use Youtube for videos. I like Vimeo but Youtube is par­tic­u­lar­ly con­ve­nient when shoot­ing from a Google-based phone and it’s where the view­ers are.
  • I gave up my old cus­tom site at Mar​tinKel​ley​.com for a Fla​vors​.me account. Its flex­i­bil­i­ty lets me eas­i­ly link to the ser­vices I use.

When I write all this out it seems so com­pli­cat­ed. But the aim is con­ve­nience: a sim­ple few key­strokes that feed into ser­vices dis­sem­i­nate infor­ma­tion across a series of web pres­ences.

Lessons in Social Media from Egyptian Protesters

A few days ago the NYTimes ran a fas­ci­nat­ing ear­ly look-back at the rela­tion­ship between social media and the largely-nonviolent rev­o­lu­tion in Egypt writ­ten by David D Kirk­patrick and David E Sanger. I doubt we’ve seen the last twist and turn of this tumul­tuous time but as I write this, the world sighs relief that long­time auto­crat Hos­ni Mubarak is final­ly out. Most of the quotes and inside knowl­ege came via Ahmed Maher, a 30-year-old civ­il engi­neer and a lead­ing orga­niz­er of the April 6 Youth Move­ment, who became an activist in 2005.

Les­son One: Years in the Mak­ing

The Times starts off by point­ing out that the “blog­gers lead the way” and that the “Egypt­ian revolt was years in the mak­ing.” It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that these things don’t come out of nowhere. Blog­gers have been active for years: lead­ing, learn­ing, mak­ing mis­takes and col­lect­ing knowl­edge. Many of the first round of blog­gers were ignored and repressed. Some of them were effec­tive­ly neu­tral­ized when they were co-opted into what the Times calls “the timid, legal­ly rec­og­nized oppo­si­tion par­ties.” “What destroyed the move­ment was the old par­ties,” said one blog­ger. A les­son we might draw for that is that blog­ging isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a step­ping stone to “real activism” but is instead it’s own kind of activism. The cul­ture of blogs and main­stream move­ments are not always com­pat­i­ble.

Les­son Two: Share Your Expe­ri­ences

The Egypt­ian protests began after ones in Tunisia. The con­text was not the same: “The Tunisians faced a more per­va­sive police state than the Egyp­tians, with less lat­i­tude for blog­ging or press free­dom, but their trade unions were stronger and more inde­pen­dent.” Still, it was impor­tant to share tips: “We shared our expe­ri­ence with strikes and blog­ging,” a blog­ger recalled. Some of the tips were exceed­ing­ly prac­ti­cal (how to avert tear gas – brought lemons, onions and vine­gar, appar­ent­ly) and oth­ers more social (shar­ing tor­ture expe­ri­ences). Les­son: we all have many things to learn. It’s best to be ready for counter-tactics.

One of the inter­est­ing side­lights was how the teach­ings of Amer­i­can non­vi­o­lence strate­gist Gene Sharp made it to Cairo. A Ser­bian youth move­ment had based their rebel­lion on his tac­tics and the Egyp­tians fol­lowed their lead, with exiled orga­niz­ers set­ting up a web­site (warn­ing: annoy­ing sound) com­pil­ing Sharp’s strate­gies:

For their part, Mr. Maher and his col­leagues began read­ing about non­vi­o­lent strug­gles. They were espe­cial­ly drawn to a Ser­bian youth move­ment called Otpor, which had helped top­ple the dic­ta­tor Slo­bo­dan Milo­se­vic by draw­ing on the ideas of an Amer­i­can polit­i­cal thinker, Gene Sharp. The hall­mark of Mr. Sharp’s work is well-tailored to Mr. Mubark’s Egypt: He argues that non­vi­o­lence is a sin­gu­lar­ly effec­tive way to under­mine police states that might cite vio­lent resis­tance to jus­ti­fy repres­sion in the name of sta­bil­i­ty.

As an aside, I have to say that as a longterm peace activist, it tick­les me no end to see Gene Sharp’s ideas at the heart of the Egypt­ian protests. Amer­i­ca real­ly can export democ­ra­cy some­times!

Les­son Three: Be Relent­less in Con­fronting Lies

The Times reports that Maher “took spe­cial aim at the dis­tor­tions of the offi­cial media.” He told them that when peo­ple “dis­trust the media then you know you are not going to lose them. When the press is full of lies, social media takes on the fact check­ing role. Peo­ple turn to inde­pen­dent sources when they sense a pro­pa­gan­da machine. The cre­ator of a Face­book site was a Google mar­ket­ing exec­u­tive work­ing on his own. He filled the site We Are all Khaled Said “with video clips and news­pa­per arti­cles [and] repeat­ed­ly ham­mered home a sim­ple mes­sage.”

Les­son Four: Don’t Wait for Those Sup­posed To Do This Work

Most of this social media was cre­at­ed by stu­dents for good­ness sake and it all relied on essentially-free ser­vices. Everyone’s always thought that if Egypt were to explode it would be the dreaded-but-popular Mus­lim Broth­er­hood that would lead the charge. But they didn’t. They scram­bled not know­ing what to do as protests erupt­ed in the major cities. Even­tu­al­ly the Brotherhood’s youth wing joined the protests and the full orga­ni­za­tion fol­lowed suit but it was not the lead­ers in any of this.

When we’re talk­ing about pop­u­lar orga­ni­zat­ing, mon­ey and estab­lished cre­den­tials aren’t always an advan­tage. What’s inter­est­ing to learn with the Egypt protests is that the gen­er­a­tion lead­ing it doesn’t seem to have as strict a reli­gious world­view as its par­ents. This came out most dra­mat­i­cal­ly in the images of Chris­t­ian Egyp­tians pro­tect­ing their Mus­lim broth­ers in Tahir Square dur­ing times of prayer. This is hav­ing ram­i­fi­ca­tion in copy­cat protests in Tehran. Iran­ian lead­ers tried to paint the Egypt­ian stu­dents as heirs to their own Islam­ic rev­o­lu­tion but it seems prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions are more impor­tant than set­ting up an Islamist state (stay tuned on this one – protests have begun in Tehran on one hand and the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood might well take over from Egypt pro­test­ers now that Mubarak is out).

On a per­son­al note…

It’s inter­est­ing to watch how the three-year old Save St Mary’s cam­paign has mim­ic­ked some of the fea­tures of the Egypt­ian protests. Their blog has been pret­ty relent­less in expos­ing the lies. It’s attract­ed far more media atten­tion than the professionally-staffed Dioce­san press office has been able to muster. There’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes talk­ing with church­es in oth­er regions to com­pare tac­tics and antic­i­pate counter-moves. As far as I know it’s one of sev­en church­es nation­wide with round-the-clock vig­ils but it’s the only one with a strong social media com­po­nent. It’s aver­age age is prob­a­bly a gen­er­a­tion or two younger than the oth­er vig­ils which gives it a cer­tain frank style that’s not found else­where. The Philadel­phia Arch­dio­cese is explod­ing now with arrests of recent Dioce­san offi­cials and rev­e­la­tions from the Dis­trict Attore­ny that dozens of priests with “cred­i­ble accu­sa­tions” of pedophil­ia are still min­is­ter­ing around kids and while church clos­ings and the pedophil­ia scan­dals are not offi­cial­ly con­nect­ed, as a non-Catholic I’m fine admit­ting that they arise from a shared Dioce­san cul­ture of mon­ey and cover-ups. Again, “repeat­ing­ly ham­mer­ing home a sim­ple mes­sage” is a good strat­e­gy.