As I write this response to Gabriella Coleman’s fascinating work on the hacker communities that develop Free and Open Source Software, and engage with the question of the political role of such collectives, Edward Snowdon has become the latest protagonist in a protracted and deep struggle for “information freedom” to surface into the public consciousness.
Whilst the cases differ, the underlying sensibilities—and logics—of these various social actors overlap. As Coleman begins to explore, strong ethical commitments to a liberalism based upon freedom of speech and citizens’ right to privacy underpin a core element of these various collectives of “information activists” who are responding to a range of corporate and state violations of such values during an era of unprecedented, and expanding, rates of production and distribution of data and information. Continue reading
At the Working-Class Studies conference last weekend, I heard an amazing dialogue about class, race and movement-building by five progressive journalists and activist scholars: Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now!, Frances Fox Piven, Bill Fletcher Jr. of Blackcommentator.com, and former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert of Demos, with conference organizer Michael Zweig, author of The Working Class Majority moderating.
I was struck by how openly they disagreed with each other in front of us 200 listeners, by how passionate all five of them are about creating a more just society, and by what vast depth of experience they brought to the panel. Here are some highlights: Continue reading
Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America, by Barbara Jensen. Cornell Press, 2012.
And unlike most things I’ve read about kids disengaged from school, which focus on their deficits and fret about their life chances, Jensen, a counseling psychologist who has long worked with such kids, celebrates the working-class cultural strengths that motivate some of them, even as she is realistic about their struggles.
Reading this wise and evocative book through my own lens of wanting to organize progressive social movements, I saw that the working-class cultural traits she describes are some of the essentials of movement-building.
“If there’s no rebel energy, there’s no movement,” the late working-class activist Bill Moyer wrote in Doing Democracy. He didn’t mean violent rebellion or randomly scattered rage, but strategically targeted rebellion against unjust power-holders. Tame tactics would never make social change. Looking around at the devastation in the U.S. economy and environment, it’s clear that too many of us are taking terrible injustices sitting down. We have a society-wide shortage of rebel energy, as Bruce Levine. Continue reading
The same week that Steven Colbert pretended to mock Occupy Wall Street’s hand signals, I saw them used at an Occupy Boston General Assembly, and my Social Movements class studied the pitfalls of too much and too little “movement culture” – quite a serendipity!
Using the six measures of degrees of movement culture that my students learned from John Lofland’s article, the Occupy movement’s group process seems to be on the far end of the movement-culture spectrum: 1) there seems to be widespread agreement about it; 2) it’s quite distinct, different from the wider culture; 3) its scope reaches into every part of occupiers’ lives together; the consensus rules, including hand signals, are 4) numerous in quantity and 5) have a lot of complexity; and 6) they are very expressive of the protestors’ values and visions. Continue reading
Identifying as “the 99%” is sure to appeal to a diverse group, but the Occupy Wall Street movement has been dogged by issues of diversity. “Occupy Wall Street is a men’s movement,” blasts a recent brochure from feminist blog RadFem-HUB. Women’s interests are being pushed aside, it declares, and men are assuming positions of power. Chauncey DeVega says he is “concerned that white group interests, white experiences, white politics, white understandings of the good life, white history, white humanity, and white concerns, remain normalized by OWS” (also see Tim Wise on the Rachel Maddow Show). Still others report, “On multiple occasions, we have witnessed the exclusion of trans people from spaces and groups affiliated with Occupations…We have also encountered transphobic hate speech within the movement. This must not be allowed to continue.” Continue reading