Some thoughts on ECD...
Flint Jones <email@example.com>
Fri, 27 Aug 1999 16:09:41 -0400 (EDT)
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I first wrote this last November, and I pretty much have the same opinion.
I've corrected some typos, added a bit more information, and ranted alot
more. Even if you've read it before give it another glance.
I've done quite a bit of thinking on various electornic civil
disobedience (ECD), infact to soem extent it preoccupies my thoughts in
regards to unionism in the high tech field. I'm a Wobbly, and the IWW
has a proud tradition of civil disobedience, whether that is a free speech
fight, sabotage or some other form of direct action. The question then
for those of us working to building unions with Communication and
Computer Workers (IU560) is what tactics to use and how to go about
I agree with alot of ECD. I'm just going to mention a few
examples I like:
First, micropower radio. While the technology it uses is relatively
inexpensive (A PC will probably cost more than a 20 Watt station) and low
tech... its potential as a tactics for organizing and voicing protest is
invaluable. We've seen it used in a variety of actions, and to a certain
extent seen other forms of civil disobedience (electronic and more
traditional) used to defend our use of the tactic.
But does the micropower radio movement participate in Denile of Service?
Very few radio pirates can even afford the equipment neccessary to block
the transmission of other radio stations. Many would regard such an
action no matter how repugnant the mssage of that station is to us
(racist, sexist, statist, capitalists, etc...) as censorship and not
something were interested in. It takes a great deal more effort to
suppress voices, than to find your own.
The Free Radio movement IS Direct Action. No influencing the governement
by staging a sit in to change its policy... rather were influencing the
government to change its policy by acting in a massive manner against the
policy. You don't sit in at the Congress for an 8 hour day, you take
the 8 hour day at work... and Congress will talk about legalizing it if
enough folks are already enforcing it. In this matter, governement can be
largely a reactive force.
Now the FCC has gotten lots of pressure by people using legal means to
diversify Radio. The National Lawyers Guild, various grassroots groups,
all the people filling comments in favor of LPFM... all help the cause.
But the FCC would not even be considering going up against the NAB
(probably the most *influential* lobby in the US with their control of
Media) unless their was a political movement forcing them to address us
through direct action. Ofcourse, petitions, demonstrations, letters all
help. But its Direct Action that forces the FCC to have to take action,
spend resources, go to court to shut us down. Its the direct action that
drains their resources and gives them bad press. "Look, there the FCC
goes again, shutting down the only radio station in a small town."
And, as far as ECD goes, Micropower involves alot of people. People who
are often radicalized by their participation. Locally, we guess even to
have just evening programming every day of the week, were going to have to
have atleast 70 people... probably more like over a 100. If we went full
time 24-7 our volunteer staff would have to be huge... and many of them
coming from already active parts in their communities. And every
listener becomes a supporter. It involves alot of people who otherwise
wouldn't concern themselves with technology, and makes alot of
connectino between individuals and groups through their collective
participation in the station. It has such power for democratizing mass
Its also a nice direct attack on the idea of "property", or even the
Governement's "right" to distribute it "on behalf" of the people.
Hacktivism, which I'm distinguising the tactics of the Electronic
Theater(EDT), also provides a manner of exposure and communication. While
the hacker may have distorted, deleted or vandalized the targets webpage
for example... usually a page describing the action and why it was taken
is put in the place. I believe someone made reference earlier to spray
painting a billboard. This is quite similar, quite illegal, and quite
effective. Its also been used in a variety of campaigns, ranging from
political prisoner support (Free Kevin Mitnick!) to concerns for human
rights in in China, Mexico and East Timor, to calling into question the
security of Nuclear weapons development in India, to agitprop stabs at
political parties and corporations.
And then, there is a wide variety of hacktivism involved with liberating
information. Like the forementioned Indian nuclear weapons hack.
Corporations and governements all have information they would rather not
let the public know. Gathering this intelligence and making it available
to the public could help avoid many tragedies. Sometimes, it might be
just being able to shift through the huge amounts of data that is
available in the net, turning it into information and then knowledge.
Alot can be gained by what our enemies will say about themselves,
sometimes a third party... like say a government agency makes the
information available; if your going after a publically-traded corporation
its always good to check the Security Exchange Commission (sec.gov) and
investor information sites. However, we need to be building our own
repository of information and have it organized to meet our names... for
example: If I'm going up against McDonald's... I've got religous check
McSpotlight (http://www.mcspotlight.org), and McSpotlight wouldn't be the
resource it is without on the street pamphleting, taking their right to
distribute information through the courts against Slander and Libel and
throught the corporate media. McDonald's built McSpotlight by their own
desire to crush negative criticism. We've got to develop ways to group
all this information together, to allow maximum participation but filter
out the trollers and agent provoctuers... kind of like the way
slashdot.org handles news; A-infos, DAMN, IWW-NEWS is limited as
information source because of the seperation between news and discussion.
We also need to be looking at a tool that will allow us to store and
retrieve encrypted data in a redundant, distributed manner. An opt in
program for secure backups. Basically a service people can use to store
their data and draw it back anonymously, perhaps with people volunteering
storage space like they would volunteer spare processing for Seti@home.
Forget the mythical offshore secure data haven or satellite storage... we
must be as fishes in the sea. Just like how encrypted email would be more
secure, if everyone used it.
We also need to work at better integrating our projects. I ought to be
able to get a live feed over the net of every micropower radio station.
Those radio stations should be distributing more news gathered over the
net. All of this needs to be tied into our communites and
internationally. We need to continue to enhance and improve our
communication, but not get drowned in the information flood... and be as
resistant as possible to Denial of Service attacks from our enemies. If
EDT shutsdown the public website of the Mexican government, its an
embarrassment, but hasn't stopped the functioning of the government. If
the Mexican government has the U.S. Marshall sieze floodnet's servers and
imprison its coders and promoters... they've done alot to stop the
functioning of the EDT.
Hacktivism is dangerous, and to some extent requries a high degree of
proficency in technical skill. Does this make them a high-tech vanguard
or a group of activists fighting the best way the know how? I think this
is a debate that is yet to be had. Knowing the rather independent spirit
most hackers have, I don't think others will be able to stop them except
by personally disuading them.
Now, I have some problems with floodnet and the tactics of the Electronic
Disturbance Theater. They may achieve their goal and force a website to
crash from repreated queries for information. Those you were attacking
knows who you are, and perhaps why you were doing it... but interms of
communicating with the wider public... what have you done?
Maybe there is a use in using EDT tactics to finanically injure a
corporations. After all, if people can't pull up their website... they
can't sell their product of advertise... but most commercial sites for
corporations that are responsible for serious abuse of human rights and
the like have some of the best security staff who have been resisting
Denial of Service Attacks for years... and , an example, Microsoft would
probably be able to asorb anything EDT could throw at it with their
current tactics. Hacktivism would be much more successful.
The relative ease in which someone engaging in floodnet could be found
also makes it a bit questionable. Is it voicing protest if noone can hear
you? Many of the people were opposing already know what they are doing is
wrong, and they know that we know. But protests is more about generating
support from the public who would otherwise be unaware.
Still, doing a few clicks of the mouse for a good cause is better than
nothing. But I think we can expect more from people. And I think there
are many ECD tatics that have a much greater potential to radicalize their
Sabotage, and I mean hear the concious withdraw of efficency by workers at
work. Usually tied to some demand to improve their wages or working
conditions. I'm a big fan of this, and we are finally seeing it in anECD
version. Workers at GMD First were bitter that still for several years
the wages of those in the former GDR (east germany) territory of the
company were still lower than their fellow workers. In protests, they
came up with a logical solution, if they are payed 13.5% less than their
fellow workers, then the company will get 13.5% less work. Only 86.5% of
each and every web page was left intact, the blinking red dollar signs in
the text made it all illegible. They also added infomation on their
struggle to every page. After this action, the employer agreed to begin
negotiations as well as to equal pay at all institutes in eastern and
western Germany. There was denial of services here as well, but
communication as well... further the services being denied were denied by
those providing the service, the workers. It was basically the ECD
equivelant to a strike and picket.
Now there is probably more potential in organizing tech workers into a
militant union than all the rest of hacktivism put together. The Critical
Art Ensemble is correct in their critique that power is not as wrapped up
in the Streets or the Halls of Power but has instead retreated to
Cyberspace... retreated probably isn't the best word, maybe explored it as
a faster route to move capital between their vaults and their colonies.
In many ways they are less dependent upon local infrastructure or a small
group of transporters... unionism tied to closely to localities or
individual trades is easily destroyed by the trans-national flight of
capital. Just as always, we need an International... our resistance must
be more global than their oppression! And we have access to some of the
tools to communicate that, but we need to take the fight into the very
medium they use to control us. Insurrections used to begin with the
almost cermonial burning of the property deeds of the land lords and tax
records of the government... that information is now digitized, backed up,
archived, encrypted, printed, distributed, and processed (The
Catonsville Nine would have to be Hackers now)... by people who
largely have little interest in maintaining the current power
relationships of society... but great interest in improving their own
lives beyond simple "bread and butter" issues. I'm talking about Time,
control over production, Open Source, autonomy... things the Corporations
only grudgingly give up because of how much they need the information
By organizing tech workers to improve their own situation, thought direct
action tactics... Solidarity will become quite important to their success.
Solidarity builds on solidarity. Alliances and respect grow and flower.
Resistance with hope grows. Strike for yourselves, strike for others. An
easy step in sympathy strike would be industrial... for System Admins and
Programmers to support the workers in the factories that make all this
hardware, many who are some of the most exploited workers with dismal
wages and dangerous conditions (Clean rooms, ha! Clean for the chips,
not for those who work in them).
And a radicalized union also engages in strikes against larger "political"
issues. The historical precedent for this are remarkable. Strikes
against War, strikes to free political prisoners, strikes to change
industry wide conditions (even society wide). Tech workers are in an
amazingly strategic position. The General Strike, if ever to be
ultimately successful must include Computer and Communication Workers.
And when I'm talking General Strike, its not just the "selective withdraw
of efficency" and "walking off the job"... its going back to work, and
running things how we would like to see them run. Building a new society
in the Shell of the old, Joe Hill as the Ghost in the Shell. The System
Admistrations of Things, not the Government of People.
We've got to build the union on an industrial basis, not tied to any
particular trade (could you imagine seperate unions for C++ programmers,
from Perl Mongers, to Sys Admins, to Websmiths? bah). And tie tech
workers who are isolated in their their trade to their industry, like say
a tech worker who does the database work for a Retail company; he should
be organizing with others in the Retail company... not neccessarily with
DBAs over at the Auto factory. These divisions, shouldn't be seen as
barriers... but rather as tactical focus; work where you can get the most
We have at our fingertips the potential to completely rearrange the
economy. If the indication of how programmers want to have an economy in
their own industry (Open Souce) as not only being more efficent but the
correct way to do things, a natural growth would be the extension of
gift-culture in place of market into the rest of the economy. If
"intellectual property" has been rendred obsolete, then can physical
property be that far away? Capitalists claim to own the land and even the
air... where Free Radio is challenging the FCC and NAB over who really
controls the air. The agrarian populists militas and factory occupiers
might need a bit of tech help in taking on the Land Lords. Eventually, we
will come head to head against the finanicial illusion our entire society
is built around that robs from everyone to support the 1% of population
that is destroying this planet, destroying people and destroying hope.
I don't know if any of us are prepared for the ramifications of what it is
we are doing. I just know we don't have too much of a choice about it.
All the Vulture Capitalists and Marketing Weasels tell me in the trade
mags that were expeirencing an Information Revolution... I say, lets hold
them to it.
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