Electronic Activism Revisited:
The Future is (Almost) Here

Media is Information
Information is Power
Power to the People

With this activist mantra, a series of online projects were launched at the dawn of the 1990s on the heels of the 1989 assassination by the Washington-sponsored Salvadoran military of six Jesuit priests, their cook, and her daughter.

Electronic Activism was the term I coined, in analogy with "electronic mail", both specifically for the techniques we created, adapted, or adopted for these projects, and more generally for any type of activism which was fundamentally internet-based.

An article I wrote in late 1992 by that very name, Electronic Activism, details how in 1990 a nationwide action was conceived, organized, and in part carried out using the internet.

That article and its 1993 successor, Electronic Activism: II, had a secondary role, namely that of reference manuals for activists, "how-to" tutorials on using everything from using email and using online mailing lists -- at the "lower end" of sophistication even in 1990, but largely unknown in activist circles at the time -- to sophisticated tools available to many college students which allow for labor-saving automation via harnessing the power of universities' unix server systems.

On a third level, however, these articles were meant to serve as a Call to Action: "Powerful tools are now available: learn to use them, and activism and the Common Good can gain significant benefits; Learn to use then, or you will leave these powerful tools to be exploited only by the mainstream, by the right-wing, and by Corporate America"

Those who are curious to learn about the activist projects which started in 1990 (including misc.activism.progressive which is still alive and kicking in 2000) are invited to read the next section. For those who are not as history oriented, it is my hope that the fact that I have been compelled to write a third "Electronic Activism" article now in 2000, seven years since the last one, will be motivation enough, and will provide at least suggestive evidence that the time to Seize the Day is very much upon us in 2000. Such readers, then, are free to skip ahead to "Thought Experiment".

Pre-History: A Birth for Electronic Activism

The article I wrote in late 1992 by that very name, Electronic Activism, details how in 1990 an internet-organized Petition to the U.S. Senate and national media across the country which I organized in protest of the 1989 assassinations, gave birth by the spring of 1990 to the internet-based Activists Mailing List (AML), which I started as a followup list for those who had participated.

With the crucial initiative of Rich Winkel in Missouri, AML was transformed into the more automated ACTIV-L mailing list which quickly grew to over a thousand subscribers by the fall of 1990; the success of ACTIV-L in turn led to the creation of the a first moderated, progressive worldwide board of announcements (on "UseNet"), which at the time of writing enjoyed 12,000 subscribers, and which eventually grew to over 50,000 readers, more than any left/progressive periodical other than the weekly Nation magazine (our news stories were daily). [reference to: (news:misc.activism.progressive)]

Many of the techniques detailed in that article and its 1993 successor Electronic Activism II are much more familiar today: electronic mail; electronic mailing lists; internet discussion boards; and the storage and retrieval of files. As elsewhere, however, much of "electronic activism" concerns most of all, how to help organize people into collective action. Most of those methods are familiar today, and some are ubiquitous, although some unix-based techniques for labor-saving automation detailed in part II are still not in widespread use today. Electronic Activism was itself widely circulated via the internet, including being translated, without being prompted, into Spanish (and parts into Dutch) by volunteers, and reached such people as John young, Senior Researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, and PeaceNet's president Josefina Velasquez.

In 1994 a web page was created for our online announcement board -- which for technical reasons had an abbreviated "miscellaneous" in its name name, and was called "misc.activism.progressive", but was more affectionately known by the acronym MAP. The web page was of course named WebMap (had I had the foresight to reserve the domain name www.webmap.com...) (give URL...), and in 1995 I taught an online course, Electronic Activism on the Internet for two semesters via LOLU, the Left Online University of Z magazine, and feeling very honored indeed to be among fellow inaugural faculty as Noam Chomsky and Stephen Shalom (who taught a course on U.S. Foreign Policy) and Howard Zinn (whose course A People's History of the United Stated was named after his best-selling and widely used book). In the intervening half-decade, the internet and the web have expanded dramatically. The technology available in the year 2000 significantly expands the range of possibilities, and the technologies which are likely to be in widespread use by 2005 will even more fundamentally change the nature of what is possible in grassroots activism generally, and in media activism specifically.

Indeed, if we are willing to "seize the day" -- as we surely must if the future course of destruction which global corporate capitalism has in store for us -- the historical point may well have been reached by 2010 in which control over media is finally in the hands of the people, rather than under monopolistic control by corporate capital alone. No longer need we muse with bitter irony that "the 'freedom of the press' belongs only to those who own one".

Before fast-forwarding in time to the present, let us consider one more element from 1990, however.

A Thought Experiment

Suppose I were to tell told you that something else happened in 1990: that I had had an incredibly fortuitous opportunity to speak with Bill Gates in 1990, and a very rare chance to speak with him about funding progressive activist projects -- an opportunity which, owing to the unique circumstances that need not be detailed here, was much more likely to be met with success than what otherwise might be expected when asking a rich capitalist to fund progressive causes.

Well, believe it or not, Gates was game -- with one catch. The radical critique of society had its compelling elements, but if what I was saying was true, and the alternative institutions really possible, it should be easy to persuade the masses; it should be easy to convince the public. Thus, no massive funding of an infinite string of activist projects was necessary; if the left/progressive movement was right, it should suffice to give it a fair hearing.

With this, Gates proceeded to outline what he would agree to fund: a group of TV stations whose broadcast reach was most of the United States! And a similar network of radio stations. The buildings, infrastructure, equipment, etc, of not one but many broadcast TV and radio stations -- at and beyond the Wildest Dreams of any left/progressive media activist!

"Be careful of what you wish for; you might get it.
--Ancient folk saying

In fact, the fictitious Bill Gates scenario above is not so fictitious.

The reality, today, is that realization of all of this -- of the "Wildest Dreams" of media activists to be able to broadcast TV and radio to millions -- is has been to a significant extent fulfilled. Furthermore, in the relatively near future, the "wildest dreams" will in crucial respects not merely be fully fulfilled, but surpassed.

The thought experiment is very worthwhile to carry out today: if you were granted in such a 1990 meeting with Bill Gates an entire network of TV stations, what would you do next?. This question is not only worthwhile, but pressing; while five years seems very long term in the fast-paced world of technology which touts "newer and faster" chips every half year, in terms of nationwide and indeed worldwide activist organizing, five years are a very short time indeed.

The struggle for media democratization is one which can, if we meet its challenges, be made to move to a higher plane: from attempting to gain media access, to owning and controlling a very significant media presence,and asking ourselves: how do we best use it?

Indeed, a recurring theme in the history of struggle for a more just world is that while these struggles have their ups and downs, the trend over the long run is often positive, with today's struggles being on a higher plane then those of yesterday [FOOTNOTES: "In the advanced industrial countries, and often elsewhere too, popular struggles can start from a higher plane and with greater expectations than those of the Gay '90s and Roaring '20s, or even 30 years ago" Noam Chomsky, in http://www.usp.br/iea/textos.html and "People are now fighting to preserve workers rights and Social Security and medical support and some sort of health program and so on. People are now fighting to preserve these things. Well they were not there not long ago", Noam Chomsky in http://www.shareworld.com/chomsky/rage/rageQA.html]

Y2K: A snapshot of "The Dream" in the year 2000

For a middle-class American today [FOOTNOTE: Insofar as how readers from "The Future" might judge this article, I would be far less concerned with how quasi-predictions about technology will pan out (as noted, the thrust of this article is not precise technical predictions, but to point out and highlight trends and potentialities which could be exploited by activists for the cause of justice) than giving a future reader the impression that the horrifying plight of those in the so-called Third World and the "third world at home" in the U.S. did not enter my radar screen. [add here why, goals of this article, etc...] ] owning a personal computer and being able to afford the $19 or so per month for an internet connection, internet-based radio (audio) and even video programming is within reach, and the comparatively modest but emerging list of sources of left/progressive programming is not so modest [FOOTNOTE: a listing of a dozen or so of the main ones is at: http://webmap.missouri.edu/progradio.html You can also receive ratio stations which are built in to a virtual "tuner" by downloading and using RealPlayer as well as other internet radio stations via another virtual tuner, see Radio Destiny ]

A significant obstacle to the use of the internet towards the realization of the goal of democratizing media control and access is what has been termed the World Wide Wait. The slow speed at which information can be delivered into your home is due primarily to the limitations of your modem speed, and to the limitations resulting from the ability of a "server" -- the one from which you are trying to get your audio/video feed -- to simultaneously feed its information stream to a very large number of simultaneous listeners or viewers. The good news is that these obstacles, while significant are well on their way to being addressed.

"The Future is (Almost) Here": the World in 2005.

First, a quick disclaimer before presenting the promised, dazzling snapshot of the future: the year I chose, 2005, is in many ways arbitrary. A wise fool saying states that: "predictions are very hard to make -- and especially hard when they are about the future". Certainly, I do not pretend to have the capability to predict with any precision what will come by the year 2005 as opposed to 2004 or 2006. In fact, however, it is not merely my telescope into the future whose lenses are fuzzy; the 'reality' itself will be fuzzy. In other words, not only will any given set of predictions likely over-shoot here, and under-estimate there, but the world itself in 2005 will be a very diverse (heterogeneous) place. centric


That being said, a (brief) outline of what is to come reveals that technology will not be a major obstacle to media democratization. One factor which, for an increasing number of people, will help bring the World Wide Wait to an endare several technologies each of which promise to vastly increase the internet connection speed available to your home. These technologies are collectively referred to as "broadband"... [FOOTNOTES/REFERENCES: Cable modems

That being said, a reasonable, overall picture of 2005 can be given (acknowledging again the fuzzy nature of anything we view through our temporal telescope) just as we were able to outline the state of technology in today's world of the year 2000.
only is it hard to predict exactly, but also, at any given date, things will differ, not only among countries (footnote on not "ignoring" the 3rd world, but this is a first-world-centric and even USA-centric article b/c...and we need to activist...so we can help others as well as ourselves achieve a better world..)]

The purpose of this article isn't details...see footnotes.. The purpose is to give an overview, with an eye to things activists can exploit for facilitating positive change in society, and in particular, making and nd expanding progressive media and the democratization of the media more generally.

As a thought experiment, suppose most everyone had broadband today. What obstacles?...

including: Broadband ; in your car; Homelessness-marathon: can't be in kitchen: portable: clip on your belt, or on your watch ...and you talk to it to tell it what station..this and more..the ultimate internet radio; for video...similar..

In short...everywhere... So, if as a thought experiment we had all of these, then what more would we want?

It would be only the very beginning. The key things:

KEY SECTIONS: the need for a massive national/international mobilization for preparing; the need for three main things: need

  1. creating programming!
  2. getting/convincing the public to listen/watch!
  3. funding! One idea is a progressive and/or nonprofit alternative to DoubleClick.com, let's call it PSA.org (for "public service announcements") [FOOTNOTE: psa.org is taken already (appropriately enough, by the Paralysis Society of America, but the name is just for illustrative purposes)] PSA would be a network in which your web site could choose to participate. If you decide to participate, you are deciding that although you don't want any commercial advertisements on your page, you are willing to have ads for nonprofits -- say the Red Cross, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, perhaps Amnesty or Oxfam, and so forth -- appear on your page.

    These are organizations which already spend money on noncommercial advertising. Whether they would be the only beneficiaries or whether your web site would get a percent is one question. Another is what revenue PSA would receive, but it could be a nonprofit set up by member nonprofit advertisers, for example. Or, consider another such network with "nonprofits" replaced by "progressive causes". Think of Greenpeace, Public Citizen, the Feminist Majority, and so forth.

    Furthermore, since this network would be designed for and by progressives, we can transcend the traditional paradigm and allow you, the web host, to have more control. You could fill out a web form in which the areas ("environment", "economic democracy", "justice" etc) you wish to accept progressive links/ads for are displayed for you to choose from, or even a list of organizations so you could choose which ones you are wiling to have included, rather than a random choice made at some central location without your input being the basis for which link/ad is displayed.

    Such a network could serve to both partially fund your radio/video web site, and to fund worthy causes, with a very high level of control over which ads, from whom, and how "loud" (or "soft") the ads (or even mere links) are. The author is not under the impression that even ads from nonprofits or even from left/progressive organizations do not have a significant potential for affecting content. However the corrupting effect is far less than that of traditional advertising (it could even be made "blind" so Greenpeace does not know your content and thus whether it wishes to continue advertising with you; the central nonprofit network of progressive ads alone would know). Furthermore, it is offered here as but one possible source of funding, and one which uses the online medium and technology.

For II -- (1)listen to Christian-right-wing radio...
(listen to it (a) to get ideas of what works...(we need
to address what people need TODAY (including emotional/spiritual
(meaning:... not  religious) needs) and (b)a few
points here about what does NOT transfer over to us
and (C) if nothing else, it should motivate you to take advantage of
this; if you dont', Jerry Falwell and his type will go right ahead
and do it. Don't believe it? Look at how much they've done with
"Regular" radio already! 

for III: cross-marketing/alliances; .. ; ... II/III links: .. ; .. for I -- continue as we are now..only need to massively expand capacity; via III and the via networking involved in II/III, those should help ** THE BABY AND THE BATH-WATER -- techno-philes and razzle dazzle is bad, but...be open to possibilities for subverting the dominant view about and uses of.. and seek uses which... ** going from tools to applications is good...and sometimes a necessary frame of mind. (NC on science is opportunistic..)..but it' is also useful, and even crucial to spend some time going in the opposite direction; go from applications to tools. That is, try to look at what the Big Picture is...what need to be done? What would be helpful to have achieved? A vision... (DNA computing is universal turning, state this??) and then look for ways of using the set of tools. If the set of tools is complex enough, then it's easier to go from applications to tools, since there will (not always but more often) be a way of using the tools to achieve... ********************************************************************** http://webmap.missouri.edu/ea-map.html EA-I, EA-II, praise/quotes, PACH-I, PACH-II ********************************************************************** warning on dangers: http://www.progressive.org/auf002.htm by my article is Carpe Diem -- positive things we can do to subvert the techno-capitalist dominant paradigm. http://cnn.com/2000/TECH/computing/03/23/dig.tv.download.idg/index.html the release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one. [From "Atomic War or Peace," Atlantic Monthly, November 1945, cited in The Quotable Einstein, p.125] The unleashing of [the] power of the atom has changed everything but our modes of thinking and thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophes [Quoted in the New York Times Magazine, August 2, 1964, cited p. 131 in the Quotable] Progressive Networks: they host webactive.com they (still?) parent of RealPlayer...which has CHANNELS... Cable Modem, Telewest: http://news2.thls.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/business/newsid_687000/687899.stm Subject: gizmoz (4 shifting) http://cnnfn.com/2000/03/28/companies/gizmoz/ Subject: which broadband tech (for shifting..NO! for Revisited http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_696000/696138.stm Subject: KC(4)"shifting" in synergy w/the other projects and goals is the goal of making a + difference in people 's (both "Activist" and "mainstream") lives _now_, ...their lives are difficult w/out daycare, with more than 40 hours of work, etc etc etc examples.. ------------------------------------------------------------ ********************************************************************** (1) http://cnnfn.com/2000/01/09/home_auto/autoshow/ in 2(!) to 3 years almost all Ford card: voice activated internet access ********************************************************************** (2) http://cnnfn.com/2000/01/28/technology/wires/internet_wg/ Fast net access rising. By end of 1999, 1.4M residential subscribers; By end of 2000: 3.3M, by end of 2004, 16.6M. Also, by end of 2000 41% of households will have access to cable modems, so if prices go down, ... ********************************************************************** ---------------------------------------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------------------------ http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/americas/newsid_712000/712869.stm "The Revolution Will be Webcast" 4/14/00