Myspace and Immigration protests

For a project I'm working on, I have to see a lot of Black Panther veterans telling their political histories and debating a complicated and conflicting set of analyses on what went wrong with the party/parties. But they all agree about one thing: before they ever were part of the party, when they heard about Bobby Seale going to the California Legislature with guns, they knew what they had been waiting for and the beginning of a huge international phenomenon began. Not to fall victim to hyperbole, but a similar moment may have just happened and committed activists have to take note.

Television has been a danger since the beginning. The devil box offered a silver lining: we might just be able to slip a insurgent message (and invitation) through the signal into homes everywhere. Malcolm got it and so did Abbie Hoffman. With the onset of video games, the idiot box got stupider. Now the message was written out in code long before anyone ever saw it - no live camera to sneak behind, no producer fiending to fill his daily hour with content. And then the internet. The potential is pronounced. Indymedia, and the like, became the new way to broadcast upcoming protests. But it is also, in many ways, an anonymous cave that doesn't involve relationship with known characters. Great information sources, like ZMAG and (cough) History Is A Weapon (cough), offer the educational material, but haven't figured out how to assist in outdoor struggle and community building. Meanwhile, the new kids are increasingly plugging in, cell phones, Crackberry, and online social networking.

Briefly, there was a moment where we heard the rumble of flash mobs. Numerous people would sign up for an anonymous call to action: everybody shows up somewhere and does something. Yippee. This transformed a little bit with smart mobs, but the whole thing fizzled (so far....), especially after business owners figured it was easy to co-opt a crowd to their store by simply targeting themselves as the site of the insta-mob. I don't think we've seen the last of this kind of thing, but throughout it all, we've seen the growth of these enormous social networking systems. Friendster, myspace, black planet.

This post won't be the site of yet another deploring of the absence of our democratic common space. We can only decry the mall for so long. Yes, faux news and all the other corporate propagande is bad. But we can't simply whine, we have to ask ourselves, what are we, activists committed to changing the world, really here to do? What do we need? Where are we headed? How do we get there? These are simple questions with complicated answers.

We know that, despite that stupid bumpersticker about how (read in a whiny voice) "never doubt that a small group of people can change the world because, pat yourself on the back for shopping at the food co-op, we are the only ones who ever have" (end whiny voice). Change requires movements. Of course, bluffing for power is part of it and every powder keg needs just a short fuse, but masses and masses of people need to be actively involved, not just to stop the war or to end sweatshops or to get rid of nuclear plants, but to end this vile system that requires war and poverty and doesn't give a damn if a twelve year old made your shirt or if we're just planting future chernobyls. And where are the people?

Online, and talking to each other, and listing that their favorite books include the Autiobiography of Malcolm X, Howard Zinn's A People's history, and they love the coup. And now the Left has been given a gift. News reports keep repeating that the immigration protests rocking the country have been organized, in part, by kids on myspace. Kids who know each other are talking to each other and, this is where it gets crazy, turning off the computer and going outside to protest.

As of yet, the internet has allowed us to broadcast the protest (to the lonesome crowd) and to put out education. Now, the same tools that are in a hundred million homes to sell us american idol cds and other junkity-junk, may have finally crossed over into something else.

Why is this different than the imc and the sites like The people who go to Indymedia and are people seeking out the tools whereas the immigration protests were organized, in part, within non-activist web space. There are two things to note here and then I'll stop. First, that the successful organizing was only partially organized online. I'm sure numerous people hours were spent in meetings, putting up fliers, scheduling, getting permits, etc. But even if the online site is only a publicizing and sharing space to bring out new people, this is still an important development.

Second, where is the conversation about how political heads tap into these kinds of networks in a productive way? I'm not saying this conversation isn't happening, but I've been looking and drawing some blanks. We know that the enemy is having similar conversations about the Pandora's box dangers of the internet vis-a-vis the educating and coordinating potential, usually under the banner of "terrorism." I'm curious about the directions to pursue. I know that in Livejournal, people often viral around quizzes and there are whole web pages dedicated to hosting the code for various quizzes that people wish to display. Is there a similar way we could spread the info about local/regional or issue specific causes? This is just one example, but a jpeg or GIF file hosted in a central location (like c.a.) that people would always display on their myspace or livejournal pages. The dimensions would be uniform, but we could update with meetings/events/such? Another thing I have seen is Livejournal dislikes. Livejournal allows people to post what they like so they can see who shares their likes, but somebody made a parasite page that makes dislikes. Are their similar ways we can plug "activist" code into people's web pages so that they have a way to plug their activism into their online space? As opposed to online ads, it would be like the music videos and pictures people post on their profiles to express themselves?

Anyway, this is my first post on this. Apologies for any hyperbole and I have to get back to work. I'll sign off with a Black Panther maxim: Use what you have to get what you need.