Sports, Politics and Resistance

Tommie Smith was the winner of the 200-meter dash at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico. His teammate John Carlos came third.


“The two American athletes received their medals shoeless, but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty…” Both the americans and the silver medalist wore Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges. “Carlos had forgotten his black gloves, but Norman suggested that they share Smith’s pair, with Smith wearing the right glove and Carlos the left. When “The Star-Spangled Banner” played, Smith and Carlos delivered the salute with heads bowed, a gesture which became front page news around the world. As they left the podium they were booed by the crowd.” Wikipedia

This is a classic image in symbolic resistance which has been an inspiration to all those who struggle.

The coming Chinese Olympics have already been the target of political campaigns. The Chinese civil rights record is a natural target for acts of civil disobedience – whether symbolic or not.

In order to prevent any such things the British Olympic chiefs are going to force athletes to sign a contract promising not to speak out about China’s appalling human rights record – or face being banned from traveling to Beijing. (Daily Mail)

OK, so maybe there cannot be any official positions taken from the participating countries but to prevent individuals from protesting is going to far. The Chinese naturally see the Olympics as a perfect opportunity to present their position and of course this has not gone unopposed – for example AOL video, RSF, and Yahoo.

Resistance Technology Seminar

On Thursday next week (14/2) I will be holding a seminar on technology and resistance. The goal of this seminar is to develop my material which will be included as a book chapter in an upcoming work. Here is an abstract:

The purpose of this chapter is to look at the ways in which technology can be used in civil disobedience. The chapter will analyze the legal weaknesses faced by those wishing to conduct acts of civil disobedience using the Internet as a communications infrastructure. This approach is often referred to as functional equivalence and this chapter will address the following questions. What is functional equivalence? What obstacles are faced by disobedience online? Is the Internet failing as an infrastructure of democratic disobedience?

The background material for the seminar is available here. It is based upon my thesis which is available online from here.

Time: 15.15-17.00 (we usually go get a beer afterwards)
Place: the Annedalsseminariet, Konstepidemins väg 2, room 325

Web2.0 & Resistance

It is easy to recognize the potential social benefits of web2.0 networking sites. This may be why when they are flooded with pointless, time-consuming trivia the frustration of some is quick to rise to the surface.

This is why, despite (or maybe because of) widespread popularity people tend to question (I have written here) the value of Facebook and other sites, for example Hodgkinson of the Guardian, have argued eloquently against it on a wide range of arguments.

And yet occasionally it is interesting to see that the organizational potential of these site are put to a use beyond the goal of replacing quality with quantity, deep friendship with networks.

The idea of the protests against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, was born less than a month ago on the social networking Web site Facebook, and more than 100,000 people in 165 cities around the world confirmed their participation. (CNN)

Their are many stories told of the utility of social networking sites and some of them are bound to be true. And yet it is difficult to keep from becoming cynical. An apocryphal tale I heard recently was about a conversation between two young adults overheard on a bus:

First young adult: I have joined Amnesty.

Second young adult: Thats great! Is that a cause or a group*

* If this makes no sense to you then you are probably not on Facebook

Steal This Film II

Copyright never was what it used to be and the struggle to define the purpose and limits over the protection of intellectual property (or indeed the idea of intellectual property) continues daily.

One example of the ongoing debate is an op-ed in the Swedish paper Expressen a group of Swedish politicians called for the legalization of file sharing. One of the politicians was a police officer. But this is more an example of the exception than the rule.

The real attempt to draw the lines that may limit copyright occur every day and are defined in the way in which we all collectively use our technology. The act of file sharing by an individual is, in of itself, an unimportant act. Taken collectively file sharing is a massive active form of resistance and a re-interpretation of the the general consciousness of justice, right, wrong & morality.

Another important position is taken by those who actively comment and interpret the acts of all those involved in the re-definition of copyright. An important contribution to this is the film Steal this Film II. It features scholars such as Yochai Benkler, Felix Stalder, Siva Vaidhyanathan, and Howard Rheingold and portrays file sharing and the copyright debate as a historical development in the urge to regulate the spread of information.

Over at the Industrial IT Group blog Jonny has written a very good analysis of the importance of the film. Watch the movie, read the analysis and get involved in the most interesting re-defition of law in our time. 

Theories, Movement & Collected Stories

James Boyle has just given an excellent presentation on what the environmental movement did right. He points to the right mix of theory, movements and the collection of stories in the creation of the concept of the environment. The environment as a concept did not exist prior to its creation, establishment and acceptance in the wider public.

What he means is that the movement to protect public domain and develop creative commons requires more than the creation of licenses and preaching to the choir. The theory is required as a base but the broader public does not want to read theory. Therefore what is required is a movement of people to enable the transfer of dry theory in the communication to the public.

How should this be done? Well the environmental movement added a collection of stories. Individual examples of environmental damage. Burning streams, smog cities, nuclear waste and silent springs. The collection of stories have become established and iconic. They are established in the mental image of the public to such a degree that protection of the environment becomes an obvious step.

So, in order to establish the protection of the public domain, open access and creative commons the organisations working with these issues should look at the strategies of the environmental movement.

About time too…

Via the Resistance Studies blog:

The Alabama Legislature on Monday approved a bill that would pardon Rosa Parks, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists convicted of violating Jim Crow laws in the state. During the â??second Civil Warâ?? in the 1950s and 1960s against desegregation, thousands of African-Americans and white people were arrested while standing up for freedom.

The protesters were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, criminal trespass, inciting riots, loitering and more, as they peacefully marched, staged sit-ins and protested to bring an end to the Southâ??s oppressive Jim Crow laws.

For exercising their rights as American citizens, they unjustly ended up with criminal records.

Recently, some Southern states, including Tennessee and Alabama, have moved to offer pardons to those convicted of acts of civil disobedience during the civil rights movement.

The House and Senate this week passed the Rosa Parks Act, named after the mother of the civil rights movement that would grant pardons to individuals who sought them.

The full text of the legislation is here:

About time too…

Landmines – ban the technology

Certain technological artefacts should never have been designed, manufactured or used. Among these is the landmine. Its horrible impact is not only on the combatants but rather on the civil population which needs to live with the slowly decaying lethal devices for decades after the land was sown with them. Organisations such as the No More Landmines in the UK are working to ban them as legitimate weapons. These organisations need all the support that they can get.

The problem is that people are interested in a conflict while it is active and making headlines. When “peace” is achieved public interest declines considerably. This is unfortunate as the landmines remain. The cost of removing landmines is extremely high and almost impossible to meet for worn torn countries.

So how does one attempt to ensure that people’s interest remains focused on the landmine problem? Well artist & activist Will St. Leger came up with a novel and shocking approach. On Sunday 1st April he placed 100 fake ‘landmines’ made from stenciled metal plates in park around Dublin, Ireland.

Will explains: “The reason for doing this was to get people asking themselves “what if the world I walked in was littered with landmines?” They’re nearly all gone now, the Police took away most of them when a tourist called the emergency number to report ‘Landmines’. Afterwards, I wondered who the people of Laos, Cambodia and Iraq gonna call when they step on real landmine?”


 (via Wooster Collective)

Resist Art

The Norwegian Vigeland Park is an 80 acre landscape garden containing 212 statues created by Gustav Vigeland. Many of the life size statues are depicted carrying out everyday activities (walking, running) and are, unsurprisingly, nude. The nude statue has been part of mainstream culture for as long as there have been statues. But every now and then the established mainstream is attacked not because established art has changed but rather because existing norms have shifted over time.

This morning the early visitors to the Vigeland Park could see that all the genitalia and nipples of the statues in the park had been covered with black paper strips. The resistor left a message explaining the action:

“There is too much nudity in newspapers and magazines, so here on the bridge the limit has been reached!”

Reported by VG (Norwegian Daily) and Art Threat (Political Art Journal)

This is an interesting protest which probably achieves more publicity by attacking the established park statues rather than attempting to go for mainstream media.

Activists and Technology

This term has the main load of my teaching which means that I spend lots of time close to the students discussing and attempting to capture their attention for subjects ranging from eCommerce to Computer Ethics. It is very difficult to conduct larger research work in between teaching so most of the extra time is spent attempting to plan future work. This entails discussions of future work: meeting other researchers, planning projects, writing research applications and doing basic reading to cover the groundwork. This is useful in the sense that it lays the foundations for future work but it is also very frustrating since it is not real research work (some of you may disagree â?? but then thatâ??s the point of blogging).

One of my larger planned projects is developing well. No real results as yet (funding, publisher contacts etc) but it is still promising in that the basic reading reveals a good field ripe for additional research which may reveal very interesting results. The people around are enthusiastic, open and friendly.

The basic project idea is to gather empirical data on the use of technology in political resistance. To do this I intend to spend time interviewing activists to understand the way in which they use technology. The hope of this project is to understand both their mundane usage and the more â??exoticâ?? technology use. The point of this work is to first collect data on actual use and then hopefully penetrate the reasons for their use or lack of use of technology.

In particular I want to find out if the recent changes in attitudes towards activists has encouraged them to use more secretive technologies such as encryption and covert messaging. Ideally the project would like to understand what it is they believe to be threats to their activities and how they set about countering such threats. Alternatively the work will look at the reasons for their non-use of different technologies.

In order to do this I need to get into contact with diverse groups of political activists. In order to limit the study I will also be focusing on groups which primarily deal in non-violent methods within the participatory democracy ideal.

To me this is very exciting and I hope to begin data collection this summer and continue with this until February. In parallel with this will be data analysis and writing. The chance to do more detailed empirical work and connect it to my analytical background is an exciting prospect.

As I write this the train (yes another trip â?? but short this time) is speeding through a foggy landscape and two deer were walking slowly through a field itâ??s a mystical uplifting experience looking at nature â?? even if it is through the window of a speeding train.

On not pulling my weight

Sometimes I really feel that I don’t have the energy to mobilize against the next stupid/dangerous/horrifying/hair-brained scheme proposed by some evil/half-witted/misguided (take your pick) parliament. So I relax and let others write and argue for causes that I also should be arguing. It’s complacency legitimized with sentiments such as “I have a lot to do right now” or “I don’t have time to understand this new threat” etc.

This has been the way in which it was with the new Swedish proposal on digital surveillance. Yes, yes I know that this is not going to be a good thing. Yes, yes I know that the politicians are either intentionally lying to the people or are too stupid to understand what they are actually doing (I often wonder which is worse?) – but look I really don’t have the time or energy right now. Lots of work, lots of personal shit, lots of everything. So I lean back and let others write. The more I read the more I realize that my words are unnecessary.

Then today I read Oscar Swartz blog on the topic (his blog is excellent – unfortunately, or naturally, in Swedish) and I realized something. It’s not a matter of whether or not my voice is needed. Of course it isn’t needed. Not mine, personally. But by leaning back and letting others do the work I am making others work a little bit harder. It’s like being on a tug-of-war team that may still win even if one team member isn’t pulling his/her weight. Damn! I knew I should have been active earlier. Guilt bores its way under my skin, my orginal annoyance at the suggestion has been fermenting for much too long.

So here it is.

The proposed FRA law in brief is that the National Defence Radio Establishment (Försvarets radioanstalt – FRA) shall be given the power to listen to all cable based communication (yes that means everything on the Internet) which crosses Sweden’s borders. The idea is that only international communication (i.e. communication exiting Sweden) will be monitored. Basically since even most national Internet communication passes over international borders the focus on international communication is only a way of pacifying the general population.

Basically the idea is to force all Internet and Telecom providers to copy all communications to state surveillance systems. This means telephones, email, chat, websites, comments on blogs – the works.

Naturally in the age of doublespeak the proposed mass violation of integrity is legitimized by the need to protect the democratic country. People will lose their rights and be viewed as criminals as a default. This will not protect the country. It may help catch people after they have done something but it will not (it cannot) prevent actions.

To make matters worse – oh yes it can be worse – the surveillance is not being carried out by the police. Why is this important?

Well the police have to follow due process. This means in practice that when the police want to bug someone they need to have probable cause to suspect a crime. This new system will make this unnecessary. Everyone will be under surveillance and the state may now order special surveillance on individuals or groups who are not suspected of crimes but who hold political views which are “wrong” – oops now we lost freedom of thought.

Sweden has a long tradition of presenting itself as a bastion of democracy. But this is old stuff. The last decade has seen Sweden shed these ideas and attempt to rush to the forefront of lowlife nations who feel the need to enact a surveillance regime which would have made big brother green with envy.

So what can be done? What did Oscar do to get me going? He just reminded me that the most important feature in a society is the ability of its members to remain active against opposition. To talk, to write and to maintain a voice of dissent – especially when the odds are stacked against us.