Monday, 27 August 2012

Power to the Online People!


The nice people whom sent me this and this have once again shared a lovely infographic on a subject close to my heart Internet activism. And this ones animated too!

"Where were you when news of the tsunami hit Japan in 2011? How about when Michael Jackson died? Probably online, according to many experts who claim that social media has become the main media source for hundreds of millions of people. Not just in the U.S., either; Facebook alone has more than 900 million users spread across the globe as of 2012. Other social media giants like Twitter have facilitated revolution against unjust leaders and warned people of impending natural disaster. In fact, so many people regularly interact online that if the Internet were a nation, it would exceed the Americas, Europe and the Middle East combined in population. No wonder more than 13 million members of the online community used Reddit and other media platforms to protest SOPA, a proposed Internet censorship bill. Keep this graphic in mind next time you log on, because knowledge is power — and a little knowledge goes a long way in the Internet Age."

Naturally as a blogger it shouldn't surprise to learn that I'm in general agreement with most of the points it makes. I'm afraid I'm not too familiar with the point about the AID's protein but this site has some interesting information on it. I have to say though it surprises and impresses me.

 My area of "expertise" as far as the internet goes lie in activism and what is now called crowd sourcing. I think sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo whilst far from perfect and often used to fund vanity projects will and are offering inventors and artist types whom for one reason or another have difficulty securing funding in our corporate/government dominated investment and development sectors.

And of course the internet has enabled charities and support groups to raise awareness and funding. Before the internet advertising was limited both in frequency and audience. Also the time delay between a situation occurring and a response being coordinated has been drastically reduced. Action alerts and emergency appeals can start raising funds for emergency almost as soon as they develop.

 And then we get to my bread and butter, activism. Naturally being a politically minded fellow living in a remote village in an oft forgotten province I do a lot of stuff online. I should also mention I do a lot in my community too its just that opportunities are more limited. Anyway its undeniable that the World Wide Web has opened up some breathing room for "Radical" thought and given small groups s set of tools to agitate and recruit.

For example I only became aware of the Morning Star after doing a research project on British Communist groups on the internet. Regular readers of this blog will know that's my favourite and only regular newspaper. And that paper has a nation wide circulation and an extensive network of supporters.

And of course since the 90's there has been a blossoming of internet news sites, radio and video channels all representing many different view points and areas of interest. The infographic to my left wouldn't exist without the Internet. Now of course there are some out there whom are rather cynical about the use of the internet, words like "slacktivism" have been thrown around. And I have to disagree, there's an old Anarchist saying that goes "If Voting ever changed anything they'd make it illegal" I agree with the sentiment but disagree with the example since you know a lot of nations have indeed made voting illegal and according to some American Republican State governments are attempting to limit access to the ballot boxes so if that statement is true voting must have an effect.

Despite that I do think a good measuring stick for the worries of the establishment is what they move to ban or restrict. And the internet has seen increased monitoring and many nations from USA to China, EU to Russia have been drafting legislation to restrict websites and online activities.





However I think it is important to mention some very important Caveats, if the internet is to have any value as a tool for change and human progress it can only do so if it inspires and motivates action. You can make hundreds of viral videos, tweet to a hundred thousand followers and have a million likes on Facebook, but if no one gets up and starts acting nothing will be changed. Lets take the Mubarak example to our left, 90,000 pledges is great but if it wasn't for the years of hard struggle by a core of activists and labour unions battling the security services and getting them to compromise and on rare but important occasions back down no one would of risked turning in to Tahrir Square.

Ben Ali of Tunisia didn't resign and flee because he was embarrassed that Wikileaks publishing of his expense accounts and shopping lists trended on twitter he left because those documents validated the arguments and struggles of dedicated opponents whom had been risking prisons and beatings.

There's also another rather dark problem with the internet in regards to activism. It is quite easy to spread misinformation. I'm thinking of Kony 2012 that brilliantly crafted propaganda video, now I have no love for Kony and at first I was pretty impressed that someone was trying to raise awareness of his banditry. Unfortunately it wasn't long before alarm bells started ringing. Denying that the Lord's Resistance Army had an ideology to keep them isolated from sympathy. Condemning the LRA for its wicked deeds, child soldiers, civilian deaths, torture whilst praising the Ugandan government whose army is guilty of much the same, and worst of all imploring the audience to get America to deploy troops to Uganda to "Stop Kony" even though the Ugandan army already defeated him and the LRA haven't been active in Uganda (where the film wants troops to be deployed) since 2005 making a deployment there useless if that was the intended goal.

Now that looks convincing doesn't it? remember a picture may be worth a thousand words, but there's no guarantee those words are accurate


But that isn't the only instance of a suspiciously manufactured viral campaign. I can remember several years ago when the US and Colombia where negotiating for a Colombian Free Trade Agreement and greater collaboration in the "War on Drugs" there was a big fuss made of the start of a Facebook "No to FARC" campaign, that grew into street demonstrations in Bogotá and other cities and still occurs every year. Several Liberal papers were touting this a momentous occasion that would signal the end of armed conflict and a damning indictment of the Guerilla movement. There are a number of problems with this analysis, first officially about 53% of the population have access to the internet. And in reality it is much lower because the population in areas ran by FARC are at best estimates. Second most of those whom do have regular access to the internet tend to be from richer backgrounds, and are therefore much less likely to have sympathy with the aims of FARC a Marxist group. Now that doesn't mean that their opinions don't count it does however mean that that population will have a natural bias on this subject. Third their experiences with FARC are not likely to be typical, the group is in control of territory and as such operates as a political and social entity in addition to its military activities. The wealthy urbanites of Colombia are very unlikely to have knowledge of these programs and if they have any experience with the group is in relation to its military operations which negatively impact there social group further limiting there objectivity.

In addition those particular marches were organised by groups known to support the government. And the government gave employees the day off and called on people to join them.

“We want to live in a country at peace, a country without kidnappings or violence,” President Juan Manuel Santos said in an address in the little town of Villeta in the central department of Cundinamarca.
“No one should stay at home, no one should stay in their offices, because we are all going to march with a single purpose, a purpose that unites us all: to say 'yes' to liberty and 'no' to kidnapping,” he said at an event late Monday, according to a presidential statement."

To me this is the equivalent of using the Orange Order marches in Glasgow and statements by the Conservative party (Or party of British Unity as it desperately tried to re-brand itself North of Berrick Upon Tweed) to make a statement that the whole of Scotland hates the IRA, or wants Ulster to be part of the Union. It could be true but the evidence presented doesn't bear that conclusion out, and in fact actually undermines it.

In summary, the internet is a tool that supports a means to an end, it is not the end in and of itself. It is also not impenetrable, governments and corporations  can and are increasingly active online doing their best to curb activism and information leaks.If we wish to keep the internet as a driver for human progress then we have to be wary of the dangers and warn other of them as well as trumpet there successes.

Infographic created by Open-site.org

Thursday, 23 August 2012

South African Police Shoot Miners






"Miners in South Africa have largely defied a deadline issued by their employer to return to work today. More than 70 percent of the workers at the Marikana Platinum mine stayed off the job, and officials with the mining company, Lonmin, said that the mine was unable to restart full production. The stalemate continues after a controversial week in which police opened fire on a group of workers, killing 34. FSRN’s Davison Mudzingwa reports."

 Naturally comparisons to Apartheid era policing in particular Sharpesville, are very common on the internet in the aftermath of this bloody confrontation. It reminds me of two old joke on Spitting Image, one was P.W.Botha claiming it had been a good year for protests in South Africa,when challenged by the number of deaths by police for protesters he countered by saying it was less then last year. Another was about Mugabe, he was being criticised for his attacks on the Zimbabwean People's Union (ZAPU) a mostly black rival to his ZANU (The Patriotic Front PF was added after unity agreements) he argued that this was proof of the lie of white superiority since his government could crush African dissent better then Ian Smith could.

It's always saddening to see life imitate satire. Anyway I'm sure everyone reading this is appalled at this tragedy. Still the Miners refusal to bow to even this pressure has forced Zuma and the ANC to act and a probe into the deaths is being compiled. Though given that the investigation includes Cabinet Ministers, the entirety of whom have been criticised for lack of support for working class South Africans before its doubtful their findings will be satisfactory to anyone.With Lonmin the company owning the Marikana mine keen to distance themselves from this event and pin the blame fully on the police ignoring the fact that it was there business practices that led to the strike in the first place. Classy, its also nice that the Board of Lonmin have their priorities straight, after reiterating a "get back to work or your fired" statement they were keen to stress the importance of rebuilding the brand "We have not been arrogant. We have to rebuild the Lonmin brand, rebuild the platinum brand and brand South Africa." Yes clearly that is the most important victim here, the PR image of a Platinum trading company. Oh how I wish I could honestly say the naked self interest displayed was surprising to me.

There is however some good that came of this however. South African police and the ANC have now lost the ability to use Apartheid era brutality as an excuse and false measure of progress. If Zuma and the ANC and there partners the South African Communist Party -whom have been very enthusiastic about supporting every ANC Government- genuinely want to represent a prosperous and united South Africa then they'll have to stop making excuses and take on the challenges to their society and alleviate the grievances of their citizens whether in the townships or out in the mines and quarries of the North West state.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

White Dog



 I've got a treat for you, below is the a full Hollywood made film with no ad breaks. The film is White Dog, made in 1982 but denied a full release in US until 2008 Britain and France did get it much earlier and art house cinema's did show it killing its profit margin. It made under $50,000 despite a seven million budget.




Why the distribution suicide? Well due to the film's grizzly subject matter a "white dog" Which is an attack Dog trained to specifically target black and brown people, the film was plagued with rumours that it promoted racial abuse. This misinformation was excerbated by the fact that the novel the film was based on of the same name also heavily criticised the Civil Rights movement. There was talk by the NAACP that a boycott of the film could be on the cards forcing the studio to decide it was better to cut there losses with a limited release. That was both a mistake and tragedy.

A brief synopsis for those reading who didn't bother to watch the film above. Julie Sawyer an aspiring actress whom lives alone in the hills runs over a white Alsatian after getting it treated at the vets she takes pity on it and takes it as her own after putting out a missing dog found advert. Whilst the dog stays with her a white home invader breaks in and attacks her, the dog comes to her rescue and it looks like we're in for another tired 80's buddy flick with one of the buddies being a dog.

However its not long before things start going off centre, after taking the dog to one of her roles it attacks and severely injures a fellow actress whom happens to be black completely unprovoked. Thinking she has an attack dog that needs retraining (she can't bare to have it put down) she seeks the help of Hollywood's animal trainers. However whilst there the dog sees and attacks a black member of staff, and thus the truth is revealed the dog is racist. Ok its actually been brutalised and taught to attack dark skin tones (dogs of course can only see in black and white) on sight. Fortunately for Julie one of the animal trainers Mr Keys (played by Paul Winfield) decides to take on the difficult job of deprogramming the dog, as he's been trying out new techniques on such animals in his spare time for a few years. Its his hope that if he can successfully de-program a White dog without having to resort to euthanasia, it'll mean racists won't bother training new attack dogs.

And despite a few setbacks it seems to work, (sort of) you'll have to watch it, I don't want to spoil the ending.

As I've said earlier the film an extensive and overt condemnation of Racism and some of its ugliest practices and mindsets was itself dogged (heh) with allegations of being racist itself. These allegations killed any chance it had of reaching its intended audience mainstream America both Black and White whom were coming to terms with the aftermath of Civil rights movement and racial tensions of the 60's & 70's. This is a shame as the film is a powerful examination of the psychology of racism. Using a dog as the main racist character rather then say a Klansmen or police officer* is a feel a perfect character to represent racism in America. Lots of people all over the states and of course the globe keep dogs which means racism can't be explained away as a bad apple or a special segment of society with its unique experiences. The fact its a dog obviously means it had to be taught its racism, even if you believed in the out dated theory that racism is somehow innate, why on earth would a dog another species entirely view black or white humans differently left to its own devices?

In addition the way dog acts around white people and black people is in my experience a very accurate depiction of racist behaviour, minus the biting obviously. The dog is perfectly sweet and harmless around whites unless you physically attacked its owner, but as soon as it sees a black person it gets angry, very angry. In fact it gets very creepy to see that dog happily cover itself in blood and then just as happily pad on over to its owner with its tail wagging for a pet and dinner. If you're fortunate enough to have zero first hand experience of racism you might be thinking the dogs almost bipolar reactions are a bit of a caricature, but I can assure you its very realistic.

I'm a supporter of the Mariners (Grimsby Town FC) and have been for a few years now. When I first started going to matches I made a few new friends who'd been going for Donkey's years. They were nice lads, they were also ex hooligans, had a few convictions in the 80's for violence and spent a few nights in the cells. As I said they were perfectly all right when I met them and that nastiness was all years ago, so I figured why not let bygones be bygones? We joked around went to the pub, you know normal bloke things. Unfortunately a few of them would at times also get quite angry and upset for no reason at all as far as I could tell. It took awhile but it wasn't long after that rants about the immigrants started completely out of the blue and there was lengthy stares at random black guys in the pub. It seems that the very presence of random dark skin would just cause extreme annoyance, now it wasn't to the point of violence (usually) I remember a very awkward lift I got to a match through the back streets where we saw a lot of brown skinned people just walking along, to the shops or park, he really didn't like that, he began pointing at them spitting out the word "immigrant" and I swear at one point he was actually shaking. After that ugly experiencing I began distancing myself from them. This was before I became politically active beyond watching HIGNFY and Question Time so the few attempts I made to get them to just "let it go" whatever "it" was failed miserably. After my sister started dating a Jewish fellow (apparently that annoyed a few of them too, I don't know why but I do know it had nothing to do with the Israel/Palestine situation as they didn't give a damn for anything outside the UK) and he and some of them met (it was all civil, but extremely tense) I cut my ties completely and took a break from Blundell Park for awhile.

Basically what I'm trying to illustrate with this little trip down memory lane is that racism is vicious, it is irrational and at times bestial, but that does not mean a racist person is incapable of what we view as good qualities. I think in our haste to make amends for our centuries long laziness and acceptance of racism society and the media have been a bit too zealous in depicting it and its adherents as being completely irredeemable and uncompromising. In reality they can be charming, polite and good fun with you so long as you aren't on their list of inferiors/enemies. This White dog perfectly demonstrates that attitude. And if you don't believe me simply put your mouse pointer over the above video and click play.


* The book was somewhat biographical as it fictionalised an attempt to de-program Alabama police dogs whom had been trained to go after Black people specifically in an attempt to intimidate Black organisations into submission.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Fired GM Workers in Colombia on Hunger Strike


They can't speak so we must speak up for them
 In Colombia it is well established that workers rights are old and well told joke but I'd be lying if this latest chapter in that said book didn't still shock and disgust me.
  
"UPDATE August 8 : Today three more workers, Rafael Ángel Jiménez, Wilson Fabio Blandón, and Ferney Rodríguez, will sew their lips closed, as the original four GM workers reach the seventh day of their hunger strike."

You read that correctly, ex-employee's of GM Bogotá are so desperate that they've taken to sewing there mouths SHUT to re-enforce there hunger strikes outside the US embassy. Why were these men fired you may ask? Because the company used work placed accidents and related injuries as an excuse to immediately terminate employment, whilst at the same time denying the injuries were work related absolving the company of its commitments to compensation payments or retraining in another area of work. In case you were wondering, yeas GM is the same General Motors manufacturing giant based in the US that was also bailed out by both the Bush and Obama administrations for Billions of dollars making the US Government the largest Share holder in the company. Aren't public private partnerships grand?

 From FSRN





If you wish to help these poor workers in there plight and don't live in Colombia or near a Colombian or US embassy you can sign this petition and or write a letter to the relevant bodies (Ambassadors and Labour Ministry officials) here though you have to have an American address or "Zip" code for the last one. And of course you can spread the word of this injustice as widely as possible.


Sunday, 12 August 2012

Unionbook

There's a "new" social networking site especially for Trade Unionists and Labour rights activists, its called Unionbook and as the name implies is a facebook like site for Labour/Trade Unionists from around the world. Its a side project of the Labour Start news and solidarity site. I have an account and while I'm still busy poking around the account dashboard I have to say I'm quite impressed, users have there own blog, can link up with fellow Activists based on geography or shared interests, and add photos music and videos.

There is however one major difference though, to get an account you must be a member of a Union (any) large or small it doesn't matter. If you're not in a Union but would like to be, you're probably best off joining the Union most of your colleagues are in, but the decision is up to you. If you're unemployed then in the UK the GMB and Unite unions still offer membership, however the problem with those arrangements is that when you do find work the rest of staff may be members of another Union which puts a lot of pressure on you to switch, and leaving an organisation is always a difficult process. You could join the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) a global Union for all workers not in senior management. In addition to welcoming all they also give members unparalleled freedom to join and take part in other organisations including other unions if and when needed with no repercussions so becoming a Wobblie (yes thats the nickname) removes the sting in the tale of having to choose one or the other. Its also very cheap in terms of membership fees. An unwaged worker can be a member for as little as £12 a year.

Disclaimer time, the IWW is my union as my circumstances mean it was the only viable option for me, and I have to say I'm liking it so far. Anyway enough recruitment pitches this is about a snazzy new website that offers Trade Unionists (all of us) another way to network and support one another, I sincerely hope you'll join us, the bigger this gets the better a resource it will be for our cause, of advancing workers rights and improving working and living conditions the world over.


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