28 08 2001
DIGITAL HUMAN RIGHTS
Digital Political Activism
An interview with Annie
Annie is part of Indymedia UK and spoke to World-Information.Org about the role of online media in the context of political activism.
Q: What was your personal motivation for being politically active?
A: Well, you just look at the world around you, and get pissed off with what you see. Or you refuse to behave in the way that is outlined for you. Writing, counter information is just one way to interfere with the dominant discourse. In London, for example, the society of control is very tangible. You are constantly being observed by CCTV-cameras. Moreover, you’re constantly reminded through signs that you are being surveilled. They are quite cynical: “CCTV: Make Brixton a Safer Place." Of course, many crimes are being committed in the streets, like pickpocketing and drug dealing; but this kind of poverty-crimes won’t be stopped by cameras!
Q: In her presentation Hito Steyerl showed that photo where nothing really happened; where the camera was merely installed as an alibi. But then, when it would have been important to save the guy from murder the camera had no function.
A: There is a study about what policemen looking at this footage really do; what they look at and what they react to. It turned out that they like to film couples in dark parking lots, women and young black man; their viewing choices work within a sexist and racist framework. To experience or hear about things like that every day makes you want to interfere.
Q: For example Steve Kurtz in an interview last summer has said that political activists often overexert themselves and then drop out because the work costs a lot of energy and you don’t get a lot of feedback.
A: Yes, it’s not that easy to find a sustainable mode of activism, something that allows you to be involved AND live a pleasurable life. But then, being involved is not just stress; it also creates very strong support networks. And activism is often about sharing things, like for example in Indymedia.uk; by using technology communally, you get access to things you wouldn’t have otherwise. I think it’s important to find different levels of involvement; in Indymedia.uk, you can just send a posting, or design a banner, or organize an event, or put some hours of work in the technical stuff, without having to be a fulltime activist. Most of us aren’t, anyway. Another example is the involvement of artists in political movements, like in the deportation-alliance.com, when artists (some of them hybrid artist/activists) designed image polluting posters, without getting involved in the whole campaign.
Q: Do you think that something like Reclaim The Street in England could change opinions in the mainstream-media?
A: RTS has evolved from a very broad, radical, ecological movement. I think that this ecological movement in the UK is not just about "Save my backyard". People feel very strongly that their use of public space is restricted in the cities as well as in the countryside; and they react to that. When RTS started in the mid-nineties, the mainstream media reported very positively. But since the global street parties started, and RTS took on an anti-capitalist agenda, this has changed; now this form of political articulation is policed to a ridiculous degree. On the other hand, this "politics of events" have made the mainstream media take up the discussion, sometimes even in favor. Reclaim the Streets won’t change the ideology of mainstream media in one go; let lone the dominant politics; but it can get people involved in the pleasure of a spontaneous public event, cause some irritation; and that’s a critique of the commercialized world of the metropolis.
Before Mayday 2 K, policemen and journalists used to hang around outside the pub where RTS held their public meetings. This official paranoia shows that RTS has somehow hit the point. Whatever the authorities cannot control scares them. Resistance against the culture of control is a wider political concept; the culture of control is manifest in public spaces in the cities, but just as well at the borders, where it is directed against immigrants.
Indymedia is a resource to report about resistance against this and many other issues, which has been used by the mainstream media.
Q: There is this connection between being active on the street and online-media.
A: Indymedia UK sees the two very closely connected. What appears on the web-page comes directly from the streets, it is as much a result of the Do-it-yourself mode of things as the street protest itself. The web-page allows direct uploading, a direct connection for street-activists to online media. Being at a protest with a camera is part of both alternative media work and activism, a process of synergy can kick off; people are reporter and reported at the same time. Activist media makers don’t see themselves as "objective" spectators. So cyberspace and material space are not really separated. Indymedia.uk takes cyberspace to the streets, for example by setting up public access points during demos or actions, where people can upload their stuff directly on the web-page through laptops and cellular phones. Everybody is a reporter, the web-page becomes something like a virtual banner-making workshop. And a part from facilitating the web-page and sometimes reporting, we are also planning a print publication, and public events, for expample video screenings in independent cinemas or on parties and clubs. Some of these occasions are solidarity events, like for example "Conscious Clubbing", others are more commercial clubs, where activism suddenly becomes part of the aesthetics; selling out or PR; who knows?
Q: I suppose that there are many people, which are concerned with politics, and who go along with this.
A: It is also nice to have a laptop where people, who usually don’t use one or just at work can use it for something they like; for surfing, to sign petitions or to upload a report.
Q: Indymedia UK presents itself as an international organization. And although the individual groups are very different what concerns the way of their reporting, the style of their appearance e.g. the graphics is quite similar.
A: Well, it IS an international organization. The public appearance is almost like a textbook "corporate identity". That’s because all the by now around 40 Indymedia pages use the same code, and fill it with their own locally specific concerns. The code determines layout and functionality of the website to a degree; but you can change font sizes and colors, but more in-depth changes are quite a lot of work.
Q: Then it is software that is supplied with a logo?
A: Some Indymedias have changed the logo as well; but as far as I know, nobody has dropped it.
Q: Then it is publishing software? But aren’t the individual groups in contact with each other?
A: The publishing facility is the most important feature of the code; it allows people to upload images, text-files and audio-files straight to the website. The Indymedia Centers are in touch with each other through more than a dozen global mailing-lists, and many issues are also globally discussed in chat-rooms. At the same time each collective is autonomous. I think there are many political differences amongst the different IMCs. Moreover there are differences in terms of contents. In Israel for example they had a theoretical text from Edward Said on their website. In the UK, we haven’t yet had any theoretical text, since we are focussing on action reports. In Italy they do quite a lot of video streaming. We spoke earlier about the potentials of these global movements and the significance of the Internet; it is really impressive how much generous technical support comes over the web. On a pragmatic level that works well. It gets more complicated when political issues are! being discussed.
Q: When people communicate with each other face-to-face or sign with their names, then that is more comprehensible for the police. There are many strategies against this, which include the use of pseudonyms or the encryption of IP-addresses. Have you already discussed this?
A: Yes, especially with the introduction of the RIP bill in the UK. But then we thought that especially the use of encryption technology would draw attention to our group. Moreover Indymedia is absolutely legal. All we do is facilitate a web-page to report on demonstrations or actions, and we don’t want to be worried about that. The state probably observes an indefinite number of people and groups, but one should not get paranoid. The global Indymedia lists are accessible for everyone. Indymedia is an absolutely legal thing that one can do publicly.