Post-2008 Social Movements and Their Use of P2P Media

Excerpted from Orsan Senalp:

“Since the Seattle and the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, global solidarity and justice activists have been intensively using email lists, Skype meetings, video-sharing, websites and other software available in order to organise alter- or anti-summits as well as reach out the public. However since 2004, with the arrival of high capacity servers and fibreglass cables that allows storing and transmitting of much larger amount of information, the available online tools for activism have become more and more sophisticated, interactive and accessible. The new Web (Web 2.0) has opened up the cyberspace for users’ participation, by producing content, self-publishing and sharing; without any computer programming knowledge.

The neoliberal offensive and the deepening of capitalist crisis has been triggering radical politicisation of cyber-activism during the late 80s and 90s.5 The first generation participants of the P2P movement was leading an underground fight against the commodification of the Internet, against the intellectual property regime launched by GATS through the WTO.6 GATS was providing the legal framework for what has been called ‘the second enclosure’ of cyberspace and allowing private capital to build the client-server model Web (World Wide Web) on top of the unprofitable distributed network known as the Internet.7 Part of this first generation P2P activism was transformed into the Free and Open Source Software and Access to Free Knowledge movements. Various groups has generated amazingly useful tools and projects as result of the struggle in this filed (like Linux, Wikipedia, Copy Left, Creative Commons, TOR, Telekommunisten etc).

The cyber activism had to be performed on the terrain of capital, the Web, in order to make an impact. As radical left cyber-activists who were collaborating in the globalisation of the Zapatista movement, fighting against the NAFTA (and GATT) also by utilizing the new Web.8 This has allowed the reaching out to the new activists, including non-cyber ones. This emergent collaboration and cross- fertilisation had been extended via Seattle and the World Social Forum yet it remained limited because of the form of the Web at the time. This situation has changed radically while the great anti-war movement of 2003 and Social Forum movements were in decline during the second half of the 2000s. After the arrival of the new Web such interaction and cross-fertilisation among the cyber-activists and social justice activists has brought about the newest social movements (like the Pirates movement, hacker groups Anonymous and LulzSec, Wikileaks – just to mention the more widely known ones).

15M, widely known as the Indignados, and Occupy movements have created transnational political spaces for closer collaboration among cyber, semi-cyber and non cyber activists; those who involved in union and community organising, issue campaigns, progressive NGO sector, previously non-active but politicised independent individuals and small-scale new generation political collectives. Following the 2007 crisis, and most recently during the protests in Wisconsin, US, and the student revolts in Europe in 2010, there was a rapid increase in the interactions between these activisms, internet based media activists and digital artists. Following the dramatic events in Tunisia and Egypt last year these interactions had suddenly gave rise to deployment of both free and open source software and new Web based tool for the practice of transnational organising, decision making, visioning, strategy forming, reach out and logistics.

The actions of Anonymous and Wikileaks have reflected this connectivity and solidarity between the newest movements and uprisings. Wikileaks released the material that triggered the Arab spring and Anonymous attacked Egyptian governments official sites, both stayed in solidarity with uprisings everywhere, and the visual material shared with speed of light among thousands of activists. Anonymous created massive media channels for its own net. It produced very effective artistic video messages to declare support, make a public statement, call for action (or what they call ‘operations’).

When the protesters in Wisconsin and Tahrir hailed each other, visuals of the event were shared among millions on the Web.11 Live video streaming channels were on air and watched by tens of thousands of people across the world during the mass occupations at Puerta Del Sol Square in Madrid, messages shared among Athens, Iceland, and London. There were already online and real world communication being established since then, between these spaces, groups and rebels. Even after most Spanish city squares were occupied for several weeks, starting from May 15, 2011, with explicit reference to the Tahrir Square, not many would guess that these occupations and regular citizen assemblies – comparable to previous Latin American experiences – was actually being systematically spread to many European cities and beyond the Atlantic.

Following the international assemblies organised in Lisbon and Paris, October 15 announced as the date of the ‘Global Revolution’ – a day of massive global mobilisation. First ties were established in the United States and then were formed the first truly international/transnational networks of online and offline working groups and committees. These networks were covering the Mediterranean, European and American regions. An ‘International Road to Dignity’ graphic was reflected the crucial points on the timetable.12 These groups gathered, shared, worked and discussed on a regular basis in order to build the movement and organise the October 15 mobilisation. They have created a peer to peer communication infrastructure for mobilisations and actions but also developed the practice of ‘real democracy’ at the international level. Assembly protocols, methodologies, designs, signs, rules, etc. were formulated, experimented, tested and improved across European cities. This knowledge and experience crossed the Atlantic during the summer 2011. People’s assemblies started to pop up in American cities and Adbusters Magazinemade the first call to Occupy Wall Street on the September 17, 2011.13 Just before the Wall Street occupation in September 17, 2011, in Barcelona Indignadoswere holding a transnational Hub Meeting to exchange information and ideas on local situations and preparations, visions and future perspectives toward 15O and after.

On the same day that Wall Street was occupied, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and European trade unions organised a mass mobilisation in Poland to protest the meeting of the European finance ministers.14 Yet no connection was made between these two deeply connected events that could have increased the impact of both. As a result, that day and for the following couple of weeks, there was almost no media coverage of these two big and related events. People around the world did not hear much about what happened in Wall Street or Poland and could not see the connection. However, after several weeks of non-violent resistance by those occupying the Zuccotti Park in Wall Street, they were severely attacked by the police; mainstream media could not ignore what was happening. This eruption of unavoidable mass media attention, coming mainly by international rivals of the BBC and the CNN, like Russia Today (RT), the Chinese news channel CCTV, as well as Al Jazeera, fed into the massive global mobilisations on the 15th of October, and concomitant occupations of more than 1,000 central city squares in more than 90 countries across five continents.

Outrage, occupy, strike, blockupy

The work and plans around the idea of a Global Spring mobilisations in 2012 began to crystallise towards the end of 2011.16 First after the success of the Oakland General Strike on November 2. This historical event not only prepared the ground for the Mayday General Strike plans but also made it possible for the West Coast dockworkers’ union (ILWU) to get a stronger position vis-à-vis the company in dispute, and certainly played a role in the union winning the battle under-way.17

Since January 2012, Occupy General Assemblies (GAs) began organising the first federal level General Strike in US history, which took place on May 1, international worker’s day, symbol of the 8-hour-day struggle and the unity of subaltern classes. Indignadosin Europe both encouraged and responded to this call with a call to form popular worker/citisen assemblies that would gather on Mayday beside or after the mobilisations organised by unions, in order to give support to the labour movement struggle in general.18 On the other hand, beginning December 2011, the 15M and Occupy Movements in Europe were organising a day of global mobilisation on the May 12 ( #12M ), the anniversary of the ‘Spanish Revolution’ begun at Puerta del Sol square in Madrid a year ago on 15 May.19 Another idea on an ‘open source’ and indefinite global transition strikes on 15 May (#15M) was also launched. 20 Many initiatives have been undertaken to link the dynamics of the new movement to organised groups – like resisting workers, unions, campaign groups and NGO networks – in order to increase the magnitude of the spring mobilisations and the strikes.

Connecting to the 1M, 12M and 15M actions, many groups that were linked to or acted in solidarity with the Occupy and 15M Movements in Europe initiated the European mirror image of OWS: The Blockupyaction, to take place in Germany May 16-19.21 Massive mobilisations were planned to protest, block and occupy the Frankfurt Financial Centre and the European Central Bank (ECB), which were seen as the European Head Office of Goldman Sachs. In the USA, anti-G8 and anti-NATO mobilisations were planned in Chicago for the May 15-21 in tandem with these preceding mobilisations.

A second hub meeting was held in Milan on March 30-31 April 1, 2012. Activists from many European cities and camps at this meeting, shared information and discussed strategies planned for May 2012.23 In this second meeting Global Spring/Global May working group and Blockupy organisation gave updates and a Skype call was made to a Mayday organiser from OWS. Subjects for analysis discussed in the workshops were austerity policies, debt, privatisations, the anti-democratic wave, the rise of the right wing. Analyses were shared horizontally and brought back to local groups and collectives involved. Since there was no organisational representation, or aim at decision-making during these meetings, no irresolvable disputes arose coming from ideological, traditional, or cultural diversity. The assembly style of working was adopted by all and participants were individuals. Therefore it was easier and faster to work and reach a consensus. Everybody could join in spontaneous support, mentioning promising initiatives about which they had information, and also raise points regarding the methodology. Since formal representation was not an issue, in practice the meeting was mainly one of exchange and providing feedback to the coming initiatives. The main impact of such organised network meetings, however, comes when interlinked individuals bring back the information and consensual analyses to the local assemblies and groups. At the end of the second Hub Meeting, support for Global Spring, 12M and 15M mobilisations was agreed with full consensus. There was a big support to Mayday in the US Blockupy, although there were concerns about the dedication to non-violence in Frankfurt, horizontality in the planning of the mobilisation, and collaboration with vertical organisations and groups.

The successful organising of and global support given the Oakland General Strike took the discontent in the North, which has been growing since the Seattle 1999 and made a quantum leap with the OWS, even a step further. It underlined the historical roots of the current moment of the global uprising and strengthened connectivity, communication and solidarity among various forces.

Since around the free fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008, the general strike had already made a spectacular return in Europe.24 However the Mayday General Strike in the US has actually awakened the legacy of ideas like ‘One Big Union’, ‘Shorter Working Day’, ‘International Strike’ and highlighted the ties connecting the old, new, newer and the newest progressive and revolutionary movements. Hundreds of millions marching around the world have given a strong echo to this ‘happening’, and allowed us to visualise clear images of new generation of actions and general strikes that could start radical processes of social change.25

Although these ambiguous plans of the self-organised masses did not find a strong resonance among a large part of the hierarchically ‘organised’ forces, for the time being, the new generation of activists has gained an immense amount of experience and confidence.

In Frankfurt municipal government had issued a strong ban on all the protests in the whole of Frankfurt-am-Main. Police repression was very heavy and the issuing of such a ban for all protests had not happened since the Nazis were in power, indicating the depth of undemocratic rule dominating the old continent. Meanwhile, in the US, Obama was moving the venue of the G8 from his home town to Camp David. Under such conditions the Blockupy managed to block the ECB and to get a 30-thousand strong rally on the 19th.26

The above-mentioned mobilisations and actions were the international ones directly organised by non-representational groups including Occupy, 15M and those who collaborated with them as in Blockupy mobilisation. In order to uncover the real number of the local, national and regional events, direct actions, mobilisations and strikes organised by these groups – and their impact – we need an intensive and systematic study.

European fellowship of the ring?

A month before Mayday 2012, on March 28-29, the next phase of an important experiment took place at the International Trade Union Building in Brussels, which hosts the established global union structures of the ITUC, the ETUC and associated union internationals. Among the participants of the 2nd Spring Social Conferencethere were more than 140 representatives of around 40 progressive organisations, unions, and NGO networks based in Europe.27

The first edition of the Conference had been held at the same venue in March 2011 by participants inthe ‘JointSocial Conference’ process. The Joint Social Conference initiative was officially born out of the European Social Forum in Malmö in 2009. Yet the roots of the process can be traced back to the foundation of the Labour and Globalisation Network (L&G) during the World Social Forum in 2007.28 L&Gis a loose network of labour and union activists originally aimed at making labour more visible within the social forum processes. Since theMalmö ESF, several social movements, NGO networks and labour unions have become involved in the JSC process, have developed mutual trust and recognition, and have experimented with innovative ways of working together. The first conference wasa product of some years of work, was not easy to put together and establish outreach. It was a difficult experiment of collaboration in reaching concrete results, because of the differences in cultures, ideologies, ways of working and different interests. But lessons have been learned and mutual trust and recognition gained. Besides, the increasing pressure of the crisis and mobilisations on the streets contributed to a much more successful second edition.

During the 2nd Spring Social Conference many people, including the ETUC General Secretary, repeated the need for a Europe-wide general strike and joint actions, in order to be able to resist capital and change the balance of power, although stating that it would very hard to realise these. However, standing closer to southern European union positions, as well as the Indignadosand Occupy movements’ actions, the General Secretary of the largest European union federation, the European Public Services Unions (EPSU), declared that even today such transnational strikes are possible if we only bring existing strugglestogether and link the national general strikes ongoing.

At the end of the day, there wasno direct support for a Mayday strike in the US or Europe, nor acall for mobilisation as proposed by 12M and 15M. But the effort wasrelatively successful and a fairlystrong final document, with exciting content, was produced.29 Regardless of the difficulties and interest conflicts (predictable withthe combination of actors involved) a common analysis, resistance and mobilisations were identified.

After the end of the conference an inter-network meeting gathered with the same participants and others, to work on a call for organising an AlterSummitin the foreseeable future.30 The call was made to build a Europe-wide social movement, sharing a common ground of analysis, and defining collective actions and alternatives against the austerity policies, deregulations, privatisations and anti-democratic measures in Europe as well as globally. The cornerstones for building such a movement were identified as May 5-6, 2012 TNI-CEO conference that took in Brussels, 17-20 May Blockupy for Global Change mobilisation in Frankfurt, 5-19 May Subversive Forum in Zagreb and Florence 10+10 to be organised between November 8-11, 2012.31

Individual activists joined the meeting and raised calls for support to the M1GS, 12M and 15M global actions organised by the Occupy and 15M Movements. Participants from the Indignados and Occupy movements reported on the conference to the 2nd Hub Meetinggathering in Milan mentioned before, right after the event on March 30. As I said, both the Spring Social Conference and Hub Meeting participants endorsed and declared active support to the Blockupy action, which was inspired by the OWS and 15M and organised by a wider coalition of forces, including Occupy groups in Germany.

Some of the participating networks, like ATTAC and Transform, NGOs like CEO and TNI among others, have linked the outcomes of the conference to another process launched in collaboration with political actors like the European Left, that took place on the March 30-31.32 On 5 and 6 May 2012, following this process of interaction, another important alliance-building event was organised in Brussels, this time by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)and the Transnational Institute. Around 300 participants from across Europe came together to see the possibilities of taking collaboration among activists, unions, movements and networks one step further. They produced an inspiring statement calling for a halt to the EU Austerity Treaty.33 The two-day ‘EU in Crisis Conference’ marked CEO’s 15th anniversary. Following two days of discussion and debate, a new Pan-European network to fight against the EU’s austerity policies, and support a fairer, greener, more democratic Europe, was launched. There were calls made to support the occupation of the European Central Bank on the 17-20 Mayand the Global Day of Actionon 12 May.34 There were also calls made to support the ‘No’ campaign in the Irish Referendum on the Austerity Treaty that took place on 31 May 2012. Significant elements of the transnational water justice movement were also at present in the conference. The valuable experience of these actors in terms of transnational alliance building contributed to the convergence. A new campaign to challenge the push for the privatisation of water services was launched, including support for the campaign for a European Citizens’ Initiative, stating that ‘Water and sanitation are human rights! Water is a public good, not a commodity.’35 Other important European networks emerging and linking with this process of wider alignment around similar issues were European Alternatives and Another Road for Europe.36 During the TNI-CEO event these networks engaged actively in the Alter Summit process and the Florence 10+10 space. Whilst the European Alternative network puts a strong emphasis on alternatives, commons and the grass-roots, the Another Road for Europe network consists of European political parties and research networks.

After the May mobilisations during the spring of 2012, a series of real world, cyber evaluations and re-evaluations took place. These evaluations helped to digest the experiences of the May mobilisations and to draw lessons as well as to re-energise for the autumn. During the spring and end of the summer in the Northern hemisphere many actions were organised, mainly in the US and Spain. But maybe more importantly all evicted Occupy camps have developed their own online spaces and tools to keep in touch with local activists. Several important web portals were developed and launched.37 Developing new communication channels, local networks have built closer links among the previously-created spaces for international communication and coordination among 15M and Occupy assemblies, camps, and networks in different continents. Building on previous experiences, new ideas for dates and content of the global mobilisations were discussed, and an international workgroup was formed – this time with even closer and wider international participation from varying localities. A Global Noise action took place in a distributed way. A new international road to dignity was drawn up for the rest of 2012 and 2013, linking the cornerstones towards the aim of global change.

At the end of August participants of the almost all above mentioned progressive, and less-horizontal networks, organised a preparatory meeting on Skype in order to come up with a draft programme for the September 14-17 preparatory meeting and to work on it in Milan towards Florence 10+10.39 The Milan meeting was relatively successful in terms of the convergence of ideas and cultures. An online per-convergence process – which is embedded in the preparatory work of five thematic groups established – and last group to work on the convergence. Groups and individual actors were asked to come up with proposals for a common vision, strategy and action, in order to improve the convergence at Florence and move further on a shared concrete path.40 The Milan meeting coincided with the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Right after the opening session for the meeting, Occupy and 15M activists who were participating provided individual inputs into the globalNOISE preparations, an Agora99 meeting, and working methods of the movement. During the following days they made suggestions for the working themes and the methodology for Florence 10+10, They worked on several possible ideas about how to involve Occupy 15M networks in the space created in Florence.

On the other hand, according to the decision taken by the transnational assembly at the end of Blockupy action in Frankfurt, a workgroup was formed in order to coordinate the organisation of a transnational and transversal meeting in Madrid, called Agora 99. Agora 99 has been organised as an open meeting by collectives and individuals taking part in 15M, Occupy and Blockupy movements. Florence is an open space for organisations, unions, networks and individual activists, whilst Agora99 is for political collectives, groups and individuals joining Occupy and 15M assemblies, mainly to work on practical issue. It is based on self-representation. And whilst Florence focuses on Europe, Debt, Commons, Labour and Social Rights, Democracy, the themes of the Agora 99 gathering are Debt, Crisis and Democracy. Suggesting the P2P dynamics behind the event some of the slogans on the banners are P2P Democracy, P2P Agora.42 While the Madrid event organisers made direct reference to P2P, organisers of the Florence event have opened the preparatory process to online participation of individuals, networks and NGOs. This is done by using open pads next to the email lists. There are also ideas being mentioned, in relation to Florence, like using the German Pirates’ Liquid Democracy software which is developed and used especially for P2P policy and decision making.”

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