What are we in the labor movement doing to develop our own private spheres of communication?
If all social networks are political, given their built-in biases, why not build one that is openly political? In the following video, Walton Pantland and Andrew Brady explain the origins of Union Solidarity International’s new Organizing Network. We’ve also included the following text, extracted from the Organizing Network’s about page.
An ethical alternative: political by design
“At USi we use pretty much all the social networks that have any traction: we’re on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, Sina Weibo, Flipboard and a whole host of others we don’t need to mention. We feel it is important for unions to colonise as much of cyberspace as possible with a positive, pro-union message. This is how we will reach the next generation of workers.
But none of these is adequate for organising people politically. They all have an ideology of some kind, a hidden curriculum that distorts or distracts from our organising. Trying to mobilise people on Facebook is hard when your followers are distracted by paid advertising and Farmville, and Facebook is restricting the reach of your posts unless you cough up for adverts. This is made even worse by the rise of Facebook disciplinaries – people getting into trouble at work for the things they say online.
The Organising Network
This is why we built our Organising Network (ON). Like all social media – all technology – it is ideological. But the ideology is to create a safe space for people to organise politically.
ON is built on Elgg, which is Open Source. It has plugins, developed by Lorea, that enable political organising and democratic decision making. Members of the Occupy Wall Street and Boston tech committees use the software, and are working to further develop the Lorea plugins. It is hosted on a secure server – named Chelsea, in honour of Chelsea Manning – by a left wing technological membership organisation,Mayfirst.org. USi are members of Mayfirst.
ON isn’t designed for social networking. Though you’re welcome to do so, this isn’t the place to post snaps of you out on the lash, or to connect with your old school friends.
This is not a left wing alternative to Facebook.
ON is an organising network. It functions like a social network, but its purpose is to help people organise politically, securely, with an accountable and transparent decision making process. It’s ideal for union branches and campaigns, or activist groups, who for whatever reason, can’t meet physically.
You can create groups – for instance, for your branch. These can be hidden and invite only, or open to all. Within your group, you can post ablog – with pictures – about your latest campaign. You can upload important files. You can start discussion threads.
More importantly, you can take decisions democratically. Within your group, you can make a proposal. Other group members can vote on it, comment, or make a new proposal. The discussion is visible online for all logged in members to see, which helps transparency.
You can also link a proposal to an assembly – what ON calls meetings. You can set meeting dates, and if you link proposals to assemblies, they automatically go on the agenda. You can have the meeting in a physical space, or online using our web conferencing facility. Or you can just use the meeting date as the cut off point for decisions, and allow people to comment and vote in their own time.
We think ON is a useful organising space for activists, and we invite you to join and use it. There is a learning curve – there is with any new technology – but get in touch, and we will help set you up.
Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right. Let’s use all the wonderful social media tools out there to spread the word about unions fighting back against austerity, and building a world based on justice, equality and dignity. But let’s also be conscious of the ideology of the tools we use, and create our own safe spaces too.”