Tag Archives: New York Times

New York Times Offers More Advice on Activism

New Orleans       The editorial page editor of the New York Times has embarked on an interesting strategy in recent years.  I’ve made some small comments about this in the past, but the pattern is so unmistakable that this is no longer a matter of coincidence or happenstance, but clearly either an overt editorial strategy or a sly, underground one, but either way, it’s both fascinating and constructive.  The Times has obviously decided to regularly open its op-ed page to people who might have recommendations about how to engage in more effective activism or at least activism that the Times and its view of its readers would find acceptable activism.

I started noticing this last year, but with the 2020 election up for grabs, climate change a blisteringly hot topic, pun intended, and their new skepticism on tech-dominated social media as a change methodology, they obviously decided they needed to get into the game.  There were suddenly some columns on what they saw as effective community organization.  There was one recently from an academic highlighting organizing in Arizona.  Several days ago, there were props for the c4 arm of the old Center for Community Change, a community organization and economic development support center in Washington, sharing their adaptation of grassroots, community organizing techniques to huge increases in voter participation among infrequent voters.   This weekend there were tips from another author on her views of how to effectively impact climate change.

I like this encouragement of organizing and activism, but my support is categorical.  The Times doesn’t want folks going all Hong Kong out there.  They want people in the streets, but mainly if they are walking towards a voting booth.  Part of their new found enthusiasm for organizing, as we can see in their selection on the climate op-ed, includes a message in these dark times that young and old need to organize, but they need to keep it all within the lines.  No desperation or disruption is necessary.  The Times wants all of us to know that change is possible, but keep it under control.

That said, here’s the advice from Emma Marris under the headline, “Stop Freaking Out About the Climate”:

  • Ditch the shame
  • Focus on systems, not yourself
  • Join an effective group
  • Define your role
  • Know what you are fighting for, not just what you are fighting against.

Nothing wrong with any of those points.  We could do worse than to have lots of people who are sitting back and working their worry beads, jumping into the fray with that advice.

At the same time, tactics and strategy still counts.  Sometimes we have to go outside the lines in order to move the targets.  Often it is not the middle of the road that wins, but the radical edges that force change.

When reading and taking advice on action, keep an open mind, but always try to understand where people might be coming from.  That wasn’t in the op-ed column, but that’s my advice to all of you as well.

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Hacktivists versus Tech Pioneers?

New Orleans  There was a fascinating and disturbing opinion piece in the New York Times by Peter Ludlow, a Northwestern University professor philosophy that burned some of the fog from my eyes about the disparate treatment between computer hacktivists (hacking activists) and hack-preneurs or hacker entrepreneurs.   It was not just the fact that Ludlow recited the old story about the now fabled Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Apple Computer founders, who started out their seminal partnership by making and selling boxes that allowed users to beat the phone company on long distance charges, but the excessive legal penalties being assessed to hackers or other internet activists who are sharing information about security or telling us about domestic spying involving our own government.

He cites the case of Andrew Aurenheimer who stumbled on the fact that AT&T had exposed private information on some of its customers out there on the web, basically for all who knew how, to be able to see it; he and a buddy wrote some simple code to collect it.  Unlike Jobs and Wozniak, he didn’t try to score money on this deal, but instead exposed the security breach to the Gawker blog website.  For his trouble he was sentenced to almost 4-years in prison and fined $70000.

In another example Ludlow offered, he put forward the case of Barrett Brown, a journalist who became obsessed with documents indicating that two private security companies, HB Gary Federal and Stratfor, were hired by the U.S. Government to come up with various schemes to undermine protestors and journalists.   Brown is now held in a federal pokey in Texas.  His alleged crime?  He reposted a web address that was publically available on the internet so he could get help “crowdsourcing” the reading of all the documents.  He did no hacking, just reposted what was put out by these two companies, but because some of what was available in the documents included credit card info, he was charged with 11 counts of credit card fraud.  Glenn Greenwald, who writes for Salon and was one of the journalists the companies were trying to bring down, was quoted saying that it was “virtually impossible to conclude that the obscenely excessive prosecution he now faces is unrelated to that journalism or his related activism.”    Amen!

Ludlow, the philosopher, makes the point better than I could hope to do, writing,

In a world in which nearly everyone is technically a felon, we rely on the good judgment of prosecutors to decide who should be targets and how hard the law should come down on them. We have thus entered a legal reality not so different from that faced by Socrates when the Thirty Tyrants ruled Athens, and it is a dangerous one. When everyone is guilty of something, those most harshly prosecuted tend to be the ones that are challenging the established order, poking fun at the authorities, speaking truth to power — in other words, the gadflies of our society.

It’s stories like these that make you ask yourself, what country am I living in?  South Africa, Russia, somewhere in Eastern Europe?  It is painful to grasp that this is an American story, and it doesn’t take a philosopher to understand the troubling moral issues involved in all of this.

Audio of Hackers Blog

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