Tag Archives: Protests

You Can’t Dial Up a Demo, like an Uber

New Orleans        A question posed recently by a one of my favorite op-ed columnists, Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times, was essentially, “where have all of the protestors gone?”  It wasn’t exactly her question, but close enough.  She marveled at the number of mass actions and sustained protests around the world and wondered why the streets were not filled with people outraged and angry at the Trump mess and calling for his ouster or his head.  In a strange way, her piece was a call-to-action, but that’s not the way it really works, is it?  You can’t call up a mass movement or a demonstration by clicking on an app the same way many summon an Uber.

She’s not wrong in saying that it seems there are a lot of people are in the streets these days in different places around the world, although she may be looking at where the bullet struck, rather than understanding the trigger.  Goldberg mentions the days of demonstrations in Chile over a subway increase.  She notes that “austerity and corruption” have pushed a half-million in the streets in Lebanon.  She could have added the severe protests over eliminating the fuel subsidy in Ecuador that drove the government to leave Quito until they rescinded the measure.  Even Hong Kong, which she also cited, is responding to a perceived threat over extradition to mainland China when exercising long established rights in the city, but reporters in the Times have also documented the fact that much of the rage is also provoked by inequality and the severe housing shortages that are forcing young people to stack themselves up in small apartments like cordwood.  The through line in these actions were mass movements that arose to respond to direct, personal economic threats.  The resistance, particularly the women’s marches, that arose in response to Trump’s victory were provoked by directly perceived threats as well.  When the kindling is there, almost any spark can start a fire, and economic issues are providing the fuel repeatedly, and once the rage breaks out and is organized into the streets often other issues become additional logs to raise the flames higher.

Threats and outrage can spark movements, but it is organization that sustains them. Governments understand this in their own way.  Concessions came in many of these instances, even in Hong Kong, but organization is what it takes for them to continue.   Many flowers bloomed from the post-Trump resistance, but no organizational formation arose from them that could sustain that level of action or gain the legitimacy to lead a fight now around impeachment.  Furthermore, despite the outrage, the threat trigger is weak.  Politics is dragging on investigations.

The issues have gotten simpler, but none of these issues restrict daily life. Furthermore, there’s a reason the government was located in Washington, DC for that purpose and not in New York, Boston, or Philadelphia that had been hotspots in the revolution.  When large capital and financial cities erupt in Quito, Lima, Santiago, and even Hong Kong, the heat from the street rises to fill every room.  Something like the mass protests against Vietnam were everywhere, because the draft was everywhere.  No draft means fewer protests against war fought by armies of others.  Something like the civil rights protests also had targets everywhere.

Change can be ignited by perceived and real threats that enlist people into movements, but has to be built and undergirded by organizations.  If you build the organizations, people will come.  You can’t just call them up, like an Uber, whenever you think you might want or need them.

Sorry about that, welcome to our world!


Please enjoy.

Paper ID by Sophie & the Broken Things

Thanks to KABF.


Hong Kong Teaches Risks in Social Media Mobilization

Protesters attend a demonstration demanding Hong Kong’s leaders to step down and withdraw the extradition bill, in Hong Kong, China, June 16, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu – RC12BDB5C070

New Orleans       Don’t get me wrong.  Any group of organizers that can pull the trigger and pull out hundreds of thousands, then a million, and then possibly two million protestors on the streets out of a total population of seven million deserve wild praise and total respect.  Such organizers can teach all of us a huge amount about how to do our work and make a difference.  All of which makes it worth following closely the courageous campaign in the autonomous province of Hong Kong to block the order from the central Chinese government to extradite individuals charged with a crime to the mainland for trial, undercutting the Hong Kong judicial system and the self-government of Hong Kong, and potentially its base as a commercial and banking center as well.

Even if you have no interest in the issue, the technical lessons are worth careful study. Undoubtedly social media tools were critical implements to the mobilization, but one of the key lessons involves the perils of relying on social media for both organizers and participants unless precautions are taken.

A secure messaging application popular there called Telegram was bombarded by China in a DDos or denial-of-service attack by multiple computers meant to overwhelm the site with high volume traffic and put it out of business.  The apps founder, Pavel Durov, was quoted saying this kind of attack on Telegram was not unusual.  The New York Times reported that a monitor of a Telegram chat room with 20,000 members was arrested by Hong Kong police even though he was not part of the demonstrations and was in fact miles away at his own home.

The police are using digital tools to track protestors and identify organizers, including facial recognition capabilities, that police are also advocating for wide use in Europe and the United States. Protestors are shielding their faces with masks, hats, and glasses to prevent easy identification that could be used for arrests by police later.  On the mainland, the government often stops protests preemptively by monitoring social media.

Telegram does not have what is called end-to-end encryption on their chat rooms, which the even more popular and widely used WhatsApp has.  Protest organizers have resorted to VPN networks and pay-as-you-go SIM cards and have registered foreign and Google numbers to enter chat rooms or communicate.  To skirt WhatsApp encryption, malware disguised as an app has been found phishing users that the Times reported was likely for spying on organizers.

Protestors have been advised to buy individual tickets on the subway so that digital payment cards would not be tracked.  They have tried to stop people from taking photos of the protests or selfies since once they show up on the internet, they might lead to identification and arrests.

At ACORN, we used to constantly warn, “if you live by the press, you will die by the press,” to underline the principle that the face-to-face work in the streets and neighborhoods was our lifeblood and would keep people together whether the press was good or bad about an action or the organization.  Live by the internet and social media, you die by the internet and social media might be the warning worth heeding from the lessons on the streets of Hong Kong for organizers everywhere.