Progressive social movement FAIL

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So there have been a number of organisations in the UK rallying for social change and reform on certain issues where progressive ideas and methodology could Make Things Better.

Two of the larger events that have happened within the last several months have been the Convention on Modern Liberty and Reboot Britain.

One might think, fantastic, two groups looking to question the status quo by exploring and discussing themes such as civil liberties, public services, digital rights, etc, both of which have tried to garner and harness input from the common man through the blogosphere, Twitter, etc.

One might think “well, I’d guess there’d be some amount of overlap between the groups interested in what came out of both of these hubs of discourse, no?”, but google “reboot britain” “convention on modern liberty” and you get three results.

S’like, WTF? Come on now, you spent all that time, effort and money on a location, speakers, putting websites and videos online, etc, and you don’t seem to have made an attempt to have a look around to see what affiliations could be made so that you could point interested parties at each other.

While top down systems of organisation in social movements are a bad idea, there’s definitely an argument that, if you have the resources and want to help, then you can be an open hub and help create connections between the grassroots so they can gain knowledge (news, opinion, tactics, etc).

I read a fantastic article by Harry Halpin and Kay Summer in Turbulence on this subject a few months ago (I know Harry, anarchist and W3C semantic web guru, from a web geek unconference at Edinburgh Uni a couple of years ago and then through The Forest).

“Will the upsurge in activity around climate change and the food crisis repeat the cycle of the movement of movements over the past decade ? momentary visibility then dissolution? Harry Halpin and Kay Summer say ?yes?, unless different models of organising are embraced.” link

It ties in with the reasoning behind why I’m so interested in using open source content management systems as distributed social networks so that one can be properly autonomous with the software it takes to create a presence on-line while allowing information of various types to flow between oneself and other agents.

Back to the issue at hand. The lame duck here appears to have been Reboot Britain. Google for “convention on modern liberty” “open rights group” and you get 1370 results, while “reboot britain” “open rights group” returns a relatively paltry 53. I’m sure the latter could have done more (something? anything?) in the way of saying “oh, btw, why not checkout what the leading digital rights organisation in the UK has to say?”.

But the point remains – ironically one that Howard Rheingold touches on at his Reboot Britain talk (no, I can’t link directly to it as they’ve decided to wall their videos in one monolithic flash app, though it’s the far bottom presentation on here) – that in the age of the internet, you have to acquire and/or strengthen certain kinda of literacies to make the most of what is available, i.e., why should you trust (or not) certain sources and arguments and how to step back and seek out alternative and similar points of view so you don’t miss a trick.

“Will our grandchildren grow up knowing how to pluck the answer to any question out of the air, summon their social networks to assist them, organize political movements and markets online? Will they collaborate to solve problems, participate in online discussions as a form of civic engagement, share and teach and learn? Or will they grow up knowing that the online world is a bewildering puzzle to which they have few clues, a dangerous neighbourhood where their identities can be stolen, a morass of spam and porn, misinformation and disinformation, urban legends, hoaxes, and scams?”

I’m not as sceptical as Douglas Rushkoff in his recent op-ed An End to Movements where he argues “The best techniques for galvanizing a movement have long been co-opted and surpassed by public relations and advertising firms. Whether a movement is real or Astroturf has become almost impossible for even discerning viewers to figure out.”

Saying that, he concludes with “By creating and branding a movement, even the most well-meaning activists are disconnecting from terra firma, and instead entering the world of marketing, public opinion, and language selection. Potential participants, meanwhile, are distracted from whatever on-the-ground, constructive and purposeful activity they might do. They get to join an abstracted movement, and participate by belonging instead of doing, or blogging instead of acting.” which, while I feel is still OTT and misses the worth of organisations as forums for knowledge sharing and how one can use elements of trust to network and plurality to belong to or have a form of solidarity with groups with differing schools of thought, there are certain truths to – that the map is not the territory and that one needs to see how far they can act and communicate in their own life, both on a local and global scale, to tie together their principles and lifestyles and give a good example as to how things can be done differently or what policies and changes we should be demanding from those in (and out of) governance.

I think I might have said what I wanted to get across there 🙂

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