The perks of being an average coder

I’m not a great coder, I admit it. But the thing is, being average at it has made me really good at taking shortcuts. So I got into content management systems early (SPIP and later Joomla), cause I couldn’t make one myself. And then I found the one with the best dev community (Drupal). It had the most and best written code, so I didn’t have to write it. And when that system got overloaded with super well written code and libraries and plugins, to the point that it was way too hard to configure, I got into easier ways of making websites (Jekyll). I also got really good at finding ready-made digital services and open source systems for clients, so they didn’t have to spend lots of money on custom code. That’s where I am now, and that is why you should probably hire an average coder instead of a really, really good one.

People you can trust

My monthly round up of positive news and strategies for social change, the August 2016 issue. Subscribe here.

There are some people who you just know can trust. Who have organised and stood up for justice before, who are doing it now, and will most likely keep doing it in the future. Here a a few of them that did great stuff in August:

The people of Barcelona, the amazing story of one of the most progressive cities in Europe:

The teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico, fighting for higher wages and against corruption:

Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine, still standing up against capitalism (the TPP agreement which no-one knows what it is about but it’s an international secret trade agreement, so it’s probably not about basic income and better bike lanes)

The Greek anarchists, still standing up for refugees and against police repression:

Indigenous American activists (with some backup from Leonardo DiCaprio) are taking on a oil pipeline in North Dakota:

Also, there is now an app for you if you’re a refugee caught in the German bureaucracy:

Writing better design briefs with User Stories

The thing about design briefs for web projects is that they can be very detailed and totally make sense for everyone, without being helpful at all for the developer. The briefs that I’ve read often describes features in too much detail, or is set on a specific solution for the design, without defining the actual user need or problem to be solved.

In comes User Stories, a really clever way to define exactly what the users need and why, without makes assumptions about how to make it happen.

User stories are written like this
As a <type of user>, I want <some goal> so that <some reason>.

For example
As a user I want to find contact information so that I can get in touch with the organisation.

I have found user stories really helpful, not only in cases of development, but also for design decisions. It is done in a language that the client can understand, and the developer or designer can interpret, without having to read between the lines.

Using Evidence Planning to develop new digital platforms for Friends of the Earth International

Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) came to me recently to develop a new digital platform, in a combined effort to replace an old intranet that no one was using, and finding ways of mobilising members to collaborate and take action.

With member organisation in 75 countries and around 5000 activist groups worldwide, there is clearly a challenge in finding the right tools for the task. I love matching the right digital tools for different tasks, but the big question is always ”will people use it?”. So the whole process will need to be thoroughly based on user needs and expectations in the organisation.

We decided early on to follow the United Nations backed Principles for Digital Development, as they set a framework that I believe most digital projects should follow, and gives both the client and developers a common understanding of the process.

We also narrowed down the scope to initially focus on a Minimal Viable Product (MVP), both in order to focus on the main objectives and maybe more importantly to be able to involve the stakeholders in testing and evaluation the product as early as possible.

I have worked with (my own take on) a method called Effect Mapping for years, and I find it invaluable for understanding the focus, user groups and user needs in a project. The downside of this and a lot of other methods is however that they only focus on the new product. There is always some old system in the background that we are looking to replace. And the limitations or advantages of that system will always effect the expectations for the new project.

Another limitation in only looking at the current project is missing how it is linked to other systems that the organisation use, and how it enhances or interacts with them.

Thanks to the Development Impact and You Toolkit by Nesta I found this awesome workshop exercise called Evidence Planning.
In a really basic template with five fields, you and the client go through what the Key focus of the project is; how it Enhances current systems; Re-uses stuff that is already in use; which tools to Replace and what the Limits of the project is.

This method can be used for a lot of other cases than digital systems, but I found it really useful to quickly get the full picture of where this project fits into the organisations workflow.

In the case of FoEI, we found that we need to enhance internal systems like an Odoo installation that holds lots of organisational data, and the external web that is recruiting new members. By being the middle ground between these two: not for office workers or complete newbies, but people inside the organisation who wants to get more active.

It will re-use and present all the activities that are happening in groups all over the world and give a chance to share all those stories. And the systems that it is looking to replace are the intranet and it’s document repository, and possibly systems for internal communication, like email lists.

Thanks to this I now have a better grasp of where this project fits in and what the expectations from the organisation might be.

Looking ahead, we will work with User Stories to get all the details about what we want to get out of this, or these, new platforms.

Rihanna and Snoop join the revolution

My monthly round up of positive news and strategies for social change, the July 2016 issue. Subscribe here.

While all the lights are on the presidential candidates at the moment, the grass-roots movements for social change and racial equality are gaining momentum in the US. Black Lives Matters protesters have been shutting down highways and Bernie Sanders’ supporters are taking to the streets. According to activist and reverend Osagyefo Sekou the new political awakening will take new forms:
 “The occupation of public space, the rejection of traditional leadership and calling into question systems that previous generations sought to become a part of.”
 “The age of Ferguson demands that we ask a different set of questions,” he added. “Much of it is not going to happen in electoral politics; it’s going to be young people in the streets. I am not saying don’t vote. I am saying vote and. Voting is not the end goal. Voting is harm reduction.”
 The last month has also seen hordes of artists and performers turning into political activists. Beyoncé told her fans to contact their congressional representatives, Snoop Dog and the Game met with new police cadets and T.I. joined protest marches.
 All the artists getting on board also has the upside that there’s a new playlist for the uprising:
 In the UK, some guy named Smith (who is a basic Drowzee) is challenging Jeremy Corbyn (a mighty Charizard) for the leadership of the Labour Party. Hopefully, this will push the party to become against nuclear weapons again.
 And Snowden is designing a cool phone case:
 See you next month!

Your generation is going to fix this 🛠

My monthly round up of positive news and strategies for social change, the June 2016 issue. Subscribe here.

The parliamentarians of the British Labour Party tries to blame Brexit, England’s elimination from Euro 2016 and the loss of their empire on Jeremy Corbyn. Labour’s grass roots showed their support for Corbyn in their thousands at a spontaneous rally outside of parliament.
 Spain had their second election in half a year and new left wing party Podemos are closing in on the social democrats and widening the gap to hipster neoliberal Ciudadanos.
 Here’s Chantal Mouffe on Brexit and the Spanish elections:
 Is there an European revolt going on? Yes, and you can read about it in this book!
 Or in the New Left Review:
 “Your generation is going to fix this” — Michael Moore has hope for the future.

The obsolete nation state

The scope of the nation state is maybe only relevant for those seeking political power. But then again, how are they going to use that power when the issues are out of their control, on a different level? The only thing left is to keep the population in control and maintain the current order, which makes party politics easy for the defendants of neo liberalism, and hard for progressive forces actually trying to change things.

Does it matter if my country formally joins NATO or not, when there are US nuclear weapons stationed all around Europe and continuous provocations against Russia could trigger a devastating war? Will it stop the war in Syria and solve the refugee situation if my country closes its borders? Will my country’s commitments to green energy reverse climate change? What happens if a country like mine tries to go against the European Central Banks austerity dogmas (we already know that).

There is certainly an element of moral obligation and decency in choosing the ”right path” as a country. Just like it does for me as an individual. And we shouldn’t be defeatist, thinking that nothing matters. But as a progressive movement you might fool yourself that you cold actually do significant change on the wrong level. When our enemies are organised on an international level, we need to challenge them on an international level.

It’s not going to be easy to set up an international movement that can seriously challenge the corporations responsible for climate change. But it might be the only realist option.

Kurds, Coal and Cardboard #keepitintheground #rojava #feelthebern

My monthly round up of positive news and strategies for social change, the May 2016 issue. Subscribe here.

It may seem like a stretch to find positive news from Syria, but the story of how the Kurds got inspired by an eco-anarchist to create an egalitarian and democratic society in the middle of the war must be the most inspiring thing that ever happened:

While the Swedish Social Democrat and Green Party government are selling off the Swedish state owned coal mines in Germany instead of closing them down, the Ende Gelände campaign are promising lots of trouble to any interested bidder. Watch how 3500 people shut down the biggest mine in May:

Spain’s two dominant parties were never able to form a government after the election in December. For the re-election in June things are looking good for the progressive Podemos and United Left coalition, they are now the second biggest party in the polls!

French newspaper workers are showing that they too can decide what’s being published and not, not just the editors and owners.

And Brazilian film stars are standing up against the right-wing plot to kick out president Dilma of office.

We might not be able to bring Bernie into the the White House, but you can get a life size cardboard version of him for your own home!

See you next month!

Spring is here! #nuitdebout #democracyspring

My monthly round up of positive news and strategies for social change, the April 2016 issue. Subscribe here.

Spring is finally here, and with it a little bit of revolution in the air!

The Democracy Spring movement in the US staged massive civil disobedience for a week in April, to “end the corruption of big money in politics and ensure free and fair elections”. The actions, from the 11th to 18th April resulted in 1400 arrests outside of the Congress. Among them Rosario Dawson. And Talib Kweli supports it too, so you know it’s a beautiful struggle.

Sais-­tu ce qui se passe là? Various protests and strikes against new austerity measures in France have been going on for a while now, and since the 31st March an occupation of the Place de la République in Paris has turned into the Nuit Debout movement. Which I’ve been told means ”staying up all night”, but in a clever an poetic french way. Now they have a radio and a library and a newspaper and are spreading all over the place.
Read all about it in French:

Here’s a background in English:

And check out David Graeber’s analysis of Nuit Debout and the Panama Papers, how both the exploiters and the exploited are creating their own autonomous spaces.

The Egyptians are at it again, but this time the authorities have figured out how to counter their actions with pro-government dance parties if they use Facebook, so they’re relying on the encrypted chat program Signal instead.

And if you want to enjoy starting a revolution in the comfort of your own sofa, there’s now a crowdfunded computer game you should check out:

Five million ways to kill Trump

My monthly round up of positive news and strategies for social change, the March 2016 issue. Subscribe here.

This wasn’t the most interesting month, or maybe I just missed stuff cause I watched the hundredth episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race and got a thousand likes in the Kendall and Kylie game instead of following the news 🙂

Or maybe I just got bored by the US elections already.
 There are five million ways to kill a CEO, but who will succeed in beating Trump?
Will it be Bernie?
Or Anonymous?
Or the neocons (god forbid!)?

The millennials are broke but queer and generally cool about gender stuff.

M.I.A. is still the best.
 And now you can 3D print your own nukes!

Beyoncé’s hot sauce, 99 Ballons & Basic income

My monthly round up of positive news and strategies for social change, the February 2016 issue. Subscribe here.

Beyoncé has hot sauce in her bag (yes, there is an explanation for that) and owned February: she did a Black Panther inspired performance at the Super Bowl, she dropped a video to Formation criticising police violence and through Tidal she and Jay Z donated 1,5 million dollars to Black Lives Matter.
 Last weekend saw a huge demonstration in London against the renewal of UK’s nuclear weapons. And a new cover of Nena’s 99 Luftballons!
 In the US, a poll found that young Americans prefer socialism to capitalism and would rather have dinner with Bernie Sanders than Jennifer Lawrence.
 And Apple stood up for encryption against the FBI.
 Finland is preparing to try out basic income next year.
 And the Democracy in Europe Movement, DiEM, that I wrote about last month was founded in Berlin. I wrote an insider/outsider account of it.

Dreadlocks, DiEM and the Bern

My monthly round up of positive news and strategies for social change, the January 2016 issue. Subscribe here.

Podemos, now third largest party in Spain, outraged the establishment by for the first time in Spanish history bringing a black person, a nursing mother and a guy in dreadlocks to parliament! Who knows what they will come up with next!

It looks like the crushing of Greece by the EU and the banks didn’t manage to crush the will to challenge the European elites. Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, is right now setting up a network to radically transform the EU. The launch of DiEM will be in Berlin the 9th of February.

Another initiative is the Pour Un Plan B En Europe network, that keeps doing conferences to figure out what to do with the EU.

In the US, self proclaimed social democrat Bernie Sanders keeps fighting for power in the Democratic Party and has a large lead among young people. Here’s a calendar for you if you also feel the Bern:

Glenn Greenwald analyses the seven stages of hell that progressive politicians like Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders has to go through:

And the tech award of the month goes to… this little refugee saving robot:

Podemos, Paris and Playgrounds

My monthly round up of positive news and strategies for social change, the December 2015 issue. Subscribe here.

An anti-austerity party founded in 2014, experimenting with new forms of democratic decision making and creating their own YouTube news just got 21% in the Spanish elections!!!

Leftists all over Europe, please copy and paste!

The Left Can Win, Pablo Iglesias
Understanding Podemos, Pablo Iglesias (long text…)

French people together with climate activists from all over the world defied the ban on demonstrations and took to the streets of Paris during the climate summit. The awesome Climate Games group has more than a hundred inspiring action reports on their website.

See the demonstration, the adbusting and the funny dresses.

The result of the summit? Looks like we will need a lot more of this.

On the techie side of things, a company called Bitnation are using the technology behind Bitcoin to help refugees with emergency ID- and credit cards. And the Backslash art project made new cool gadgets for activists, yey!

Also, Banksy is the nicest guy ever.
Banksy turns Dismaland into playground and community center for refugees

How to stop ISIS and automate everything

My monthly round up of positive news and strategies for social change, the November 2015 issue. Subscribe here.

Canada elected a new anti austerity government after ten years of conservative rule! The clever Trudeaumetre website is keeping track of prime minister Trudeau’s fulfilling of electoral promises.

Portugal also got a new anti austerity government! The global media is sharpening their knives and comparisons to Greece’s failure to comply with neo liberal policies are the standard narrative for describing what is going on. Don’t bother to read that. Here’s a background with Tariq Ali instead.

The Paris attacks are being used to stop climate protests and refugees. Here are some constructive ideas about how to actually stop ISIS.
Turkey could cut off Islamic State’s supply lines. So why doesn’t it? — David Graeber
Isis in Paris — Tariq Ali

Fully Automated Luxury Communism (#FALC) is a thing, and everybody has to know about it!

And finally, watch M.I.A.’s and Pussy Riot’s music videos about welcoming refugees!

The time I almost shared a stage with Julian Assange, Slavoj Žižek and Yanis Varoufakis and the…

In a weird series of event in the last four months, I almost got to share a stage with Julian Assange, Slavoj Žižek and Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister.

Like many others, I was horrified by the treatment of the Greek people at the hands of creditors, bankers and European politicians.

To get the full story of what happened I started to follow the Greek finance minister’s blog, where he published transcripts from the Eurogroup meetings. A professor in economics, describing himself as an ”erratic marxist”, he shouldn’t really care about saving European capitalism, but did anyway. Because he thought that the alternative was going to be worse. He seemed like the most trustworthy person in the whole Euro circus.

After the Greek defeat, Yanis started a tour of Europe to get his story out and form what seemed like a all-star network of European leftists.

I was on parental leave at the time, maybe a little bit restless. And I’ve been involved in struggles against powerful institutions in the past, so in October last year I spontaneously sent him an email:

I saw the interview with Aaron Bastani where you were calling for mass civil disobedience to democratize Europe! I’ve been involved in various European action groups (mainly NATO- and nuclear weapons related) and would be happy to help setting something up through contacts in different parts of Europe, maybe as a part of this network you’re organising?

The reply came after exactly one hour:

Excellent. Will be in touch.

My first email wasn’t that thought through, and I didn’t really expect an answer. But now I was apparently in on something! I got some contacts together and sent over, and eventually got a reply that he was busy working on a manifesto for the network. I got an early copy of it to comment on, which felt cool.

Not much happened after that, until suddenly on Christmas Eve (not a holiday for revolutionaries), I got an invitation for the launch of the new network, Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM).

After reading the email five times — Yanis style of writing is long-winding and dramatic to say the least — have a look at the long version of the manifesto at the DiEM website and you will know what I mean — I still wasn’t sure if I had become some kind of central figure in this thing and what was expected from me now. But it seemed like I was going to give a speech in Berlin on the 9th of February.

The launch is scheduled for Tuesday 9th of February. During that day, two important meetings will take place:

1. A public meeting in the main theatre that will feature a short video … a short presentation … followed by short speeches from central figures in this (you would be one, if you care to join).

2. A private meeting of the central figures (to plan the next steps), and, separately, of volunteers who will be (wo)manning the organisation.

This raised a lot of questions. None of which I would manage to get answers to from Yanis or his assistant. Either way, I didn’t want to miss out, so me and my partner took some days of from work and got plane tickets for us and our one year old to go to Berlin for an event on a Tuesday night.

My parental leave came to an end and it was time for me to start working and for my son to start kindergarten, so not much time to think about the future of Europe. When I finally got around to sending my comments to the last version of the manifesto, they had just finished it. But they used my suggestion and made a last minute addition:

A Peaceful Europe that deescalates tensions with its neighbours to the east and around the Mediterranean, and stands as an alternative to the militaristic expansionists ambitions of NATO.

In Yanis-manifesto-speak it reads:

A Peaceful Europe de-escalating tensions in the East and in the Mediterranean, acting as a bulwark against the sirens of militarism and expansionism.

Good times! I was in on this again! Still no answers about the event in Berlin though. Were I and my partner in the planning group? Was a supposed to give a speech? When, where and how?

And we never found out. Luckily my brother-in-law lives in Berlin, so we went to stay with him for a few days, that we spent trying to get hold of someone who knew if we had tickets to the event, and what to expect from it. At one o’clock the same day as the launch, we found out that we would have tickets for hanging out in the hallway at to the launch. In the evening, we found out that the planning meetings had been earlier in the day.

It is a weird feeling to be deprived of something that was way more than you expected in the first place. I was super annoyed the whole first hour of the launching event, before I came to terms with it being a great event with fantastic speakers.

What the f**k would I do there on stage with philosophers, economists and European parliamentarians? Probably being to nervous to make any sense at all.

That being said, I do have some concerns about the strategy for DiEM, and because of the vague but still flattering first invitation, I did prepare some things to say that maybe could add a perspective to those of the professional thinkers and talkers on stage last Tuesday. Also, it is about the risk of being ignored, which seems fitting 🙂

Thank you Yanis, for a bold and wonderful initiative and a magic opening night in Berlin. Here is my half finished short speech:

Thank you so much for the opportunity to be a part of this.

The thing I really like about this initiative is that it knows who it is up against and has a plan to succeed.

Many campaigns for social change, be it by NGO:s, leftwing parties or anarchist networks, sadly don’t win. But the even sadder part is that they don’t even plan to win. They plan to influence, raise awareness, ”be part of the solution” or in successful cases win over a majority of the population. And on an individual level feel good about themselves or be part of a team or subculture that they like. That’s okay. But it will not win campaigns.

My hardest lesson as an activist comes from the mobilisation against the war on Iraq. We had all the facts on our side. We organised the biggest global demonstrations in history. But we didn’t win. Why? Because being right and having the majority on your side isn’t always enough.

We saw the same thing in Greece this summer. A majority wasn’t enough win the fight against the powers of Europe.

The reason is simple. Being in power basically means having the power to ignore other people.

That is why every movement that wants to fundamentally challenge power structures in society has to have some kind of leverage.

The labour movement had the capacity of shutting down the production. The suffragettes to disrupt the political process.

The greatest threat to our movement is not that they crush us, but that they simply ignore us.

And we need to find ways to make that impossible.

The good news is that other movements has paved the way for us. We can’t simply copy their methods, but we can build on experiences of successful campaigns for social change by:

  • Setting up parallel institutions that can’t be ignored
  • Disobeying their laws and regulations and
  • Stopping their oppressive practices

Stopping things can be done in many ways, and together we need to plan for actions that corresponds with our aims and goals. Some general ideas are to:

  • Physically blockade their institutions
  • Occupy their centres of power and
  • Hack their secret documents and make them public

In short, to paraphrase the Occupy Wall Street activist David Graeber:

”Acting as is if we were already free”.

I think this gathering is a first promising step in the direction of freedom.

Now lets take the next step and make our demands impossible to ignore.

There is nothing wrong with ”us and them”

The ones who are most successfully defining enemies and drawing lines of conflict right now are the bigots, the racists and the elite.

In the meantime, the left in general, and social democracy in particular, is working for the ”common good” and are going to great lengths to build political compromises.

This leaves great sectors of the society in a state of confusion. If no one is exploiting me, why am I still unemployed, broke, depressed and feeling alienated? The closest answer always seems to be the people at the bottom: the benefit fraudulent or the immigrants; or you yourself not being good enough at job-hunting or networking.

Any political campaign aimed at changing power relations in society will have to find both who ”us” and ”them” are. This doesn’t necessarily mean throwing bricks at your antagonists, just realise that there is a reason the change you wish to see doesn’t immediately happen — there are people holding it back.