Tony Soprano is the current phase of capitalism

Each phase of capitalism has a particular affect which holds it together.

We Are All Very Anxious, Plan C

 

olivertwist

In the nineteenth century, the dominant narrative was that capitalism leads to general enrichment. The public secret of this narrative was the misery of the working class.

Bonjour-Tristesse-Poster

In the mid twentieth century, the dominant public narrative was that the standard of living – which widened access to consumption, healthcare and education – was rising… The public secret was that everyone was bored.

tony

Today’s public secret is that everyone is anxious. Anxiety has spread from its previous localised locations (such as sexuality) to the whole of the social field. All forms of intensity, self-expression, emotional connection, immediacy, and enjoyment are now laced with anxiety.

What if’s about parliamentarianism

My current job for an organisation promoting new methods and tools for participation puts me in a lot of discussions about possible risks of doing new kinds of democratic processes, like participatory budgets, citizen’s proposals etcetera. Most of the objections start with a “what if…?”: “What if racist proposals win?” “What if people don’t have sufficient knowledge to make decisions?” “What if someone manages to vote twice on the digital platform?” And in almost all of the cases, those objections are not based on experiences or empirical studies, but are just worries about something new and unknown.

There is a lot of fear of new methods of participation, not just from the politicians or civil servants that might feel directly threatened by a deeper democracy, but also from people from the right to left who feel insecure by the prospect of letting “anyone” join in on the decision making.

The democratic experiment of parliamentarianism with one vote per person, that we have tried out for roughly a hundred years now, works tremendously well compared to what we had before, but it’s certainly not perfect. I would like to raise more questions about the possible democratic flaws of this current system, and keep a much more open mind to the possibilities that new methods can present. Here are a few of my “what if’s” about the current system of parliamentarianism.

  • What if the person you voted for change her/his political views during her/his four years in parliament?
  • what if you change your own views during those four years?
  • What if you really agree with one party on some issues but not on other issues?
  • What if you don’t agree with any of the political parties?
  • What if the politicians standing for election don’t represent the demographics of the population, when it comes to for example gender, age, class or ethnicity?
  • What if the professional politicians become distanced from the lives of their voters?
  • What if the politicians start representing their own interests instead of their voters?
  • What if the politicians don’t keep their promises from the election campaigns?
  • What if there are issues that the national parlament can’t control, like the international economy?
  • What if a lot of the actual decision making is made not by politicians, but unelected civil servants?
  • What if the election campaigns starts to be more about personal traits than political issues?
  • What if media starts favouring certain political parties or candidates and misrepresents others?
  • What if the political parties with the most economic resources have the best chance of winning?
  • What if established political parties have advantages over new and emerging ones?
  • What if the political parties lose a lot of their members, are they still representative of people’s opinions?
  • What if playing on people’s fear and xenophobia are used as a way of gaining votes?
  • What if the election programmes are written by a small group of people within the parties, not the actual voters?
  • What if the job as a politician attracts people more interested in power than serving the people?

Inspiration from the past

…the most vital and creative revolutionary movements at the dawn of this new millennium – the Zapatistas of Chiapas, and Kurds of Rojava being only the most obvious examples – are those that simultaneously root themselves in a deep traditional past. Instead of imagining some primordial utopia, they can draw on a more mixed and complicated narrative.

How to change the course of human history, David Graeber och David Wengrow

On political subcultures

Radicals tend to become radicals when we become disillusioned with aspects of the dominant culture. When we become aware of the destructive impacts of capitalism, racism, sexism, and other social systems that we see perpetuating oppression, we do not want to be part of it… However, the desire to separate ourselves from injustice can easily morph into a tendency to set ourselves apart from society in general.

Jonathan Smucker

No other country has seen a steeper fall — OECD reports about Sweden

Inequality

Sweden’s level of income inequality is low by international standards but has steadily increased since the mid-1980s, faster than in any other OECD country.

The long-term rise in income inequality was driven by widening gaps in market income, but also by weakening redistribution: tax rates fell and out-of-work benefits grew more slowly than wages.

http://www.oecd.org/sweden/sweden-achieving-greater-equality-of-opportunities-and-outcomes.pdf

Education

No other country taking part in PISA has seen a steeper fall.

http://www.oecd.org/sweden/sweden-should-urgently-reform-its-school-system-to-improve-quality-and-equity.htm

There are signs of growing inequalities in the distribution of learning outcomes in Sweden. The gap between the highest- and lowest-performing students has increased over the last decade and is now wider than the OECD average. The performance gap between socio-economically advantaged and disadvantaged students is also increasing.

http://www.oecd.org/sweden/PISA-2015-Sweden.pdf

Housing

The Survey points out that housing prices have soared, and are now among the highest in the 35-member OECD. Household indebtedness has risen in tandem, while the lack of affordable housing has worsened both inequality and labour mobility. A comprehensive reform package is therefore needed.

http://www.oecd.org/sweden/sweden-s-economy-is-resilient-and-growing-strongly-but-must-address-rising-challenges.htm

The problem with people who only write books

To me, there is often something alienating about most left wing writers, be it David Harvey or Paul Mason. The analysis of the current situation can be spot on, but there is often a lack of practical ways forward. For younger people, and people who aren’t making a good living as writers or in academia, there isn’t really time to wait for the revolution to come. We need to see which the next step is, and we need to be able to take that step now. I suppose this has been marxism’s weakness since Marx: however brilliant he was at analysing capitalism, he was very vague about how ordinary people could break free from it.

If the next step forward doesn’t really involve you, but you need to give away your power to a party or wait for the historical conditions to be right or whatever, you are pretty likely to lose interest. But if you can in any way assert your own power and autonomy, however small it might be, it will empower you to keep going. Squat a house, start a co-operative, blockade a road, go to an assembly meeting.

Social Democracy revisited

As a Swedish person born in 1980, my relationship with social democracy is disillusioned, to put it mildly. Older generations have the memories of economic improvements of their daily lives, and can remember a time of optimism about future possibilities. Younger people, being brought up into neoliberalism and individualism, might look back with nostalgia and take inspiration from what social democracy once created. My generation on the other hand started out with high expectations, in one of the most equal and prosperous countries in the world, but saw it being scattered in front of our eyes in a process starting around the same year that I was born.

My personal memories of social democracy is from politicians handing out red roses to the police force who shot at fellow protesters in Gothenburg during the EU summit of 2001. It is the invasion of Afghanistan, the first war our country has been explicitly involved in since the Napoleon wars. And it is the lack of memory of who really did what, them or the conservatives, as to making a mess of the schools, railways, housing situation, immigration laws and pension system over the last thirty years.

The situation we are in now, with a former socialist party running a neoliberal economy, is sort of like a more democratic version of China: chaotic capitalism bundled with the paternalism, conformity and bureaucracy that always was the dark side of the welfare state.

So it’s hard to look beyond all this.

The way forward for progressives would be to create the exact opposite of this: rediscovering the tradition of populist social democratic reforms for the collective good, while making a clear break with the authoritarianism of both unregulated capitalism and state socialism.

Since we don’t have a Corbyn- or Sanders-like opposition within the party, and our left-wing alternatives hardly have any popular appeal nor ever had a strategy beyond being a sidekick to the lesser evil-party, there isn’t much hope for the future at the moment.

Clearly, there is a need for a new progressive populist movement, to fill the gap after the fall of Social Democracy and the collapse of neo-liberalism. So should that movement build on the social democratic movement in any way? Or should we do as the rebels of Paris in ’68 and “leave the party in the same condition as we found it” to be left as a something of the past, along with state communism?

The thing about the party, being an institution of power for about a hundred years, is that it is so much more than just a party. It is connected to the trade unions, the food and housing cooperatives, the organisation for study groups, the cultural houses and lots of other once-movement-run institutions.

At its best, it was a strong and diverse movement of cooperatives, self organised study groups, autonomous cultural and political spaces and radical trade unions, in coalition with a political force capable of articulating reforms benefiting the vast majority of the population. This is what Social democracy was at its height.

No other political force has managed to create the kind of populist hegemony around social reforms in Sweden. Their legacy is enormous. The only time the conservative party was close to becoming the largest party was when their pr-people rebranded them as “the new workers party” (and before they once again proved that they were not).

So, beside all the emotional resentment to the party and it’s recent policies, what was the movement at its best? And how can we create something with that same content, but in a different form?

Daenerys as Lenin and John Snow as Fidel — the kings and queens of Game of Thrones as socialist…


Maybe it’s a stretch to call Daenerys a Leninist, but she has his strong sense of entitlement, of thinking that she knows what is best for the common people and how to liberate them. She rules together with a small vanguard of close advisers, who may not always agree on strategic considerations, but nevertheless are for ever loyal to their leader. Spending most of her days in exile, she gathers her forces and waits for the right moment to return to the motherland. Her righteousness can lead to unnecessary cruelty, even if the ambition of universal liberation is admirable.

Jon Snow combines Fidel Castro’s strategic mind in pulling together a populist alliance against “the enemy in the North” with Che’s bearded charisma as a fighter. He’s not the most democratic leader, and god knows what he’ll become if he gets complete power, but being in the front-line and earning his people’s trust are central to his brand of leadership. Presenting himself as a down to earth guy, he still has all the confidence of being from a “high born” family.

And yes, Cersei certainly has an element of Stalinism to her. Being the ultimate real politician, there isn’t much room for ideology here, and any agreement or tactical alliance is okay as long as it consolidates her own power. Emerging from the shadows of seemingly more powerful people, she gradually extends her power by crushing one rival after another.

The guys who would rather die standing than live on their knees, aka the Wildlings, aka the Free Folk, are the anarchists of the realm. With a slight tendency to glorify violence and a deep mistrust of all kings and queens, they live by their own rules on the fringes of society. While democracy isn’t very highly regarded in the rest of the Seven Kingdoms, the Free Folk gets their general assembly together whenever it is decision making time. Mance Ryder is their Makhno or Durruti, someone who is looked up to not as a “rightful heir”, but for exceptional organising and fighting skills.

Making Madrid´s citizen platform accessible to a wider audience

Upcoming project at Medialab Prado’s Collective Intelligence 2017.

The citizen platform Consul is used by Madrid and over thirty other cities in Spain, as well as several cities in Latin America. In the last few months it has also been used by the social housing company of Paris for participatory budgeting and the British People’s Momentum for their annual meeting. This makes it one of the most interesting and well used open source projects for deliberative democracy right now.

Many of the organisations and social movements that we in Digidem Lab are in contact with are impressed by the possibilities of Consul. But it is also hard to demo the tool for them, and show them what their next step for implementing it would be.

Although a very useful tool with a wide range of use cases, the installation and setup process requires a lot from its administrators, and is something we believe is holding it back from being more widely used.


Adapting to new needs

With the new target audiences for Consul (cities abroad, NGO:s, different kind of participatory budgets), we need to look at the user journeys for adapting the tool for the different users and see how to best meet their needs and expectations.

This project is about finding the best ways to lower the threshold for the installation and setup process for these new target audiences. With an interdisciplinary team of marketers, developers and designers, we would be able to tackle many of the obstacles to wider implementation of Consul and provide a clear step by step process for any organisation interested in implementing and adapting it.

Any self hosted platform will of course have the problem of needing people with technical expertise. But some open source platforms, like for example Nextcloud, has shown an ability to meet their users half way by providing a range of options for installations, demo versions and documentation.

Finding the pain points

We will work in two phases, by first identifying new target audiences, their needs and pain points; then work iteratively on the setup process and documentation.

In the first phase we will get to know the users by defining target audiences, researching user experiences, defining personas and drawing user journeys.

Defining new target audiences: Which are the new groups using Consul, and how do we pinpoint and define these new users?

Researching user experiences: Interviewing for example Open Source Politics from France and Peoples Momentum from the UK about their experiences from using Consul in new contexts.

Personas and user journeys: Defining detailed profiles for our new personas. Creating user journeys for how the personas ideally would come to adopt Consul. Identifying pain points and obstacles where improvements in the documentation and installation process can be made.

Working on improvements in iterations

In the next stage, we work on improvements in iterations looking at for example automated installation options; a clearly designed installation guide; pre-configured installation profiles or demo versions based on the known user cases like citizen platforms, annual meetings, participatory budgeting.

Automated installation: Help the Consul development team with automated installation scripts for Ansible or Heroku. There are some progress in making Docker images that we could develop further.

Installation guide: There is a new drafted text from the Consul team. We could design and set up a manual in for example Read the docs or Hexo and work on the texts. Another option to explore is to make instruction videos for the different user cases.

Installation profiles and demo versions: The Consul team is working on a preconfigured setup file that we could extend to cover more cases that would be useful for demo versions.

Going worldwide

We are collaborating with the Consul development team to contribute to their work and base this development on their future needs. They are already making progress in these three areas, that we could feed into and develop further during the lab.

The overall theme is to make the installation and setup process easier and more accessible, to make it go worldwide! While these are general ideas about how to do it, the exact ways will depend on the identification of personas and user journeys, our contact with the Consul team, and the input and different skills that the working team contribute with during the lab.

The Jamie Oliver of anarchism

David Graeber is sort of the Jamie Oliver of anarchism: he demystifies the ideas and practices of modern activism and explains complex issues in a non academic language.

What makes him stand out as a left wing political thinker is also his actual experience of practical political organising, from the globalisation movement and Occupy Wall Street. That puts him in a special line of writers, like when Che writes about guerrilla warfare or Lenin about the state and the revolution. You don’t have to agree with these people to find their point of view relevant for discussion.

Unfortunately, this is also something that alienates him from “mainstream” Marxism. Most people in these circles base their ideas about organisation on the structure of the labour movement a hundred years ago. But lets face it, the organisational structure of the dominant protest movements of the last thirty years has been completely dominated by anarchist and feminist ideas.

Why not anxious?

I wonder how many percent of the population will have to suffer from anxiety before it stops getting treated as something caused by abnormal personal experiences. When you personalise a problem that effects a majority, you clearly must be missing the point.

My therapist sort of looked relieved when I said that I was brought up in the evangelical church — “there it is”. Yes, that probably contributed. But I also got anxious from the competitive grading system at school; the uncertainty of the job market when I left school; my growing student loan; the difficulty of finding a flat and the fifteen times I had to move in ten years; the police repression and vilification in media I got exposed to for being active against militarism and neo-liberalism; the prospect of climate chaos; living in a country with the fastest growing income equality in the western world; the rise of neo-fascism and the personal threat it poses to many of my friends; my dad’s early retirement for a rare disease, the lack of support from the healthcare system and ridiculously low pension he gets; the fact that most of my friends also have or have had mental health problems.

The real question to me is “how did I not have anxiety problems for so may years?”.

I take the blame for the millennials

In ’97 I was a quinoa-eating, gender-confused, yoga practising vegan, buying second hand clothes and de-cluttering my room.

http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3v4fs1

Me and others like me took the fight for the kind of lifestyle that the millennials take for granted. We fought against parents, the school cafeteria and the general perception to normalise all these things that we thought constituted a better lifestyle.

I don’t regret any of these things, yoga really helps my back problems. The sadness in retrospect comes from knowing that all these things didn’t help create a demilitarised, direct democratic society with economic equality, which I also hoped for in 1997.

While the millennials have a wider range of options when it comes to a lot of important choices in life, they are much worse off than my generation when it comes to some of the basic conditions of life — they have more unemployment, more income inequality, less housing and more mental health issues.

And I take part of the blame for that. Capitalism has an astonishing ability to co-opt and commodify every subversive act that doesn’t directly threatens its existence. So while I think it can be a good thing to have an alternative culture and lifestyle, that culture also needs to take some swings at the people that benefit from the exploitation of most of us. And I don’t think we did that enough.

What start-ups can learn from affinity groups

The start-up world has come to the same conclusion as many social movements, that a small group of people working together make the most effective and creative choices.

A group of around seven people is recommended by both Google Venture’s “Design Sprint” method, as well as various activist guides to “affinity groups”.

The idea with affinity groups however, is not only to organise your part of an event or action, but also to be a part of a bigger horizontal structure of other groups working towards the same ends.

While the close-knit cooperation in a start-up is a good thing for creativity, it hits a wall when it comes to cooperation with others. The economic incentives doesn’t encourage that. In the rule book of capitalism you can do four things: you can compete, you can merge, you can buy or be bought. This creates a tribal culture were you only look after your own little group. The priority is your clan, not innovation, cooperation or the free flow of ideas.

A small group will be good at coming up with creative ideas, but not at solving large scale or long term problems. And the clan culture stops the kind of collective intelligence where a large group of people can create truly innovative solutions.

As this clan culture clearly stifles innovation, some alternative cultures arise, like co-working spaces, meet-ups and hackathons. But this still has limited effect. The culture of competition and only looking after your own needs to be more consciously broken if we want to see more large scale innovation and proliferation of good ideas. That requires not only a cultural shift, but also creating economic incentives for cooperation.

A structure for sharing ideas and profits between different worker-controlled companies through a horizontal network of start-ups could be one way. This kind of large scale horizontal coordinating is done all the time at large activist gatherings, so the methods are just there ready to be used by future minded entrepreneurs.

Are we safe yet?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/javajoba/4013349543

If you have been to cognitive behavioural therapy, which is pretty standard now if you go to a therapist, you will know that they will look at what kind of safety behaviours you do. These are behaviours that make us feel good in the short run, but sustain our problems in the long run, like for example drinking alcohol or overeating to deal with your anxiety. The kind of things that our mind tricks us into thinking will make the problem go away, when in reality it only makes things worse.

I think a lot about this when I’m at airports. Many of the tedious things we do before boarding a plane is explained to us as “security measures”: putting your deodorant in a little plastic bag, getting searched, answering questions about who packed your bag. A lot of these extra measures were introduces or strengthened as a part of the War on terror over fifteen years ago. So with all the effort, time and money going into security, we should all feel extremely safe by now.

Is it far fetched to think that there is a collective anxiety at play here, and that we in Europe and the US deal with it in any way possible that does not actually look at the causes of terrorism, immigration and war? That we rather go through another security check, put our liquids in a plastic bag and take off our shoes before we go through the metal detector, just to feel that quick fix of security?

Pirates as democratic role models

A cool thing about pirates, that I only learned just recently, (the other ones being obvious: a bad-ass flag etc etc) is that they were extremely democratic, both in political and economic matters.

By Jean Leon Gerome Ferris — http://www.neatorama.com/2007/10/22/pirate-lore-7-myths-and-trrrrruths-about-pirates/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8643114

The 17th century pirates, during the golden days of ship-robbing in the Caribbean, elected their captains and quarter masters (the person responsible for the staff) and divided their loot equally among the staff, with some extra stuff for the captain (a cooperative counselling company in my city does the same thing, equal pay for everyone but an “anxiety bonus” for the coordinator, who gets to deal with some of the more anxiety creating stuff, like managing the workforce. Fair enough. The captain had to lead the battles, which probably also kept him awake at night once in a while).

This is maybe not what you would expect from violent outlaws, especially at a time when the rest of society, and in particular the other ships, had strict and brutally enforced hierarchies with no room for voting or fair distribution of wealth.

The pirates had in one way or another fled that oppressive society, knowing that if they got caught they would face a certain death. They were good fighters with nothing to lose, which ultimately made them impossible to govern. A despotic or unpopular captain wouldn’t last long with them, and an unfair distribution of the loot would create a mutiny. There was only one way to run a ship with these kind of people — with a just and democratic system that everyone could agree on.

The public secret of anxiety

Only a small minority of people (13%) report living with high levels of good mental health.
 — Surviving or Thriving? The state of the UK’s mental health

Today’s public secret is that everyone is anxious.
 — We Are All Very Anxious, Plan C

It’s hard for me to think about anything more personal than my anxiety problems. Yet it’s becoming ridiculous to talk about mental health in any other way than as a problem that, in one way or another, effects us all. I just read in a magazine that three out of four bosses have sleeping problems. I can’t say I feel sorry for them. But it clearly means that you can’t buy your way out of all of the negative effects of this economic system any more.

Still, I find it hard to talk about my own anxiety in political terms. I’m in many aspects in a privileged position myself, as white, heterosexual, male and so on. And the way I was taught about activism is that your personal struggles only become something political if your part of an oppressed group. Which I’m not. But my anxiety, just like the bosses’ sleeping problems, is still caused by an oppressive and dysfunctional economic system.

Public secrets are typically personalised. The problem is only visible at an individual, psychological level; the social causes of the problem are concealed. Each phase [of capitalism] blames the system’s victims for the suffering that the system causes.
 — We Are All Very Anxious, Plan C

Work less, produce more

According to tradition, a programmer’s productivity was measured by “lines of code” in the old days. That is, the amount of code you wrote.

Anyone remotely interested in programming understands how crazy that is, because the less code you need to write to make something happen, the more talented programmer you are (if the code is documented, structured and can be understood by others).

The fact that this measurement was used isn’t that crazy though — that’s our economic system’s standard way of measuring work. We get rewarded for working hard, doing overtime, putting in the hours and so on. If I as an employee come up with a way to do my job in less hours, it’s not like I will be rewarded for it. Just imagine if I came up with a way of completely automating all of my assignments at work. I would probably lose my job.

So a lot of innovation when it comes to automation, which is what a lot of innovation is about, is hampered by how the economy is structured. There is simply no economic incentive for it.

As a result, a lot of amazing innovation comes from other incentives than economic ones. The autobiography of Linus Torvalds, the main guy behind Linux, is called “Just for fun”. That is also how he describes his motivation behind writing the operating system that powers most of the internet servers and supercomputers today. And that is how large sectors of the open source sector still works.

If we truly want an innovation driven economy though, we need to create more incentives for productivity and automation. For starters, collectively owned workplaces would help. That way you might actually benefit from automation and a rise in productivity. Sharing our results and ideas freely will also immensely benefit innovation. And last but not least, we need to get rid of the work ethos that are encouraging us to measure productivity in “lines of code”.

Why referendums don’t work

In the Colombian referendum last year, people got the options of “yes” or “no” to a thick pile of paper outlining the exact conditions for peace with the Farc guerilla. The result was even, but the no side won.

Referendums in general must be the least democratic process for decision making that you can possibly participate in (while still actually participating in a decision).

The problem is that you are not involved in the processes that should come before a decision, like defining the problems to solve and coming up with constructive solutions.

That leaves you with a decision that is not about solving peoples actual problems, but some other thing that the politicians can’t make up their mind about.

When you ask a confusing question and it’s unclear what actual problem it pretends to solve, you will get a random result. Like in the referendums in the UK or Colombia last year.

If the suggested solution was unclear to Colombian voters, the issues addressed must have been extremely confusing to UK voters.

Which problem did the people who voted for Brexit try to solve? A lot of the debate was about immigration. But “leave the EU” and “less immigration” are both suggested solutions, not actual problems. So the issues must be something else, but what were they?

Looking at the statistics, a qualified guess is that two immediate concerns for many of the no voters are a secured income and affordable housing.

… most of those not working voted to Leave. More than half of those retired on a private pension voted to leave, as did two thirds of those retired on a state pension.

Around two thirds of council and housing association tenants voted to Leave.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/who-voted-brexit-how-eu-8277077

When acute problems don’t get addressed in other ways, they spill over into referendums and general elections, where you at least get a chance to piss off the academic elite.

If our democratic processes were more about addressing peoples needs, and less about token participation, we would use methods for real participation and problem solving instead of confusing referendums.

Trying to think rationally about the nation state

There is this weird void in rational thinking when it comes to the state, and it really confuses me.

The far right holds a belief in the state that is somewhat religious. It’s unclear exactly what they love about it, and the affection don’t seem to be based on any rational ideas. They clearly don’t love everybody living in the particular geographic area at this given time, not even the ones who’s relatives have lived there forever. Historically they’ve also been known to mess with the nation state’s geographic borders, which really is the only thing that defines it from other states.

The conservatives and neoliberals seem to have a pretty clear idea about what the state is for: they let it do all the policing and warfare and leave the decision making to the capitalists. They also like the state to bail out crooked bankers if needed. What’s confusing about them is that they pretend to dislike the state, but really just want it do all the dirty work.

The whole spectrum of the left is confused on a much higher level: “it will fade away”, “we need to control it”, “it’s the enemy” and so on. Neither the communist/social democratic or anarchist camp ever get into any deep discussions about this (believe me, I’ve read their books).

My main question are: 1) Is the nation state a relevant tool to solve the big problems that humanity is facing right now? 2) Is it a practical entity to decide on day to day issues or administer our common wealth?

If we forget about the police and military for a while (which can and often is organised locally, regionally or internationally anyway), we’re left with the governing. I would say that decision making basically is about trying to solve common problems. The thing about common problems is that they need to be addressed on the right level. Kind of what the EU calls “subsidiarity” (“the principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level”). It goes the other way too — you can’t solve an international problem in your local council. And geographically, it’s hard to solve a problem that happens somewhere else. In practise, this means that my city is a good place to decide about how to build our local park or how to deal with the trash, but not so good for solving the war in Syria or take international measures against climate change. That could be dealt with regionally in the Middle East (yes, that means that the US should stay out of it) or globally.

So it comes down to which entity is the right one to deal with any given problem. These entities don’t need to be geographically based, since we have ways to communicate with other people than those within shouting or horse riding distance.

So for my first question earlier, there’s the world market, climate change, global poverty and war. I would say the answer is no. These are problems on a global or at least continental level and we need to deal with them on that level. For the second question I guess it sort of depends on the issue. I might be confused about this, but I can’t really see for which particular problems the state is the exact right entity. I’m sure there are specific cases, but often it’s probably better to deal with things on a more local level.

I think this confusion has major political consequences. People feel alienated from national politics because it’s just not able to deal with things the right way. The traditional left (in a small country like mine) that still pretends it can set economic policies on a national level, will surely lose support, because people see that it’s just not working. The conservatives benefits from this, because they can still use the state for policing, but they never touch the real challenges people are facing. The far right is probably the ones taking the issues of decision making most seriously, but all they’ve got is a short term strategy of isolating each country (and being assholes to people they don’t like).

What’s lacking, especially in the left, is just some political imagination. There is no god given choice between a super strong nation state or everybody just hunting and gathering. We can organise in any shape or size, and we can’t expect one entity to solve all of humanities problems, be it the nation state, the UN or your local squat pub. But we have to be very practical about addressing some life threatening problems on the right level now, or we’re done.

Trapped between network and hierarchy

Technologically, we are headed for zero-priced goods, unmeasurable work, an exponential takeoff in productivity and the extensive automation of physical processes.

Socially, we are trapped in a world of monopolies, inefficiency, the ruins of a finance-dominated free market and a proliferation of ‘bullshit jobs’.

… everything is pervaded by a fight between network and hierarchy.

Paul Mason, PostCapitalism

Paul Mason sums up the conflict of systems on a societal level pretty well. The dying hierarchy and the emerging network. But what messes with you on a personal level is not just the hierarchy, but the fact that you’re constantly being trapped between the two systems.

Like when your boss finds your Instagram account where you make memes about your sexual identity and mental health issues. Which is really empowering on a personal level but not very good for your sales career. Or you are expected to check your work email when you are sunbathing on the Canary Islands. Which would be fine if all you ever did was chilling and checking the occasional email, but you’re trapped in an office most of your time, and your free time is precious as fuck. Or you’re unemployed and can’t pay your rent, cause thanks to automation we don’t have work that much. But it’s not like you’ll see the benefits of that.

The new celebrities of social media are the ones that supposedly have found a way of escaping the hierarchy altogether to only live in the network. My uneducated guess is that the people who pull that off are either:

  1. Exceptions, which are allowed in the hierarchy to make it look like there is an escape from the system if you’re lucky, talented or hard working.
  2. Really poor, but keeping up appearances.
  3. Selling the dream of living in the network to people who want to believe it. Like those inspirational speakers who talk about having a start-up, but make all their money from public speaking, not the actually start-up.

And no, having other people work for you is not a way out of the hierarchy, it’s a way of sustaining and prolonging an exploitative system.

I had a worker-owned cooperative for some years and thought that might be a way out, but it mostly just worked according to the same hierarchical logic, with the difference that we got to be our own exploiters.

There might be a forth way, and I’ll definitely do what I can to try to find it. Let me know if you have any ideas.

How-tos for the modern revolutionary

My monthly newsletter with positive news and strategies for social change, the October 2016 issue.

Winter is coming, and you should be watching a movie instead of reading your emails. So I’m going to keep it short, and just give you five easy ways of fighting the power.
 
 This is how to…
 
 1.Protest in style (like Jaden & Willow Smith at the Dakota Pipeline protests)
 http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/33478/1/jaden-and-willow-smith-join-the-dakota-pipeline-protests
 
 2. Find out about the ten dirtiest secrets from the rulers of the world
 http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2869-10-years-10-million-documents-the-top-10-greatest-hits-of-wikileaks
 
 3. Become a political activist (like Nadya Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot)
 http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/33090/1/the-pussy-riot-protest-manifesto-nadya-tolokonnikova
 
 4. Find out more about the soon-to-be most powerful person on earth (wops, got that one wrong!)
 https://www.versobooks.com/books/2121-false-choices 
 
 5. Fight transphobia, and get great nails
 http://thelongandshort.org/society/nail-transphobia
 
 See you next month!

Strong protest, weak song ✊

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

Do you remember in 2003 when Dixie Chicks said that they were ashamed that Bush was from Texas? If you are country stars from the south your protests will stir up emotions. The same seems to be true for American football stars. Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand up for the national anthem has gained more attention than any other celebrities speaking up for black lives.
 
 “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
 
 In a couple of tweets John Legend points out that it also happens to be a ”weak song”. And then there is the thing about the third verse being about killing slaves.
 
 “For those defending the current anthem, do you really truly love that song? I don’t and I’m very good at singing it. Like, one of the best”
 “My vote is for America the Beautiful. Star spangled banner is a weak song anyway. And then you read this…”
 https://theintercept.com/2016/08/28/colin-kaepernick-is-righter-than-you-know-the-national-anthem-is-a-celebration-of-slavery/
 
 As everyone, except a small isolated elite in media and politics expected, Jeremy Corbyn easily won the re-election as leader of the British Labour Party. And just as in Spain and other places were progressive forces are on the rise, the struggle is really between if we should have more or less democracy:
 https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/09/jeremy-corbyn-labour-leadership-democracy-doug-saunders/
 
 Here’s an inspiring interview with journalist Amy Goodman, who is facing arrest for covering the North Dakota pipeline protests that I wrote about last month. If you don’t like reading you can watch Neil Young’s song Indian Givers in support of the protests instead.
 http://www.huckmagazine.com/art-and-culture/amy-goodmans-fierce-brand-independent-journalism/
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CM-NkM-dIDA
 
 Also, the students in South Africa are taking to the streets.
 https://www.zedbooks.net/blog/posts/south-africas-insurgent-students/
 
 See you next month!

Algorithms are making internet into a small town

There is a sense of familiarity to how Facebook’s and other Internet giants’ algorithms are presuming what we want or don’t want to see. Having grown up in a small town in the 90’s I know what it is like when you only get exposed to cultural influences from the people in your immediate surrounding and with similar views and ideas.

As the Internet giants increasingly use algorithms to predict what we like and steer our preferences, what they really are doing is to replicate a small town.

What used to be so great about the Internet was that it offered a way out of this. You could explore political views, culture and ideas from anyone, anywhere, just based on what you searched for. Growing up without any other options that playing football, hockey or being a nerd it opened up immense possibilities to explore any subculture ever heard of.

The difference now is that Facebook rather wants me to see what people in my own area, with supposedly similar views, are up to. That sort of narrow-mindedness was the reason I moved to a bigger city when I was 18. Now I need to move to more open minded parts of the Internet.

Designing a guiding app for digital democracy

This is a description my project for as a part of the Collective Intelligence for Democracy workshop in November 2016 for MediaLab Prado Madrid.

In Sweden, more young people use Facebook every day than who voted in the last general election. This is an international trend, and most certainly does not come down to lack of interest in politics from young people, but from outdated and excluding tools and processes for democratic participation.

Digital tools open up completely new possibilities for instantaneous participation, discussions and decision making, without relying on geographical proximity. If traditional political instances and organisations do not adapt to new ways of working and thinking, they will keep losing trust and members. If they take advantage of the new possibilities of participation they will have enormous potential.

In the rest of Europe, we look up to you in Spain. You have found ways of implementing some interesting digital services in your local municipalities, political parties and NGO:s, and the rest of Europe has a lot to learn from you.

So we know that there are a lot of interesting tools already available, that needs to be tested and evaluated in local contexts.

In my organisations, Digidem Lab and ABF Göteborg, we are planning a long term project starting next year together with Sweden’s Local Municipalities, the Green Party, The National Council of Swedish Youth Organisations, Young People with Disabilities and Young Media. The project will research new ways for young people to get involved with digital democratic processes.

What we have seen in the run up to this project is that there is a demand for new technology, both in municipalities, parties and NGO:s. But also an urgent need for concrete examples of implementation, cost efficient solutions and practical guidance. And we think that this also is true in an international context.

Digidem Guide, the project that we will develop during this workshop, is an app guiding organisations to the digital tools that meet their specific needs for direct democratic participation via the Internet. The app will help organisations to find the right tools for digital democracy based on criteria like field of application, scope, need for security, technical knowledge and licensing.

The target group is decision makers in NGO:s, political parties and local municipalities. By developing it in an international context with all the valuable experiences from other team members, we will widen the reach to an international audience.

The project’s aim is to make existing tools available to a wider audience without technical knowledge or previous experience in the field. By broadening the user base we will also be able to get better feedback on the tools to help proceed the development further.

As a web strategist who has worked for NGO:s for about fifteen years, I know that it takes time to introduce new technologies and new ways of working. Having said that, there is often a willingness in organisations to find ways to get people involved and widen the reach of the organisation.

My experience is that usability is the key to succeeding in introducing new digital services. We need to be sure that the new tools and workflows that we introduce are as intuitive and user friendly as possible. To be honest, that is not always the case with open source applications. Therefore, to make the tools work for everyone, we need to involve people from all sorts of backgrounds and levels of technical experience who are willing to do user tests and evaluations, and help developers and designers in finding the right tools for the right task.

The development and design of the app will be focused on early user testing with the whole team, and I would therefore very much welcome the participation of activists, politicians and NGO representatives in the process.

The development of the app will kick off with an the initial workshop where we share ideas and visions for the project, after which we will all start researching and collecting tools to document in the app.

As I said earlier, focus then will be on creating an early prototype, with open source app frameworks, that can be tested by the whole team. We will prioritise the three most important improvements, and work on them until the next iteration of user testing and development. The process will be repeated three times, while we will also integrate a shiny user interface and a user friendly back-end for adding content. After that, we will be ready to launch the app as a web interface and eventually an Android and iPhone app!

I am very much looking forward to this workshop, as an opportunity to combine experiences from Sweden and the Spanish and international community, and to find ways of networking and collaborating on an international scale.

Modular and responsive design for Doctors Without Borders

This is a recap of a talk by Petter Joelson at Rabash’s Design Salon on February 19, 2015.

My agency Rabash was hired in 2014 to start redesigning Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF) Sweden’s website. The mission was to make the navigation intuitive, especially on smaller screens; optimise the donation interactions and enable moderators to create flexible campaign pages.

After the initial concept phase, I chose to start working on an early responsive prototype in html. Step by step, the prototype evolved to be equivalent to a full website. It might seem like a complicated process to make such vast prototypes in html, but I have learnt some tricks to make it quite easy. I have also seen three major advantages in this way of working, that I will walk you through one by one.

1. Responsive

Show the client how the website will look and behave.

Since responsive design came around a few years ago, I have worked according to the Mobile First-principle, and started the design process with wireframes for mobile screens. It is often an illustrative way of showing the client which priorities they have to make for the website to be easy to navigate. But it started to feel more and more impractical to show mockups of a page that does not look like the end result at all and can not be tested in its ”natural environment” which is the browser on a phone, tablet or desktop. This makes it unnecessary hard for the client, and even me as a designer, to envision the functionality and look of the final product.

Having to write complicated code just to show a quick idea for a client would not work for me. My first criteria for prototyping was that it should involve as little coding as possible. And even as front end development has become more and more specialised and complicated over the years, there are now more and more easy to use frameworks for building websites and other digital products.

A couple of years ago I started to experiment with simple prototypes in html. In the beginning it was just static pages built with Bootstrap. When I got the hang of it, I realised that it was actually as quick as drawing page by page in a wireframe app. For example: if I changed the height of an element at the top of the page, I did not have to move every other element; if I wanted to change the size of all headlines, I only had to do it once.

Now I use a combination of Bootstrap and Jekyll, with a few minor plugins that I install with Bower.

2. Modular

Give clients a custom design system with which they can modify, extend, and grow with into the future.

Brad Frost

A few years back, it was a really big deal when you every three to five years launched a new website. After the launch the sites became more and more out of date, until you did a complete redesign again. Most people understand now that their website has to be a living thing that evolves over time, in small adjustments, to stay relevant to users.

So how do we adapt to this workflow in the design process? Brad Frost advocates a method that he calls Atomic Design. He breaks down the design into smaller components to be able to present the client with a comprehensive design system, not just mockups for specific pages. Frost uses five levels for his design system:

  • Atoms: A single button or headline
  • Molecules: A search field with button and textfield; A byline for an article
  • Organisms: A campaign area, menu or list of news
  • Templates: The page template for news articles
  • Pages: Complete pages like About or Blog

To showcase the design system, Frost has developed something he calls Pattern Lab, that provides a kind of responsive style guide, documenting all parts of the website.

Inspired by Frost’s Pattern Lab, I developed a documentation for the different components of the website for Doctors Without Borders. It made it easier to explain to our AD which components needed graphic design, and the structure of the website became clearer for our developers.

For a vast project like this, it also made the whole workflow run smoother, as I could get an approval from the client for specific components, before the whole page template was done.

3. Content first

Separate content and presentation

A challenge with the new design was making huge amounts of information accessible on small screens. To achieve that, I needed to start with the content, and not make the mistake of building a perfect website, that get gets ”ruined” when the actual content is added.

The advantage of working with a system like Jekyll is that you can make a complete separation of design and content. The content files, using Markdown, are super simple text files that only defines the content, fields and template to use, nothing more.

That enables me to be able to work separately with the content, let a copy writer or the client go through the texts during the prototyping phase, and avoid surprises in later stages.

The prototype for Doctors Without Borders is nearly a complete version of the website, as I define templates in Jekyll and then only need to add ”raw” content.

From the prototype, I was able to generate a documentation page, that lists entry pages, types of articles, components and menu items.

To be able to make this separation of content and design is extremely valuable for responsive design. When the next gadget with a browser arrives (glasses, watches and so on), you will have the content files ready and can focus only on designing the presentation.

Next step: Integrating design and development

During this process, the prototyping has evolved parallell with the graphic design and the development of the final website. My aim for future projects is to better be able to integrate these processes, and be able to create both design and functionality in an iterative way and in dialoge with the client. When the CMSes become easier to work with, and the software for graphic design are better suited for responsive web it will of course get easier. But until then we need to experiment with ways of making the transitions between design and functionality as seamless as possible.

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:
https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/08/barcelona-en-comu-ada-colau-podemos-catalonia-housing/

The teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico, fighting for higher wages and against corruption:
https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/08/mexico-teacher-union-strikes-oaxaca/

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)
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/aug/01/musicians-election-2016-tpp-tom-morello-talib-kweli

The Greek anarchists, still standing up for refugees and against police repression:
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/08/refugee-solidarity-activists-released-greek-jail-160801140605585.html

Indigenous American activists (with some backup from Leonardo DiCaprio) are taking on a oil pipeline in North Dakota:
http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/nationworld/la-na-sej-north-dakota-pipeline-20160827-story.html

Also, there is now an app for you if you’re a refugee caught in the German bureaucracy:
http://www.radiospaetkauf.com/2016/08/refugees-build-bureaucrazy-app-to-solve-german-paperwork-problems/

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.”
 https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/17/democrats-netroots-convention-hillary-clinton-bernie-sanders
 http://edition.cnn.com/2016/07/13/us/police-shootings-protests/
 
 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.
 http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/inside-hip-hops-new-activist-era-w431275
 http://www.dazeddigital.com/music/article/32046/1/beyonce-rihanna-and-more-speak-up-on-black-lives-in-america
 http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/7431234/police-shootings-celebrity-activism
 
 All the artists getting on board also has the upside that there’s a new playlist for the uprising:
 http://www.rollingstone.com/music/pictures/songs-of-black-lives-matter-22-new-protest-anthems-20160713/dangelo-the-charade-20160713
 
 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.
 http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jul/17/corbyn-puts-trident-fore-labour-divisions-deepen
 
 And Snowden is designing a cool phone case:
 https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/21/phone-case-privacy-data-monitor-bluetooth-wifi-snowden-introspection-engine
 
 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.
 https://twitter.com/johnmcdonnellmp/status/747509213891551233
 
 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:
 http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2732-a-salutary-shock-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!
 http://www.haymarketbooks.org/pb/Europe-in-Revolt
 Or in the New Left Review:
 https://newleftreview.org/II/98/susan-watkins-oppositions
 
 “Your generation is going to fix this” — Michael Moore has hope for the future. 
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adLevrVBCqI

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:
http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2644-debbie-bookchin-kurds-are-practicing-the-most-democratic-form-of-government-there-is-on-the-planet

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:
http://youtu.be/xa0dTUQL-Eo

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!
http://elpais.com/elpais/2016/05/23/inenglish/1463987552_727104.html

French newspaper workers are showing that they too can decide what’s being published and not, not just the editors and owners.
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/26/french-press-attacks-union-for-preventing-publication-of-papers

And Brazilian film stars are standing up against the right-wing plot to kick out president Dilma of office.
http://www.firstpost.com/world/cannes-turns-political-as-brazil-stars-stage-pro-dilma-protest-on-red-carpet-2785964.html

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!
http://www.amazon.com/Bernie-Sanders-Advanced-Graphics-Cardboard/dp/B01BX9Z5YM/

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.
http://www.democracyspring.org/

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: https://nuitdebout.fr/

Here’s a background in English:
http://theconversation.com/are-frances-nuitdebout-protests-the-start-of-a-new-political-movement-57706

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.
http://autonomies.org/en/2016/04/nuit-debout-david-graeber/

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.
https://theintercept.com/2016/04/26/facebook-no-longer-secret-weapon-egypts-protesters-turn-signal/

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:
http://riotsimulator.com/

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!
http://elpais.com/elpais/2016/01/13/inenglish/1452691766_941030.html

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.
http://www.volksbuehne-berlin.de/praxis/en/diem_25_videouebertragung/

Another initiative is the Pour Un Plan B En Europe network, that keeps doing conferences to figure out what to do with the EU.
https://www.euro-planb.eu/?page_id=865&lang=en

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:
http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2015/12/22/sexy_men_who_dig_bernie_sanders_pose_for_sexy_2016_calendar.html

Glenn Greenwald analyses the seven stages of hell that progressive politicians like Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders has to go through:
http://flip.it/lJz_1

And the tech award of the month goes to… this little refugee saving robot:
http://www.wired.com/2016/01/a-robot-life-preserver-goes-to-work-in-the-greek-refugee-crisis/

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.