Blackspot

A Vision of Post-Clicktivist Activism

Get innovative for #OCCUPYWALLSTREET
Get innovative for #OCCUPYWALLSTREET

Markus Burke, 2008

Clicktivism is a Trojan horse, a tactical malware, deployed by a dying American empire. What better way to cripple the revolutionary potential of a whole generation than to embed the logic of the marketplace within the very tools that would-be revolutionaries use? Forget infiltrator "Anna" and the plague of agent provocateurs. The cop we need to worry about is residing in the computer code.

If #OCCUPYWALLSTREET fails, it will be because we've blindly adopted "best practices" put forth by wealthy Californian techies turned reformist campaigners. Their methods now dominate the way many organizers believe activism should be done, privileging a data-obsessed, metrics-oriented, technocratic approach which is closer to advertising than resistance.

Most clicktivist organizations today can be traced back to the $13.8m (£8.8m) sale in 1997 of a software company located in Berkeley, fifty miles from the heart of Silicon Valley, whose claim to fame was an iconic flying toaster screensaver. The husband-and-wife team behind the company, Wes Boyd, a computer programmer, and his wife, Joan Blades, a vice-president of marketing, became overnight millionaires. With an excess of leisure time, they founded MoveOn, the ur-polluter of activism with a combination of computer science and techniques of advertising such as focus grouping, market testing and banal copywriting.

Clicktivism uses invasive databases to meticulously track which members are opening emails, signing petitions or donating money. Instead of sending the same email to every person, digital activists tweak response rates by A/B testing subject lines and messages to determine which email will be most frequently opened. Goodbye passionate prose, the focus here is simply on the clicks. The effectiveness of these methods is declining each year but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming the basis for digital activism around the world.

Former and current MoveOn employees have colonized activism internationally with behemoth second-generation clicktivist organizations, like Joan Blades’s MomsRising, Eli Pariser’s Avaaz, and Ben Brandzel’s GetUp and 38 Degrees. It is worth noting that past MoveOn employees communicate via a private email list and thereby accomplish one of their greatest deceits of all: using their organizations as mouthpieces to celebrate each other publicly without disclosing their back-room personal ties. Even those without direct connections to MoveOn often share the common feature of being wealthy technocrats whose startups were bought by a mega-corporation. Into this category fall individuals like Aaron Swartz, early developer of Reddit (now owned by Condé Nast) and founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. And some, like James Rucker, are both former MoveOn employees and rich technologists. Rucker co-founded, with Ian Inaba, the Citizen Engagement Laboratory, also in Berkeley, the umbrella organization that has adopted the ethically dubious approach of using a shared technology platform and overlapping staff to target niches while maintaining the illusion that there is no connection between the subsidiary organizations: ColorOfChange for African-Americans, Presente for Latinos, GetEQUAL for LGBT people and Food Democracy Now! for the organics movement. Many brand names, same company. Clicktivists leverage market segmentation and economies of scale to neutralize real dissent.

Clicktivist organizations grow like the capitalist cancer we are fighting. They choke out the less technically adept organizations and suck up substantial mainstream praise, typically by celebrating each other without disclosing their personal ties. Budgets bloated by philanthropic grants... "asks" watered down... emails written like bus stop marketing... uninspiring, mundane and frankly counter-revolutionary political agendas. Worse still, clicktivists export internationally the de-politicization malware that has decimated the radical left in the United States, transforming countless millions from activists into screen-addicts who want their political change to be as easy as signing an online petition.

The difficulty for rebels today, especially American radicals, is to disambiguate clicktivism from innovative digitally-inflected activism that brings us closer to sparking a global cultural insurrection against consumer-capitalism. And that is precisely the challenge we face as we gear up for #OCCUPYWALLSTREET, an event that many of us believe could be the political spark that finally releases the democratic fury of the people.

On the 17th of September, 20,000 nonviolent civilians will swarm Wall Street and set up an indefinite occupation -- complete with free kitchens and doctors, tents and communal childcare -- until their demand for real democracy is met. Imagine the revolutionary beauty of Tahrir mixed with the radical democracy of the Spanish acampadas. If we can pull it off, then this just might be the breakout moment that saves our democracy from the combined threats of plutocracy, oligarchy and corporatocracy. And with global climate change accelerating, there isn't a moment to lose.

How are we going to make #OCCUPYWALLSTREET happen? Not with clicktivism... not with fancy eye candy websites... not with waiting for others to organize for us... and not by following the tired tactical script that hasn't worked in a decade. Instead, it is time we risked being totally creative.

Look at #OCCUPYWALLSTREET upside down. What if it was a real world game, played by thousands, whose sole objective was to slip past the police lines (double points for parachuters) to touch the Wall Street charging bull on September 17? What if it was the largest synchronized flashmob ever organized? Or if #OCCUPYWALLSTREET was an aesthetic experience in the heart of the financial district -- a masked ball, a zombie walk, or a costume party in 18th century attire? No one can say in advance what will make the occupation last. So, may it be all these tactics and more.

Calling all culture jammers, augmented reality game designers, live action roleplayers, revolutionary flashmobbers, clandestine street artists and activists from the future: on the 17th of September, we need you to show us that what comes after clicktivism is a people's revolution.

Micah White, micah (at) adbusters.org, is editor at Adbusters. He gained an insider perspective on the folly of clicktivism after a brief stint with the Citizen Engagement Laboratory. He resigned in disgust.

Learn more about Clicktivism at clicktivism.org

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Comments on the article “A Vision of Post-Clicktivist Activism”

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Anonymous

Great article, very good information about MoveOn that most people dont know, they are malicious in may ways.

Althought I dont believe AdBusters to be purposefully malicious, I would ask the reader to consider, what if AdBusters has it wrong too?

best example I have:

I run an investment fund, we gather people together from all over the country and invest in companies, green companies, organic companies, righteous companies. Companies you would like to exist in your new model. we jam these companies with straight liquid cash via the stock market. my investors aren't out for a 4% gain, they're out to vote with there monies, to get these companies cash flow and encourage others to do so as well.

imagine if the scale of such a thing grew...Organic, Green, Good comapnies could see millions of capitol dollars roll in, allowing them to take on controlling companies that hold a controlling share. Sugar will reappear in our food, maybe even nutrients as well.

the free market/stock market system allows for thousands of ways a critical mass of people could effect change. its a turnable rudder on a ship.

the system/state/insert term thrives on the fact that real revolutionaries stay marginal at best because the system has weaved this idea of total seperation into the fabric of rebellion. When the vulnerabilities of the system are glaring.

Maybe you believe my idea is weak, but were doing it, taking action on a different front. Working from the inside out. The free-market system is built for this and as corrupt as it has become and still maintains very simple vulnerabilities.

No one even trades on the floor anymore. So while I believe you actions will be marginalized and downplayed (if even outright unreported)by the media, on that day my fund will see $100,000 more dollars being funneled to quality companies, organic companies, companies ran by decent people. Not for the purpose of making a % of gain, but to funnel capitol into the change we want to come.

I was once right there with you, I have tear gas can scars, it was great fun. But at the end of the day reality is always going to be reality. there are 10,000 ways to effect real change. your just going to have to stop reading the propaganda that tells you it can only be done from outside.

best of luck

Anonymous

Great article, very good information about MoveOn that most people dont know, they are malicious in may ways.

Althought I dont believe AdBusters to be purposefully malicious, I would ask the reader to consider, what if AdBusters has it wrong too?

best example I have:

I run an investment fund, we gather people together from all over the country and invest in companies, green companies, organic companies, righteous companies. Companies you would like to exist in your new model. we jam these companies with straight liquid cash via the stock market. my investors aren't out for a 4% gain, they're out to vote with there monies, to get these companies cash flow and encourage others to do so as well.

imagine if the scale of such a thing grew...Organic, Green, Good comapnies could see millions of capitol dollars roll in, allowing them to take on controlling companies that hold a controlling share. Sugar will reappear in our food, maybe even nutrients as well.

the free market/stock market system allows for thousands of ways a critical mass of people could effect change. its a turnable rudder on a ship.

the system/state/insert term thrives on the fact that real revolutionaries stay marginal at best because the system has weaved this idea of total seperation into the fabric of rebellion. When the vulnerabilities of the system are glaring.

Maybe you believe my idea is weak, but were doing it, taking action on a different front. Working from the inside out. The free-market system is built for this and as corrupt as it has become and still maintains very simple vulnerabilities.

No one even trades on the floor anymore. So while I believe you actions will be marginalized and downplayed (if even outright unreported)by the media, on that day my fund will see $100,000 more dollars being funneled to quality companies, organic companies, companies ran by decent people. Not for the purpose of making a % of gain, but to funnel capitol into the change we want to come.

I was once right there with you, I have tear gas can scars, it was great fun. But at the end of the day reality is always going to be reality. there are 10,000 ways to effect real change. your just going to have to stop reading the propaganda that tells you it can only be done from outside.

best of luck

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