THE RISE OF FACEBOOK AND ‘THE OPERATING SYSTEM OF OUR LIVES’

Siva Vaidhyanathan, UVA’s Robertson Professor of Media Studies, is the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship.Siva Vaidhyanathan, UVA’s Robertson Professor of Media Studies, is the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship. (Photo by Dan Addison)

Recent changes announced by social media giant Facebook have roiled the media community and raised questions about privacy. The company’s updates include a higher level of news feed priority for posts made by friends and family and testing for new end-to-end encryption software inside its messenger service.

As Facebook now boasts more than a billion users worldwide, both of these updates are likely to impact the way the world communicates. Prior to the company’s news-feed algorithm change, a 2016 study from the Pew Research Center found that approximately 44 percent of American adults regularly read news content through Facebook.

UVA Today sat down with Siva Vaidhyanathan, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship and Robertson Professor of Media Studies, to discuss the impact of these changes and the evolving role of Facebook in the world. Naturally, the conversation first aired on Facebook Live.

Excerpts from the conversation and the full video are available below.

Q. What is the change to Facebook’s News Feed?

A. Facebook has announced a different emphasis within its news feed. Now of course, your news feed is much more than news. It’s all of those links and photos and videos that your friends are posting and all of the sites that you’re following. So that could be an interesting combination of your cousin, your coworker, the New York Times and Fox News all streaming through.

A couple of years ago, the folks that run Facebook recognized that Facebook was quickly becoming the leading news source for many millions of Americans, and considering that they have 1.6 billion users around the world, and it’s growing fast, there was a real concern that Facebook should take that responsibility seriously. So one of the things that Facebook did was cut a deal with a number of publishers to be able to load up their content directly from Facebook servers, rather than just link to an original content server. That provided more dependable loading, especially of video, but also faster loading, especially through mobile.

But in recent weeks, Facebook has sort of rolled back on that. They haven’t removed the partnership program that serves up all that content in a quick form, but they’ve made it very clear that their algorithms that generate your news feed will be weighted much more heavily to what your friends are linking to, liking and commenting on, and what you’ve told Facebook over the years you’re interested in.

This has a couple of ramifications. One, it sort of downgrades the project of bringing legitimate news into the forefront by default, but it also makes sure that we are more likely to be rewarded with materials that we’ve already expressed an interest in. We’re much more likely to see material from publications and our friends we reward with links and likes. We’re much more likely to see material linked by friends with whom we have had comment conversations.

This can generate something that we call a “filter bubble.” A gentlemen named Eli Pariser wrote a book called “The Filter Bubble.” It came out in 2011, and the problem he identified has only gotten worse since it came out. Facebook is a prime example of that because Facebook is in the business of giving you reasons to feel good about being on Facebook. Facebook’s incentives are designed to keep you engaged.

Q. How will this change the experience for publishers?

A. The change or the announcement of the change came about because a number of former Facebook employees told stories about how Facebook had guided their decisions to privilege certain things in news feeds that seemed to diminish the content and arguments of conservative media.

Well, Facebook didn’t want that reputation, obviously. Facebook would rather not be mixed up or labeled as a champion of liberal causes over conservative causes in the U.S. That means that Facebook is still going to privilege certain producers of media – those producers of media that have signed contracts with Facebook. The Guardian is one, the New York Times is another. There are dozens of others. Those are still going to be privileged in Facebook’s algorithm, and among the news sources you encounter, you’re more likely to see those news sources than those that have not engaged in a explicit contract with Facebook. So Facebook is making editorial decisions based on their self-interest more than anything, and not necessarily on any sort of political ideology.

Q. You wrote “The Googlization of Everything” in 2011. Since then, have we progressed to the “Facebookization” of everything?

A. I wouldn’t say that it’s the Facebookization of everything – and that’s pretty clumsy anyway. I would make an argument that if you look at five companies that don’t even seem to do the same thing – Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon – they’re actually competing in a long game, and it has nothing to do with social media. It has nothing to do with your phone, nothing to do with your computer and nothing to do with the Internet as we know it.

They’re all competing to earn our trust and manage the data flows that they think will soon run through every aspect of our lives – through our watches, through our eyeglasses, through our cars, through our refrigerators, our toasters and our thermostats. So you see companies – all five of these companies from Amazon to Google to Microsoft to Facebook to Apple – are all putting out products and services meant to establish ubiquitous data connections, whether it’s the Apple Watch or the Google self-driving car or whether it’s that weird obelisk that Amazon’s selling us [the Echo] that you can talk to or use to play music and things. These are all part of what I call the “operating system of our lives.”

Facebook is interesting because it’s part of that race. Facebook, like those other companies, is trying to be the company that ultimately manages our lives, in every possible way.

We often hear a phrase called the “Internet of things.” I think that’s a misnomer because what we’re talking about, first of all, is not like the Internet at all. It’s going to be a closed system, not an open system. Secondly, it’s not about things. It’s actually about our bodies. The reason that watches and glasses and cars are important is that they lie on and carry human bodies. What we’re really seeing is the full embeddedness of human bodies and human motion in these data streams and the full connectivity of these data streams to the human body.

So the fact that Facebook is constantly tracking your location, is constantly encouraging you to be in conversation with your friends through it – at every bus stop and subway stop, at every traffic light, even though you’re not supposed to – is a sign that they are doing their best to plug you in constantly. That phenomenon, and it’s not just about Facebook alone, is something that’s really interesting.

Q. What are the implications of that for society?

A. The implications of the emergence of an operating system of our lives are pretty severe. First of all, consider that we will consistently be outsourcing decision-making like “Turn left or turn right?,” “What kind of orange juice to buy?” and “What kind of washing detergent to buy?” All of these decisions will be guided by, if not determined by, contracts that these data companies will be signing with consumer companies.

… We’re accepting short-term convenience, a rather trivial reward, and deferring long-term harms. Those harms include a loss of autonomy, a loss of privacy and perhaps even a loss of dignity at some point. … Right now, what I am concerned about is the notion that we’re all plugging into these data streams and deciding to allow other companies to manage our decisions. We’re letting Facebook manage what we get to see and which friends we get to interact with.

MEDIA CONTACT

Bernie Sanders’s Online Foot Soldiers Weigh Their Next Campaign

No sooner had Senator Ted Cruz of Texas exited the Republican primary on Tuesday night than Hillary Clinton’s partisans on social media began calling for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont to follow suit.

Sanders supporters answered those calls with a hashtag that quickly started trending on Twitter: #DropOutHillary.

With his victory in Indiana, Mr. Sanders seems all but certain to remain in the race for at least another month, taking his insurgent presidential campaign to the California primary on June 7. But there is one thing he will definitely leave behind if he ultimately abandons the Democratic nomination fight: an army of online foot soldiers unmatched in size, influence and capabilities, more than ready to join the next battle.

The only question is whether that battle will involve Mrs. Clinton.

According to Personal Democracy Media, which studies the intersection of politics and technology, roughly nine million Sanders supporters have organized through hundreds of Facebook pages, Reddit forums and Slack channels. And Mr. Sanders’s digital corps is not some loose network of supporters informally sharing articles and videos. It is a driving force behind his campaign, soliciting tens of millions of dollars in donations an average of $27 at a time, routinely mobilizing volunteers to perform impressive feats of organizing, and developing cutting-edge technology to aid Mr. Sanders’s run.

If Mrs. Clinton can harness even some of the power of this group, it could provide an important lift for her in a bruising general election in which social media is certain to play a prominent role. It not only would help her reach younger voters, among whom she has performed miserably in the primaries, but could also fortify her for the digital trench warfare she can expect if she faces the Twitter-adept Republican favorite, Donald J. Trump, in the fall.

But Mrs. Clinton’s place at the forefront of her party’s establishment could make her a tough sell to an online community whose members often identify themselves as revolutionaries more than as Democrats.

“Turning Sanders for President into a direct drive for Hillary is probably doomed,” said David Fredrick, who co-founded a Reddit forum, SandersForPresident, that has more than 230,000 subscribers. “It would alienate a lot of our users and cause us to lose a lot of the momentum we’ve been able to develop over the last two years.”

Mrs. Clinton’s aides say they hope that at least some in Mr. Sanders’s online army will ultimately get behind her — particularly now that they seem almost certain to face the stark choice between her and Mr. Trump.

But bringing around this vocal and defiant core of Sanders supporters may not be easy. One need only surf through the dozens of Reddit forums devoted to Mr. Sanders, or the comments on his Facebook page, to find countless examples of ambivalence, if not outright hostility, toward Mrs. Clinton.

On Twitter, the hashtags #BernieOrBust and #StillSanders have been used more than a million times since January, according to Zignal Labs, an analytics company that tracks social media. Some Sanders supporters have even co-opted the Republican hashtag #NeverHillary.

Already, some of the technology professionals who volunteered countless hours to the Sanders campaign are turning away from Mrs. Clinton and toward progressive candidates further down the ballot.

“If Bernie doesn’t win, we need to still carry that torch, as it were,” said Jon Hughes, a developer who built voteforbernie.org and helped organize the campaign’s digital volunteers. “And there are a lot of great candidates out there that can do that.”

Mr. Sanders was something of a social media savant even before starting his campaign: Aides say he had more Facebook followers than any other member of Congress except Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, now the House speaker. But once Mr. Sanders’s campaign began, his message started to resonate with young, tech-oriented voters, who helped propel him to improbable victories in a number of primaries and caucuses by not only championing his candidacy, but also building much of his campaign’s digital infrastructure.

A group called Coders for Sanders developed an app for canvassers, an interactive event map for Mr. Sanders’s website, and the app his campaign used to track and monitor the Iowa caucuses. Volunteers also built a tool to make it easier to give money to Mr. Sanders; his campaign says 94 percent of the $200 million he has raised has come online. At least two of those volunteers were brought on to the campaign’s staff: Aidan King, its social media liaison, and Zach Schneider, who oversees its web development work.

“For this campaign, social media hasn’t just been about spreading a message,” said Kenneth Pennington, Mr. Sanders’s digital director. “It’s been an avenue for broader participation.”

The Sanders campaign and its network of online supporters became closely intertwined, with staff members often making requests through social media. Before the New York primary last month, campaign aides asked the Reddit page’s subscribers to make two million calls on Mr. Sanders’s behalf; they made three million.

“The value of the online army he’s built should not be underestimated,” Stephanie Cutter, a former deputy campaign manager for President Obama, said of Mr. Sanders’s followers. Whether that army chooses to rally behind Mrs. Clinton, she added, depends largely on Mr. Sanders: “How and when does he endorse Secretary Clinton, and what type of leadership role is he going to play to bring his supporters along?”

Yet even an enthusiastic endorsement from Mr. Sanders may go only so far. For all the cooperation between the campaign and its online foot soldiers, they remain a sprawling, decentralized group over which Mr. Sanders exerts little control.

“It’s not an army, it’s a swarm,” said Micah L. Sifry, a founder of Personal Democracy Media. “They’ve flocked to Sanders in response to the moment of opportunity he seized in the last year, but as the primary comes to its conclusion, they won’t be commanded by Bernie or any other general.”

They have already demonstrated their unruliness, with the rise of the so-called Bernie Bros, known for aggressive online harassment of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters. And though Mr. Sanders’s prospects have dimmed, the anti-Clinton rhetoric from some of his backers has grown more heated.

Mrs. Clinton’s supporters are fighting back. Citing online interactions with the Bernie Bros, a pro-Clinton “super PAC,” Correct the Record,recently announced that it would spend $1 million to respond “quickly and forcefully to negative attacks and false narratives” about Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Pennington, of the Sanders campaign, said it was too early to speculate about what Mr. Sanders’s online supporters would do if he ended his campaign. But some of them are already beginning to lend their efforts to progressive candidates in different races.

Mr. Hughes, the founder of voteforbernie.org, has created another site,grassrootsselect.org, to identify and promote liberal candidates through some of the same digital channels used by the Sanders social media movement. Developers who volunteered for Mr. Sanders are also working with Brand New Congress, a new political action committee devoted to electing lawmakers who share Mr. Sanders’s policy views in the 2018 midterm elections.

“Progressive candidates usually do not have the same reach or accessibility towards apps or resources to help jump-start their campaign,” said Rapi Castillo, a software developer and member of Coders for Sanders. “We could have a lot of impact.”

Of course, the more willing Mrs. Clinton is to incorporate some of Mr. Sanders’s policy positions into her campaign, the more success she will have wooing his supporters — at least to a point.

“She can win some of them with honey, but if she tries to command them, they’ll just sting her,” Mr. Sifry said. “As swarms may do.”

 

Detroit and Chicago teachers fight to defend public education

save-philly-schools

8 February 2016

The past month has seen the entry of thousands of teachers into open struggle against the attack on public education by the Obama administration and both the Democratic and Republican parties. After decades of relentless budget cutting, teacher layoffs and school closings—accelerated in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash—teachers in Detroit and Chicago have begun a battle that is of immense importance for the entire working class.

In fighting to defend the fundamental democratic right to a decent education, teachers have been thrust into a conflict with every section of the political establishment, from the two big business parties and the capitalist courts to the corporate-controlled media and the teachers’ unions that falsely claim to defend their interests.

Last month, thousands of Detroit teachers conducted a series of “sick-out” protests that culminated in the shutdown of virtually the entire school system on January 20, the day of President Obama’s visit to the city. The actions were initiated by rank-and-file teachers using social media and carried out independently of and in defiance of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) and its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Teachers in the city named by Obama’s former education secretary as “ground zero” for the administration’s education policies demanded adequate resources and personnel to repair unheated and unsanitary school buildings, reduce class sizes, and provide social services to address alarming rates of poverty among their students. They also demanded a return of wages and benefits ceded by the DFT.

The efforts of the media and the state-appointed emergency manager of the school system to slander the teachers as greedy and indifferent to the needs of their students backfired. Parents vocally supported the sickouts and hundreds of students walked out of their high schools to oppose a witch-hunt against their teachers for “illegal strikes.”

In Chicago, the third largest school district in the US, tens of thousands of teachers and other school employees are battling the demands of Mayor Rahm Emanuel—a former investment banker who served as Obama’s White House chief of staff—to starve the public schools, slash wages and benefits, and funnel even more money to big bondholders and for-profit education firms.

More than three years after the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) betrayed the 2012 strike, leading to the closure of 50 schools and the layoff of more than 1,000 teachers, rank-and-file teachers rebelled against the union and its so-called left leaders, who sought to push through an agreement on behalf of Emanuel to shift pension and health care costs onto the backs of teachers and give school authorities a free hand to expand privately run charter schools.

Last Monday, the CTU’s bargaining committee unanimously rejected the deal after rank-and-file teachers began circulating on social media the details of the sellout, which the CTU had hoped to keep secret.

The day after the bargaining committee vote, the school authorities, complaining that they had a deal with the CTU, announced plans to cut $100 million from the school budget and lay off another 1,000 teachers. Defying this blackmail threat, 2,000 teachers marched in downtown Chicago Thursday evening, drawing expressions of solidarity from thousands of office workers, public employees, young people and other city residents.

The eruption of social opposition among teachers and students is a part of a broader radicalization of the working class, signaling a return of mass class struggles in the US. Last fall, in an incipient rebellion against the United Auto Workers union, autoworkers rejected a national auto contract for the first time in 33 years. The union was able to push through sellout deals with General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler only by resorting to lies, threats and outright fraud.

In Flint, the birthplace of General Motors and the site of the 1936-37 sit-down strike that established the UAW, working class residents have mobilized to protest the poisoning of the city’s water supply by state and local officials, assisted by the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency.

These stirrings of the American working class are part of the resurgence of class struggle internationally. From Greece and Brazil to China and South Africa, the working class is coming into conflict with capitalist governments, from the pseudo-left Syriza regime in Greece to the Tory government in Britain, which have imposed savage austerity on workers while transferring vast amounts of wealth to the world’s billionaires since the financial breakdown in 2008.

The fight of the teachers directly and urgently poses basic political questions. The AFT and its local affiliates in both Detroit and Chicago, which have long collaborated with the enemies of public education, are trying to smother the movement by promoting the Democratic Party and depicting the attack on education as a purely Republican matter.

This is a fraud. The Obama administration has gone well beyond the reactionary policies of its Republican predecessor in using test-based “accountability” schemes to scapegoat teachers, close so-called failing schools, and undermine the public schools in order to make education a new source of profit for the corporations and banks. Under Obama, more than 300,000 teachers and other school employees have lost their jobs and the number of students enrolled in charter schools has grown at a faster rate, almost doubling, since George Bush left office.

The Obama White House has cut Title 1 funds earmarked for impoverished districts like Detroit and Chicago by 11 percent, while special education funding has been cut by 9 percent. The bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed by Obama late last year to replace Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, authorizes a “Pay for Success” scheme that allows wealthy investors in the for-profit education business to bid for services previously under the control of public schools, including special education, and lowers standards for the education of teachers in high-poverty districts.

The teachers’ unions do not oppose the attacks on teachers and public education. They merely seek a seat at the table so they can secure new sources of dues money from low-paid charter schoolteachers. The unions, including the CTU, whose vice president is a member of the pseudo-left International Socialist Organization, defend the capitalist system and insist that teachers and students must pay for the consequences of its crisis.

The democratic and egalitarian principles embodied in public education are incompatible with a society that is divided by such colossal levels of social inequality that 28 billionaires control as much wealth as the bottom half of the population—152 million people. The American ruling class long ago repudiated the principle that all children, regardless of socioeconomic background, have the right to a quality education.

The corporate and financial elite has nothing to offer working class youth except poverty-level jobs and war. Like the slave owners of an earlier period, today’s financial oligarchs want to keep those they exploit in ignorance. They fear the spread of knowledge and culture among a generation that is increasingly dissatisfied with the current state of affairs and determined to have a future free of oppression and war.

While the Chicago teachers were gearing up for mass protests last week, top officers in the Army and Marine Corps were telling a Congressional hearing that it is time for young women to register for a future military draft. On the one hand, schools are being starved of resources and working class students relegated to dilapidated and filthy buildings with over-packed classrooms. On the other hand, the White House is touting plans for a new generation of nuclear missile submarines costing $100 million each.

The struggle to defend the right to a quality public education is a political struggle against both big business parties and the capitalist system they defend. In this fight, teachers and students must turn to their real allies—the broad mass of working people. The immense social power of the working class must be mobilized to break the grip of the corporate-financial elite over society and reorganize the economy on the basis of public ownership and democratic control of the corporations and banks. Only on this socialist foundation can the basic social rights of working people, including the right to education, be secured.

Jerry White

 

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/02/08/pers-f08.html

What Really Caused the Implosion of the Occupy Movement—An Insider’s View

Taking a hard look at some of the self-sabotaging behaviors of the left.

Photo Credit: Daryl Lang/Shutterstock.com

I’m in a warmly lit apartment on the Lower East Side. It’s a cool night in early October of 2011, the height of Occupy Wall Street.

What a fucking whirlwind it’s been. Two months ago I had just moved into my parents’ basement, feeling deflated after the end of Bloombergville (a two-week street occupation outside city hall to try to stop the massive budget cuts of that same year), convinced this country wasn’t ready for movement. Now I’m in this living room with some of the most impressive people I’ve ever met, at the shaky helm of a movement that has become part of the mainstream’s daily consciousness. It’s my first time feeling like the Left is more than a scrawny sideshow, and it’s surreal. Truth is, I wasn’t much of a believer until I was caught up in the mass arrests on September 24th, until Troy Davis was murdered by the State of Georgia and I felt the connection in my body, until more people came down and gave it legs. But now it’s real. The rush of rapidly growing numbers, recognition from other political actors, and increasing popular support and media acclaim is electric and overwhelming. It feels a bit like walking a tightrope.

I’m a leader, and people know it, but no one says it. It’s a strange feeling. I’m not the only leader, of course — there are many. In this room, we’re a wide range of people. Some of the folks go back to the Global Justice Movement, but most of us have met in the middle of the whirlwind, building the kinds of relationships you can only build in crisis or struggle. Some of the room is seasoned and experienced, some very new to this type of thing, but all of us have demonstrated leadership early on (some before the thing even really started) and come in with lots of relationships. Between us we lead a number of working groups, drive some of the major mass actions, play formative roles in much of the media being pumped out, and more.

The meetings are closed, and we all feel kind of bad about it, although this is another thing we don’t talk about often. There isn’t much coherence to how we ended up here in the first place — one person invited a few over and the next invited a couple and so on, until the room was full. It was as arbitrary a time to stop inviting people as any, but this is how things often happen in movement moments. We justify the boundary by reminding ourselves that we are certainly not the only collection of people meeting like this — there are many affinity groups and other kinds of formations — and that we are here to plan and strategize, not to make decisions.

But we also know that there are a lot of movers and shakers in the room, and that this affords us a disproportionate ability to move things through the rest of Occupy. We know the age-old pitfalls of people making plans in closed off rooms, and it’s not lost on us that — while this space is also led by some of the most powerful women and folks of color in the movement — most of us are white, middle class, and male. If someone had asked any one of us directly, we’d likely have agreed that, collectively, we have quite a bit of power and aren’t being held accountable to it.

But for the most part, we keep that nagging feeling under wraps, so we can continue the work. There is a confidence we seem to share that we are filling a void, meeting a real need, putting everything we have on the line to keep momentum going. We seem to agree, even if quietly, that movements don’t exist without leadership, that the general assembly has been more performance art than decision-making forum since the first couple of weeks, that leaderlessness is a myth, that we need a place to have sensitive discussions hopefully out of reach of the surveillance state. And in truth we know our jobs aren’t glamorous by any stretch of the imagination; after all, a good deal of the efforts of the folks in the room are aimed at getting occupiers port-o-potties and stopping the incessant drumming.

We know we’re breaking the rules, but for the most part we conclude that it must be done. And besides, we’ve broken the rules our whole lives — it’s how we ended up here.

Torn at the Seams

It wasn’t too long before it came crashing down. It got cold, the cops came, the encampments were evicted, and momentum died down, as is to be expected. This is the story we tell, and it has some truth in it, but those of us who were on the inside know there was more to it than that.

Truth is, we hadn’t planned that far ahead. Probably because not many of us thought it was going to work. As the folks at Ayni’s Momentum trainings will tell you, all movements have a DNA, whether it’s intentional or not. When movements take off and decentralize, they spread whatever their original DNA is, and while it’s possible to adjust it as it goes, it’s sort of like swimming against a tide. Our DNA was a mixed bag. The title had the tactic (Occupy) and the target (Wall Street) baked into it, the 99% frame demonstrated some level of shared radical politics, and the assemblies represented a commitment (an obsession, perhaps) to direct democracy. But we didn’t have too much more than that. As Occupy grew and spread, its DNA evolved to its natural conclusions: On one hand, a real critique of capitalism, powerful mass-based direct action, a public display of democracy. On the other hand, an infatuation with public space, a confusion of tactic for strategy, a palpable disdain for people who weren’t radical, and fantasies about leaderlessness. And then there were the questions we had never answered at all, which were begging to be explained now that we were growing: How would this transform into something long-term? Who were we trying to move? What were we trying to win?

But there’s more to it than that too. There was, alongside the external pressures of growth and definition, an internal power struggle, as there so often is in moments like this.

It happened in many circles of Occupy, and it happened to the group I was a part of, too, in that Lower East Side apartment. Some of the folks in the group got frustrated, and pulled away. They accused the rest of us of being liberals (this was a curse-word), said we were co-opting the movement for the unions, claimed that even meeting like this was a violation of the principles of the movement. Those claims were false, but they were hard to argue with, because most of us were already feeling guilty for being in closed off rooms. So we shrunk. Sort of like when an over-zealous white “ally” trips over other white folks to call out an example of racism; the first to call it out sits back smugly, having taken the moral high ground and pointed a finger at the others, and then the rest clench their jaws and stare at the floor guiltily, hoping the storm passes over them.

We tried to stop the split. We slowed down. We spent time trying to figure out what the right thing to do was. We tried to be honest about how much of this had to do with differences in politics and how much of it was really just ego on all sides. Some of us tried to reach across the aisle, to mend broken relationships. But in the meantime, the folks who had taken the moral high ground had begun building a separate group. That split happened in October in that living room on the Lower East Side, perhaps in other circles in the movement around the same time; by November it was playing out in the movement more broadly, until in December there were distinctly different tendencies offering different directions to the movement as a whole. It would be overly simplistic to trace the overall conflict inside the belly of Occupy Wall Street to the dissolution of this one group or even to in-fighting more broadly, but at the same time, it was a significant factor. All movements develop mechanisms for leadership and coordination, whether formal or informal, and they suffer real setbacks when those systems collapse.

Of course, in the midst of the squabbling and the confusion about our direction, the state came crashing down on us. We became a real threat and the men in suits and uniforms who make decisions about these sorts of things realized that that the benefit of being rid of us outweighed the negative press they would get for the state violence necessary to do it. They were right. The mayors got on conference calls to coordinate. The newspapers turned on us. They dragged us out of parks and squares all over the country, arrested thousands of people. We did our best, but we weren’t organized, disciplined, or grounded in communities enough to stop it in the end. Ultimately, we weren’t powerful enough. Without the park, we were rootless. It got cold. We had no way to huddle together, to learn from what had happened, to support one another through what had become an existential crisis. We met in union offices instead of public squares, and the organizing core shrunk. We went from actions in which the whole base participated to projects different collectives tried to drive on their own, and ultimately, that dwindled too. By the following summer, the true believers who insisted that Occupy was still going strong had become an endangered species.

But the truth is, it wasn’t the state, or the cold, or the media. The real problem underneath it all was a deep ambivalence about power. In fact, all of the things that made Occupy Wall Street brilliant had this paradox built into them, this politic of powerlessness woven deep inside, like a bad gene or a self-destruct mechanism.

For example, the mantra of leaderlessness came from a genuine desire to avoid classic pitfalls into hierarchy, but it was, at the same time, a farce, and divorced from any sense of collective structure or care for group culture. It foreclosed on the possibility of holding emerging leaders accountable, created a situation in which real leaders (whether worthy or not) went to the shadows instead of the square, and made it impossible to really develop one another (how, really, could we train new leaders if there weren’t supposed to be any in the first place?). Similarly, the refusal to articulate demands was brilliant in opening radical possibilities and sparking the popular imagination, but it also meant we didn’t have a shared goal, meant the word winning wasn’t even part of the movement’s lexicon. In many ways, it was an expression of a fear of actually saying something and taking responsibility for it, and it encouraged the often-repeated delusion that we didn’t even want anything our enemy had to give, that Wall Street and the State didn’t have any power over us. The vigilance against co-option came from honest history of movements falling prey to powerful forces hoping to dull or divert their aims; but it ultimately became a paranoia more than anything else, a tragic misunderstanding of the playing field and what it was going to take to build popular power. Instead of welcoming other progressive forces and actually co-opting them, purists shamed “liberals,” cultivated a radical macho culture more focused on big speeches at assemblies and arrests in the streets than the hard organizing behind the scenes, and turned Occupy into a fringe identity that only a few people could really claim to the exclusion of the hundreds of thousands who actually made it real.

Occupy Wall Street created a new discourse, brought thousands of people into the movement, shifted the landscape of the left, and even facilitated concrete victories for working people. But at the same time, a substantial chunk of its leadership was allergic to power. And we made a politic of that. We fetishized it, wrote articles and books about it, scorned the public with it. Worst of all, we used it as a cudgel with which to bludgeon each other.

Sure, the cops came for us — we invited them, after all. But we were the problem: When the state tugged hard enough, we tore at the seams.

The People Went Home

I spent years being angry about it. I was angry at the people who had attacked the group I was part of from the inside, the people who bullied me into giving up every piece of leverage I had by making me feel like I didn’t have the right to organize the folks I had access to, who punished me every time I was quoted or interviewed, who came to the meetings I facilitated and intentionally disrupted them. The stories are too long and too many to recount here, and anyone who was in the middle of it has their own share of war stories too.

But more than anyone else, I was angry at myself for letting it happen. I spent months waking up in the middle of the night, replaying the different moments I had capitulated to cool kids and given up real opportunities to grow the movement out of fear that I’d be iced out if I didn’t. And the truth is, I had no excuse. I had already learned this important lesson at the New School in 2008 when a couple hundred of us occupied a building to get a war criminal thrown off the board, win back student space, and push forward student self-governance and responsible investment: Bad politics don’t go away on their own, you actually have to fight them.

Maybe it’s counter-intuitive, and it’s certainly unpleasant, but it’s true. In those moments, when we refuse to engage in these fights because they feel childish and below the belt, we forget that the majority of people are standing in the middle, wondering what the hell is going on and looking for people they can trust. When those of us who are thinking about power and trying to grow the base don’t step up to that challenge, the folks in the middle assume that the people bringing in toxicity are the leadership, and they don’t want to have anything to do with it. They find no other voices providing leadership they can feel a part of. So they go home.

And that’s kind of what happened. The state upped the ante, raised the heat on us. Shit got ugly, and directionless, and toxic. The self-destruct mechanisms went off, the politics of powerlessness played out to their logical conclusions. The folks best equipped to offer leadership in that moment didn’t step up. So everyone went home.

And as I think back on the mistakes I made — among them, this grand mistake of shrinking from the responsibilities of leadership, however personally costly — I can’t help but feel a little bit ashamed. We did a tremendous amount. But we could have done more. We could have lasted longer, brought more people into the movement, established more powerful institutions, won more material gains. If we understand the prison industrial complex and climate change and wealth inequality and the foreclosure crisis as hard and tangible threats to people’s literal survival, then we have to see, with equal clarity, that our movements are nothing short of an attempt to save lives. And we could have saved more lives.

The Politics of Powerlessness

Many of us left that moment bitter, depressed, heart-broken. Some of that is predictable, maybe, on the downward spiral from such a high. Some of it was the product of a lot of young folks experiencing their first tastes of movement and thinking the result was going to be a revolution. But some of it was specific to this toxicity, the sudden snapping of this unbelievable tight rope we had been racing across.

From there, I went wandering. I bumped straight into the movement’s social media call-out culture, where people demonstrate how radical they are by destroying one another. It felt like walking into a high school locker room. In this universe, we insist on perfect politics and perfect language, to the exclusion of experimentation, learning, or constructive critique. We wear our outsiderness as a badge of pride, knowing that saying the right thing trumps doing anything at all. No one is ever good enough for us — not progressive celebrities who don’t get the whole picture, not your Facebook friend who doesn’t quite get why we say Black Lives Matter instead of All Lives Matter, not your cousin who mourned the deaths in Paris without saying an equal number of words about those in Beirut. Instead of organizing these people, we attack them. We tear down rather than teach each other, and pick apart instead of building on top of what we have.

And of course, the politic of powerlessness doesn’t only live on social media, but in our organizing spaces as well — and it’s in the realm of identity that so much of the battle takes place. We confuse systems like white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism with individuals we can use as stand-ins for them. We use the inevitable fuck-ups of our potential partners as validation that we should stay in our bunkers with the handful of people who make us feel safe instead of getting dirty in the trenches. We imagine identity as static and permanent, instead of remembering that all of us — to borrow terminology from organizations like Training for Change — have experiences of marginalization that can help us support one another, and experiences of being in the mainstream that can help us understand the people we want to shift. We forget that, while identity gives us clues and reveals patterns, itdoesn’t fully explain our behavior, and it certainly doesn’t determine it. We abandon the truth that people can transform, that ultimately we all — oppressed and potential oppressors alike (if such simplistic frames should even be entertained) — can and must choose sides. So we shirk this ultimate responsibility we have as organizers: To support people in making the hard and scary choices to be on the side of freedom. In all of this commotion, we turn inward. We forget the enemy outside, and find enemies in the room instead, make enemies of one another.

And here, just as from Occupy Wall Street, the vast majority of people — those great many on whom this system relies and the very same ones we will need to organize to make it come to a screeching halt — grow tired. So they go home. And we lose.

Compassion and Curiosity on the way to Power

It’s October of 2013, brisk and breezy, with the leaves changing in dramatic colors. I’m in a Mexican restaurant in Minneapolis with organizers from Occupy Homes — the same folks now part of the leadership of Black Lives Matter MN. We’re debriefing the retreat a couple of us just held for them as part of the Wildfire Project. Wildfire supports new, radical groups emerging from movement moments with long-term training and support, and connects them to one another to help them become greater than the sum of their parts. We’re tired from a big weekend, and I’m getting feedback on my facilitation.

The organizers tell me to step up. They notice that in the training, I didn’t tell my story, shared very little of my experience at Occupy or elsewhere even when directly relevant, evaded every opportunity to offer opinions on their strategic plan even when asked, deferred to the group on everything. They say they know I have more to offer, that they asked me to come here because they trusted me, that they demand that I bring more of myself next month. They want to invest in me, they explain, because they need me to be my most powerful self so I can support their members in that same transformation, and so I can go out and help build a powerful network for them to be a part of.

The feedback makes me a bit blurry. I can’t remember the last time anyone told me they wanted me to be powerful. I’m a straight, white, class-comfortable male in the North Eastern United States, certainly not part of the groups most impacted by the systems we are fighting. I’ve spent the past few years duking it out with the voices in my head — on one hand knowing I have something to offer in this important moment, and on the other hand internalizing deep shame about where I come from and guilt over the mistakes I’ve made along the way as a result. In the midst of those mistakes and in the face of a movement culture that seemed to see me as a threat, I internalized the message that the best thing I could do for the movement was to mitigate the damage I’ve done by existing — that my job, really, was to disappear. There are historical reasons for this dilemma, and current reasons that our movements have adopted these knee-jerk responses to what it perceives as power or privilege. But in the end, the impact was that it made me less effective, whether as an ally to other oppressed people, a leader in Occupy, or a facilitator with Wildfire. This is part of the politics of powerlessness, I think to myself as I sit in this restaurant booth in Minneapolis, and it has found its way into my bones.

But the demand to become powerful comes from the folks to whom I am most accountable — heroes who are defending themselves from foreclosure, occupying already-foreclosed houses to keep people off the street, taking over local political offices to try to use eminent domain to take back people’s homes, and asking Wildfire for support — so it feels different this time. I go home to New York and I do the work. I go through all sorts of transformative processes to remember where I come from, to try to understand the conditions that made me internalize those self-sabotaging politics. I find partners who want to win more than they want to be right, who forgive me and help me forgive myself, who invest their time and love and energy in me while holding me accountable and demanding I do the same for them. I re-commit to using everything I’ve been given in the service of the movement.

Along the way, I start to internalize wisdom taught me by a mentor and coach from Generative Somatics, an organization that fuses emotional healing, physical practice, and radical politics: People do what they must to survive. Our behaviors — even the self-sabotaging ones — are our bodies’ responses to threat. Our instincts are clumsy at times, and they often cut us off from our better options, but credit where credit is due: these instincts, at some points, probably saved our lives. Instead of hating those traits so much, we might be better off tipping our hat to them, thanking them for the safety they have provided us, and letting them know that we don’t need them anymore — that we want to practice something new instead. It doesn’t mean excusing bad behavior in ourselves or the movement; it means understanding where it comes from for the sake of changing it.

This is our task as organizers and revolutionaries: to become our most powerful selves and supporting the whole movement in that same transformation. In the service of that goal, my anger thaws into compassion and my self-righteousness becomes curiosity, and it’s with this lens that I start to look at the movement with fresh eyes. I wonder what really caused the implosions at Occupy in the first place, and why those behaviors persist across the Left. I start to try to figure out where the politics of powerlessness come from, what needs they meet for us. And as I dig below the surface, I can’t help but notice the shifts that the Black folks rising up across this country have already offered the movement; so many enormous contributions in the struggle for freedom, but even something as small as hats that say power on them are a challenge to the politics of powerlessness, a reflection of our ability to make and practice new rules for ourselves as we transform.

Undoing the Politics of Powerlessness

Today, when I think about the politics of powerlessness, it feels clear as day to me that the source of all of it is fear. Fear of leaders, of the enemy, of the possibility of having to govern, of the stakes of winning and losing, of each other, of ourselves. And it’s all pretty understandable.

We call each other out and push one another out of the movement, because we are desperate to cling to the little slivers of belonging we’ve found in the movement, and are full of scarcity — convinced that there isn’t enough of anything to go around (money, people, power, even love). We eat ourselves alive and attack our own leaders because we’ve been hurt and misled all our lives and can’t bear for it to happen again on our watch. We race to prove we are the least privileged, because this is the only way we can imagine being powerful. We turn our backs on people who don’t get it, because organizing them will not only be hard but also painful, because we will have to give up some of our victimhood to do it, because it will mean being vulnerable to the world we came to the movement to escape. Our ego battles are a natural product of a movement that doesn’t have a clear answer for how leadership is to be appreciated and held accountable at the same time. Our inability to celebrate small victories is a defense from having to believe that winning is even possible — a way to avoid the heartbreak of loss when it comes.

And perhaps most importantly: Our tendency to make enemies of each other is driven by a deep fear of the real enemy, a paralyzing hopelessness about our possibilities of winning. After all, whether we admit it or not, we spend quite a lot of our time not believing we can really win. And if we’re not going to win, we might as well just be awesome instead. If we’re not going to win, we’re better off creating spaces that suit our cultural and political tastes, building relationships that validate our non-conformist aesthetic, surrendering the struggle over the future in exchange for a small island over which we can reign.

The politics of powerlessness is a defense mechanism, meant to protect us from our worst fears. And as I’ve been learning, it never works to hate one’s defenses, to bang our heads against them, to bend them into submission. No, the way we change is by really getting curious about their source, and trying to address their root causes. Of course we’re afraid. Fear is a totally grounded response to what is happening around us. We need to sit with that. And we need to find new practices for dealing with our fears, because in the end, those hard truths are precisely the reason we need to do awaywith the politic of powerlessness.

This defense mechanism, which may have saved our collective lives somewhere along the way, has outlived its usefulness. It has become a barrier to the success of the movements being born around us, the flourishing of our people, the world we want to win. We are standing against a series of crises one more terrifying than the next, stemming from systems more towering than ever before, guided by people who are happy to kill many of us to preserve their wealth. If we don’t get powerful soon, we’re going to lose. And in this case, losing means not only the immense oppression, exploitation, and repression this system guarantees; it also means the extinction of our species. Challenging the politics of powerlessness and replacing it with something that can win is not an academic question; it is truly a matter of life or death. We had better get our shit together, and quick.

We need to replace judgment and self-righteousness with curiosity and compassion. Those are the tools that will help us support each other in the face of the crises ahead, and they are the qualities we will need in order to truly understand the very many people we still need to organize. They will help us become facilitators instead of polemicists, teach us to build instead of tear apart. Flexing these new muscles, we must convert a politic that punishes imperfection into one that uses everything at its fingertips to win — that compels each and every one of us to turn our gifts into weapons for the sake of freedom. We need to build groups — collectives, organizations, affinity groups, whatever — because groups are what keep us in the movement, they’re what keep movement moments going, where we transform, how we fight, and the best way to hold each other accountable to the long struggle for liberation. We need to win small victories that open up space for bigger ones, and we must celebrate them, because that’s the best inoculation against a politic based in fear that nothing is winnable. We have to develop powerful visions for the world we want, so we can put those small victories inside a broader strategy that strikes at the roots of the systems we face. We must all engage in the hard and transformational work to become our most powerful selves; after all, it is truly the only way we even stand a chance.

Honoring Fear

I’m at a retreat center in Florida, at the first ever Wildfire National Convening, with 80 members of organizations from all over the country: folks from Ohio Student AssociationDream DefendersGetEQUAL,Rockaway Wildfire, and the Occupy Homes groups in Atlanta and Minneapolis. It’s the first night, and the organizations are performing skits that explain their origin stories. It’s Rockaway Wildfire’s turn — a group that formed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, merging the relief effort with organizing in Far Rockaway, Queens. Out there, floods fell on top of broken schools, impoverished projects, and a population that was drastically underemployed and over-policed. The folks in the Rockaways were losing their homes to foreclosure before the floods wrecked them, losing their sons to prisons long before the storm came to displace them.

The skit begins, the lights go down. We hear the pounding of feet against the floor, which sounds unmistakably like heavy rain. And then a chorus of howling that sounds like the violent wind that battered the New York area that October in 2012. Then heart-wrenching wailing, like a child crying. Pounding and howling and wailing that get more and more intense like an orchestra building up to its crescendo. Suddenly, I’m crying. The sounds catapult me back to the hurricane, but also to the fear I carry with me of the many more hurricanes surely on the way, and the children and parents and friends we will have to protect when they come. Suddenly the sounds come to a crashing halt, the lights go up, dimly, and I realize most of the other people in the room are weeping too. There is silence, the kind of hanging stillness you stumble on rarely, when a room full of people dedicated to the struggle are all quietly reckoning with the fear we carry in us every day and the doubts we have about whether we can do what must be done. Then one of the actors breaks the silence with the last line of the play, delivered soothingly to her child, as if she has read the minds of the 80 fighters gathered here: “Don’t worry, baby, don’t worry. We’ll be alright. Momma’s gonna start a revolution.”

The fear is real — palpable and also grounded. In addition to good organizing, it will take some small miracles to win the world we all deserve. It’s better to acknowledge that than to try to bury it. At least it’s honest. And who knows, maybe there is something about fear that — when we turn and face it — can be grounding instead of handicapping, can help us sit in the stakes rather than live in denial, can compel us to take the risks we need to take rather than to hide, can drive us to be the biggest we can be instead of shrinking. Or at least, that’s my hope.

And when I’m in doubt, I remember the most important lesson I learned at Occupy Wall Street: We don’t know shit. The secret truth is that Occupy Wall Street wasn’t supposed to work. But it did. It created a whole new world of possibility. That possibility is here — we can feel it in the very heart of the movements being born around us. And we have been invited; the only question, now, is whether we will rise to the challenge.

Yotam Marom is an organizer, facilitator, and the Director of the Wildfire Project. More of Yotam’s writing can be found at www.forlouderdays.net. Maybe someday he’ll learn how to use twitter @yotammarom. We all have dreams, don’t we?

 

http://www.alternet.org/occupy-wall-street/what-really-caused-implosion-occupy-movement-insiders-view?akid=13812.265072.yyzNkA&rd=1&src=newsletter1047977&t=6

A week off from Facebook? Participants in Danish experiment like this

Group who quit site for a week felt less stressed and spoke more with family and friends face to face, in study by Danish Happiness Research Institute

People taking pictures under blooming cherry blossoms at the cemetery of Bispebjerg in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Those in the Danish study that quit the social media site for week said they felt a ‘calmness from not being confronted by Facebook all the time’. Photograph: Sophia Juliane Lydoplh/EPA

“We look at a lot of data on happiness and one of the things that often comes up is that comparing ourselves to our peers can increase dissatisfaction,” said Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.

“Facebook is a constant bombardment of everyone else’s great news, but many of us look out of the window and see grey skies and rain (especially in Denmark!),” he said. “This makes the Facebook world, where everyone’s showing their best side, seem even more distortedly bright by contrast, so we wanted to see what happened when users took a break.”

Participants aged between 16 and 76 were quizzed before the experiment began on how satisfied they felt, how active their social life was, how much they compared themselves to others, and how easy they found it to concentrate. The group was then split, with half behaving as normal and half agreeing to abstain from Facebook for seven days – “a big ask for many,” according to Wiking.

Stine Chen, 26, found it tough at first, saying: “Facebook’s been a huge part of life since I was a teenager and lots of social activities are organised around it.”

It was also a challenge for Sophie Anne Dornoy, 35: “When I woke up, even before getting out of bed, I’d open Facebook on my phone just to check if something exciting or important had happened during the night. I worried I’d end up on Facebook just out of habit.”

She deleted the smartphone app and blocked the site on her desktop to reduce temptation. “After a few days, I noticed my to-do list was getting done faster than normal as I spent my time more productively,” she said. “I also felt a sort of calmness from not being confronted by Facebook all the time.”

A week later, the group who had abstained reported higher levels of life satisfaction and better concentration, as well as feeling less lonely, less stressed and more sociable.

“My flatmates and I had to chat instead of just checking Facebook,” said Chen. Dornoy found she had longer conversations on the phone than normal and reached out more to family and friends: “It felt good to know that the world doesn’t end without Facebook and that people are still able to reach you if they want to,” she said.

The next step for researchers is to assess how long the positive effects of a social media sabbatical last, and what happens when volunteers go without Facebook for extended periods. “I’d like to try for a year,” said Wiking, “but we’d have to see how many volunteers we get for that.”

 

http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/nov/10/week-off-facebook-denmark-likes-this-happiness-friends?CMP=fb_gu

How your Facebook profile can affect your credit

Many people are guilty of over-sharing on Facebook — whether they realize it or not — and the potential consequences of what people post on social media are getting even worse.

There once was a time when the only thing at stake was your reputation, but those days are long gone. Most people are well aware of the potential risks of social media these days, and it’s no secret that a Facebook post can get you fired from a job or prevent you from getting a job in the future.

But your Facebook profile now poses a new threat — to your credit score.

According to a report by the Financial Times, some of the top credit rating companies are now using people’s social media accounts to assess their ability to repay debt. So if you want to be able to qualify for a loan and borrow money, this is just another reason to avoid saying certain things on Facebook.

“If you look at how many times a person says ‘wasted’ in their profile, it has some value in predicting whether they’re going to repay their debt,” Will Lansing, chief executive at credit rating company FICO, told the FT. “It’s not much, but it’s more than zero.”

Lansing said FICO is working with credit card companies to use several different methods for deciding what size loans people can handle, and using non-traditional sources like social media allows them to collect information on people who don’t have an in-depth credit history. According to the FT, both FICO and TransUnion have had to find alternative ways to assess people who don’t have a traditional credit profile — including people who haven’t borrowed enough to give creditors an idea of what kind of risk they pose.

According to Lansing, FICO is “increasingly looking at data on a spectrum” to determine an individual’s credit-worthiness — with credit card repayment history being the most important factor on one end and information volunteered via social media on the other end.

And social media isn’t the only alternative source factoring in to people’s credit-worthiness. Credit rating companies are also using individuals’ payment history on phone bills, utility bills and even movie rentals. One good sign to creditors is if someone hasn’t moved a lot — which could suggest they’ve had problems paying rent.

“We can now score the previously un-scoreable,” said Jim Wehmann, executive vice-president for scores at FICO.

And while this may be a great way for more people to get access to loans, it’s also a wake-up call for those “previously un-scoreable” people to clean up their digital footprint — and fast.

http://www.ajc.com/news/news/national/how-your-facebook-profile-can-affect-your-credit/npD9X/