GMGOs: Direct(ed) Action and social movement networks

Curator's Note

 Many US activists lament the disappearance of this year's National Conference on Organized Resistance. Its run might be over, but never fear, the State is here!  The Alliance of Youth Movements Summit was revealed in December 2008, an ensemble of media corporations, electoral consultants, social network entrepreneurs, all sponsored by the State Department. To retool the Rand mantra, how does a social network fight a social network?


Mutation and mimicry, for starters. Information warfare meets youth culture: while the rhetoric is civil society, the tactics are military (we are given a field manual, after all). Co-optation, normally understood as capitalist absorption of alternatives, also has roots in counterinsurgency tactics.


More than incorporation, this is an injection of values and parameters into the very genesis of action. Grassroots or Astroturf? It might be more useful to think of these campaigns as GMGOs (genetically modified grassroots organizations). Through the How-to videos we are incessantly reminded about the code of this genetically modified activism:  Make sure you avoid violent extremism. You will need permits. Respect property. Use leaders. Speak forcefully without being incendiary. Avoid obscenities and violent imagery. Use as your model Cold War Latin American anti-Communism (anti-Castro, -Chavez, -FARC). Embody American exceptionalism: these networks should proliferate elsewhere, since the US has reached network nirvana with the Obama election.


Meanwhile, back in Dreamland USA, police and civilian spies wield sovereign weapons against other networks (online and offline—see the 2008 Republican National Convention). Networks are distinguished by their criminalization or as unspecified enemies. The GMGOs determine when a social movement network tips into the intolerable, and pre-empt it.  Otherwise, Facebook ‘em, Danno!


But controlling mutations is not so easy, as the history of warfare demonstrates. Exploits (to cite Alex Galloway and Eugene Thacker) abound, especially in conditions of homogeneity and excessive expulsion. The fictional enemy here is Cloud, which is what this entire project resembles: not just surveillance from above, but the toxic source that waters the genetically modified seeds. What would happen if this field manual sprouted US anti-surveillance groups? Forget the business cards and baseball caps. But bring your disposable cell phones and anonymizing software.


Interesting clip. The prospect of movement through an online exploitation of social network is rather new and I wonder if we are in a "working through" movement more than anything else. Yes, I share the same amount of reservations and, yes, the issue of surveillance concerns me, a point I will get to later. The rhetoric of the video, upbeat and "progressive positive" for lack of a better term, is a bit annoying and shortsighted. However, it's a three minute clip and not a manual, so I can live with it.  For now, what I would love to see is a 3 minute video on how not to use a social network to create a social movement.

As far as surveillance goes: One of the items I have had to come to grips with in the last five years is the willingness of so many people t share so much of themselves online. I resisted for many years, but have since embraced tools such as Facebook. I don't know if this is buying into some sort of top-down ideology that has conspired to give in to a surveillant society, or something of a bottom-up cultural and social turn, the effect of the "net generation" coming to fruition, etc. Perhaps it's a combination of the two. But I am interested in your idea about "anonymizing software", it's potential for both movement and surveillance. 

Yeah, it's only one of a handful of how-to videos put out by the Alliance of Youth Movements. The Alliance (the more I say their name, the more it sounds like a sci-fi group) also provides a field manual (their term) that you can download. In one of the vids they also suggest using things like anonymizing software and disposable phones to bypass security. I agree about the experimental "working through" stage of this techno-social moment. These experiments are often done via already existing ideologies, agents, and discourses that perhaps now have an easier time disappearing into the flattening image of pure horizontality and "participation".

I want to go back to the tone of this video because the tone is so reminiscent of 1997 when thefirst Internet Bubble seemed to be at its most potent. Those were the days when you walked into a bike shop in San Francisco and heard people working on you ten speed talking about getting offers of 60K plus stock options. Part of that was alos discourse of this being the "New Capitalism", which was both nonsense but also simply naive.


Given what was achieved last year with Obama's campaign I wonder if we are in another one of those moments vis a vis Web 2.0. There is no certainty here, but even as someone who was part of "The Movement" for Obama, I wonder when the shine comes off. Maybe I am wrong, but this video may be a bit of that shine. I hope I am wrong.

It is perhaps because of my background, but this video reminds me of a Young Pioneers organization in the Soviet Union.  Or actually Young Pioneers 2.0, which is what it would be right now.  It is promoting itself as an organized and even somewhat hierarchical movement with an origin story.  Which is interesting how, even though it is structured through networks, the mentality of hierarchical organization is still ever present...  It is the case of a network fighting a network, but perhaps also exposes the parodoxes of "organized" networks that tries to eliminate or control network anarchies.  It is the same problem that the Obama campaign had - how to harvest the anarchy potential of the network while still maintaing hierarchical control over its participants. 

I am also not sure if picking the Cloud as an enemy was a referent to the Cloud of web-based information storage.  Apple specifically has named its online storage as the Cloud and that has been picked up by others as well.  If it is a specific reference to that, then it makes even more interesting.


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