Wednesday, February 24, 2010

From this moment, Twitter ends and tactics begin

Earlier in the week it seemed that every other tweet from the twitterers I follow was telling the world to #saveplasticpeople. In quickly disseminating news of the threat to close the London club, this was an exemplary case of new media communication. Naturally a facebook group was also set up for people to immediately express their solidarity.

But then what? There is a sense that all of this virtual politicking often goes nowhere. Breathy accounts of how twitter was going to bring down dictatorships have been replaced by more sobre assessments of the resilience of well organised regimes confronted with slacktivism and what Annabelle Sreberny has termed the 'mousy solidarity' of clicking on petitions. Communication might be an essential part of developing social movements, but communication alone does not constitute a movement. Clouds of tweets and facebook posts can vanish as rapidly as their meteorological counterparts.

So where does that leave us in relation to something like saving a club like Plastic People from closure? If, as Gramsci would have it, the art of politics begins with an analysis of relations of force, a starting point would be to consider in more detail who our opponents are, what are their weaknesses, where the immediate battleground is to be found (e.g. when and where are decisions made). At the same time, we should consider who our allies are and our actual and potential strengths.

But Gramsci also famously distinguished between the 'war of manouevre' and the 'war of position'. The former refers to the immediate fighting on the battleground, the latter to the wider struggle to mobilise across society to achieve political ends. In relation to Plastic People, the quick war of manoeuvre might be appropriate for the urgent task of dealing with the pressing threat from Hackney Council and the local police, but the war of position is necessary to shape the context in which such decisions take place and to confront the wider criminalisation and over-regulation of forms of musicking and dancing. Is it possible to move beyond just complaining about individual club closures and mobilise a movement that can challenge the whole basis on which they happen - including the notions that music and dancing require the advance approval of the state (licensing) and that the 'war against drugs' and crime should be waged on the dancefloor?

This might seem like a fantasy, but in the mid-1990s there was a significant movement in the UK against the anti-rave measures of the Criminal Justice Act. Mass demonstrations might not have stopped the law, but they did strengthen the whole free party scene so that when the law came into effect it was not able to vanquish a highly-motivated and organised culture. More recently in New York there has been a campaign against the clampdown on nightlife that has included open air parties outside the Mayor's house, with people chanting 'dancing is not a crime'. If grime is being driven out of the public sphere in London, can't we bring grime en masse to City Hall? As Reclaim the Streets demonstrated in the 1990s, sound system + truck + crowd = all kinds of possibilities.

All of this would require communication, yes even using twitter and facebook, but also the harder slog of organising, mobilizing and taking action with our bodies as well as our virtual selves. In relation to Plastic People, there do seem to be signs that physical people are prepared to do more than just tweet with, for instance, suggestions of a meeting to set up some kind of 'Friends of Plastic People'.

(sharp eyed situationist-spotters will have noticed that the title of this post is derived from Raoul Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life: 'from this moment, despair ends and tactics begin').


a melburnian said...

There are similar things going on in Melbourne - yesterday was the mobilisation of our actual bodies.
Somewhere between 10 and 20,000 people took to the streets protesting liquor licensing laws.

Executive Steve said...

Here's a fantastic utility for really mobilising Twitter and mobile telephony as an activist tool.

Tapatio is intended to be a communications resource for the radical anti-authoritarian community. We have developed a system that can be used in mass direct action scenarios to gather tactical information, categorize that information based on type and urgency, rate the information for reliability, and then dispatch reliable information to individuals in the streets based on the criteria they request (for example, maybe the user only wants information about legal updates, or maybe they want to hear about police mobilizations and medical information).

Certainly a little more involving than the "mouse solidarity" you were on about above :)

Transpontine said...

Melbourne stuff sounds pretty inspiring, will do a post on it soon. Perhaps we could do something similar in London - or do we have to wait until the sun starts shining?