Category Archives: activism

Jay Smooth’s TED Talk Reveals How He Learned to Love Talking About Race | Colorlines

An excellent 12 minutes about the social construction of race and how knowing this idea can help to have conversations about race.

Funny and approachable.

The noted video blogger opens up about what got him interested in talking about race.

Source: Jay Smooth’s TED Talk Reveals How He Learned to Love Talking About Race | Colorlines

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Teach for America’s hidden curriculum

Teach for America’s hidden curriculum – http://pulse.me/s/iAL5Q Need to finish reading this. I still don’t see enough of teacher unions working on good reform .

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Torture still not cool.

Short thought:

Even IF the attack on Osama BL had been 100% due to torturing prisoners, it would not mean a vindication of the torture cheerleaders. Why? 1) It is only a colossal failure of the imagination to think that any action is the result of one and only one course of action. There are always other ways. 2) What price can we put on our national integrity? As John McCain said once: it is not about them, it is about us.

Source for McCain (WaPo article 2005):

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Social Movement Theory and Terrorism

I have been chipping away at an article for awhile now on terrorism as an organizational activity.  Part of my argument is to understand terrorism as at times a social movement.

Part of the fun of this for me is to learn more about social movements which has always been a topic my interests bump up against, but something I never had time to formally study.

Reading Castells (who channel Alain Tourraine, apparently), Tilly, and Giddens, among others, brought the idea of social movements into my sphere of interest.  Then I started reading and reading about the work done by institutional theorists like Haogreeva Rao and others about thinking about consumers as social movements.  For example, his book, Market Rebels, makes the case that markets are at times created by consumers, not firms.

Today, in a fit of retroactive literature scanning, I decided to check what had been said about terrorism and social movement theory.  Two interesting findings.

First, the wikipedia article cites Tilly and Tarrow (separately) defining social movements as inherently a featrue of pluralist, democratic societies.  Moreover, Tilly’s repretoire does not include any violent acts.  This surprised me.  Terrorist organizations seem to operate in such societies and also, with Al Qaeda, at a global level.  Moreover, they are also embedded in or linked to social movements and sets of social movement organizations.  So, if a social movement is a an observable collective effort to resist or adopt social change, then terrorist organizations can be part of that definition, irrespective of their geographic location.

Second, I hopped over to google scholar to see what had been written about social movement theory and terrorism.  Using those search terms, I found one article in Terrorism and Political Violence.  Who knew there was sucha  specialized journal?  C. Gentry’s article is titled: ” THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NEW SOCIAL MOVEMENT THEORY AND TERRORISM STUDIES: THE ROLE OF LEADERSHIP, MEMBERSHIP, IDEOLOGY AND GENDER”.   I am not even sure from the title if it is relevant.  That was the first hit, none of the rest seemed any better. This struck me as very odd and made me wonder if I have stumbled onto a much larger claim than I realized initially:

Terrorist Organizing must be accounted for by social movement theory.

Now, I wonder about how to use my blog.  I have never had anything like an active “readership” as far as i can tell.  I would love to get some answers or responses to what I discuss here.  But how?  Should I email Brayden King or Fabio Rojas at OrgTheory.net and say, “hey, please read this?”

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Primordial Ooze of Civil Society?

I always liked the phrase “primordial ooze.”  It is fun to say and the ten year old in me sees a bubbling, steaming goo that seems to defy order and good manners.  I also like it because it captures the idea of how the new emerges from the old, how complexity emerges from sets of interactions that are not supposed to add up to the emergent.

Two items from today made me wonder if we are looking at the primordial ooze of civil society.  Let me say here that by civil society I am not entering into some long-standing debate about what is or isn’t civil society.  I am looking for a term that covers the idea of collective or coordinated action of varying degrees of formality that is centered on common ground of like-minded actors.  Also, this common ground must unite people around some sense of a common good or higher purpose.  In short, human organizing motivated by “ruled” by practices that are not of formal state power nor purely economic rationality.  I am not sure if that holds up, but I’ll leave it there for now.

So, item #1.  Egypt, of course.  Like countless others, I am fascinated, hopeful, fearful, and awe struck by the events unfolding first in Tunisia and now more spectacularly in Egypt.  Through the media I have followed (Democracy Now, KCRW’s To The Point, NY time, Huffingtonpost, BBC, Guardian), there are several elements at work.  In no particular order.

* Youthful, technology-enabled activists.

* The Muslim Brotherhood

* Dissident elites (like El Baradei)

* Neighborhood watch patrols

Some of these groups seem loosely organized or rapidly scaling up and out as they absorb the tens or hundreds of thousands of newly mobilized citizens.  I imagine new organizing, new durable networks of trust and cooperation, and new alliances among the other two are a major part of the fluidity and flux.  This (to me) palpable sense of what could be captures the imagery of the primordial ooze of civil society.

Item #2: The Really Free School.  A random facebook message put me on to this (originating in theory.org.uk, home of theory trading cards).  I have not been able to explore it much, but what struck me is the basic ethos: let’s use a common space, the (Shirky-ean) low cost of coordinating, the ability of people to self-organize, and the cultural scripts of sharing knowledge and delighting in serious play.  Though not as fluid or important as Egypt, it also seems to me to get at the origins,at the primordial ooze,  of civil society in its simplicity and open-endedness.

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Filed under activism, Creativity, Hacker ethic, Information and Communication Technology, Networks, participatory technology, Protest, social innovation, sociology, technology

The False Ideology of a Neutral Center

I took the plunge and posted this on facebook:

I am irked by “centrists” like Matt miller on KCRW’s Left Right and Center who think center ALWAYS means that left and right are equivalent in their commitment to ideology over good ideas and therefore the only possible solutions to economy, politics, and government is some sort of “third way.” And they think non-choice is non-ideological.

On a side note, I never know how much politics or “political economy” (the broader interrelated questions of fairness, governance, philosophy, and values) to put on FB. I have often said, and should write more about the double-edged sword of FB- it is based on network growth and inter-connectivity, but the broader a network becomes, the more limited it’s uses. At the extreme, FB will become an on-line version of Lake Wobegone nomrs: to avoid unsettling anyone, only discuss the weather in polite company.

Anyway, Matt Miller, the host and apparent “arbiter” on Left, Right and Center (a great show even if it is made by the communists socialists Nazis at NPR,was on a tear about the need for a new label for “radical centrists.” He made his version of a passionate plea for now being the time for a brave new “third way” politics (was he around during the 1990s when Blair and Giddens did this? and, um, that US president, named, um, Clinton?)

Matt Miller makes some good points, sometimes. But I find he often starts where much of the “mainstream”media seem to: that the excesses of left and right are always there, always misguided, always driven by ideology over facts and therefore the only hope for progress comes in some third way. Even as his OWN SHOW has left and right weaving in and out of agreement on issues like the Fed, China, and Afghanistan, he cannot let go of the animating narrative of his life.

Sometimes the “very” left is simply correct. For example, there is growing wealth and wage inequality in the US, and tax policies have much to do with it. Or, the distortions in health care of the US compared to other comparable societies is due to all the money that flows to the various sectors of the Health-industrial complex. No amount of compromise with the right can make those critiques go away.

Rarely, the “right” is correct. Ron Paul wants to audit the Fed. I am with Bob Scheer on this one. The Fed as it has become run is a distortion of democracy in our economy. I can agree with some critiques of changing or weakening values in US society, although I won’t agree with solutions or causes, probably.

So, I would rather Miller’s idea of a radical center be more of arbiter between right and left than always elevate its (false) sense of being above the messy fray by being aghast at the ideology around it. There is no non-ideological center…

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Keep A School in Town- Meeting and Talking Points

If you believe in ‘community-centered schools’ and ‘walkable / bikeable communities’ – This is a ‘last chance’ to advocate Keeping The Schools In Town.  …. At the end of this email is the official meeting announcement. Continue reading

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Who Are You Fighting For? Health Care and Public vs Private Tragedy

Organizing for America- the organizing branch of the Obama campiagn that stuck around afterwards, has a great example of using technology to rally people.

I wrote the following to Chris Carney and as I got into it I wanted to give it a broader audience.

Dear Rep. Carney,

I am here for Betsy and Lisa [Names changed]-

We must pass health insurance reform now.  Too many people and businesses face warped incentives or grim and miserable health due to the burdens of our perverse and broken system.

Betsyworks full tie in a private child care facility.  She is a single mom.  She often baby sits infants for many families and is always willing to help people with sick children or other events.  Her selflessness allows others to pursue their careers as professors, doctors, and business leaders.  Her employer, a day care center subsidized by a local employer, does not provide coverage.  She had such severe back problems she could not sleep.  Friends pooled $300 to help her see a chiropractor.  She limited coverage now, but is still an injury away from financial crisis.

Lisa has leukemia.  She works cleaning people’s homes.  She cleans and cooks for her husband every day, even when he has been furloughed or been between jobs.  She stays married to a disinterested, neglectful and nearly abusive husband because she could never afford individual coverage, or even get it with her leukemia.  Where is her freedom to live her life?  The combination of patriarchy and our health care system is deeply unfair and sexist.  I think only the strength of her personality and her adult son keeps her husband from raising his hand against her.

Millions are uninsured.  In 2009, one study found 45,000 Americans died due to lack of coverage. [1] They used a rigorous method used by researchers in 1993 who found around half that number then.  Among those 45,000 are more than 2,000 uninsured veterans.[2] On 9/11, 3,000 of our citizens were innocent victims and became iconic heroes.  We endure 15 9/11s every year through 45,000 private tragedies of martyrs to a broken healthcare system midwife by a corrupt political system.  We have marshaled billions of dollars and 100,000s of soldiers to avenge the fallen of 9/11.  Meanwhile, we engage in trivial “death panel” and “reconciliation” food fights at home while our fellow citizens are chewed up and spit out as corpses by the broken health care system.   Why should the public tragedy of 9/11 count for so much more all these years than the sum of 45,000 private tragedies year in and year out?

Where is the justice in that? How is that fair?


[1] Heavey, Susan.  Sept 2009.  “Study Links 45,000 Deaths to Lack of Health Insurance.”  Reuters.  http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE58G6W520090917

[2] Physicians for A National Health Program. Nov 10, 2009. “Over 2,200 veterans died in 2008 due to lack of health insurance.”  http://www.pnhp.org/news/2009/november/over_2200_veterans_.php\

Note: Cross-posted at: Spilling Ink.

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Filed under activism, policy, Politics, Power, Activism, sociology, technology

Priestly House to Re-Open (hoo-ray!)

The Friends of Joseph Priestley House Museum will reopen the site for weekend

tours beginning Saturday, Oct. 3.  Heritage Day, a grand reopening event will be held

Sunday, Nov. 1 from 1-4 p.m., it was announced at the group’s annual meeting Thursday

in Northumberland, PA.

The site has been closed since mid-August due to the state’s budget emergency, which

forced the furlough of its paid staff and nearly caused permanent closing of the museum.

In the future, Friends’ members, serving as volunteers, will lead weekend tours for the

public. School and community group tours can be scheduled at other times. For

information, contact the Friends’ website (www.josephpriestleyhouse.org.)

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Ethics and Information on Listservs (SOCNET)

Over at Socnet, the listserv (what is a listserv, anyway?  A-ha.) that has been so valuable for me over the years as I found networks and worked through how to do something productive with them, a debate has been unfolding over the posting of a research position with a military agency that would involve using social network tools and insights to do intelligence type work in counter-insurgency.

Some objected to the very position, some to the use of the listserv to distribute information, some to the initial objectors, and some to the politicization of the listserv.

I pondered whether or not to add anything.  Part of me , like may others, felt like I could not add anything that would advance the discussion, and I would be simply adding chatter and emails to our already clogged information pathways and in boxes.  Part of me also felt like there are real ethical conundrums around the issue and also the scope and use of the listserv itself which still anchors much of the network research network (or community if you prefer.  So, maybe against my better judgment, I tried to be constructive.

According to the INSNA website, the purpose of the listserv is:

“The purpose of SOCNET is to allow network researchers worldwide to discuss research and professional issues, make announcements, and request help from each other.”

What exactly constitutes “professional issues” may be up for debate, but the ethics of the tools and theories we develop and use seems to me entirely consistent with a discussion of the professional issues.  I write this without implying that there is one correct answer to the recent debate over the posting of a position at CORE for a post-doc to which several people have made comments.

I think two issues have been raised which may be conflated and can usefully be separated.

1)      Is it ethical to accept the position at CORE?

2)      Is it ethical to post the information on this list serv?

I am not sure what I think of the first question (accepting the position).

I do think it is acceptable to post the position(#2) and also to have others raise concerns and discuss the implications of the professional ethics of our specialized tools and knowledge.  How can we discuss professional issues unless we know about them?  Plus, I favor information transparency whenever possible, as opposed to banning or moderating heavily.  I am not sure how we could even formally execute such an intention.  We rely on more informal norms.

I suggest that this listserv is a kind of commons, as discussed by David Weinberger in this Berkman Center podcast.  Thus, participating includes a certain tolerance for internal dissent and working through the common expectations of how to use the commonly held and valued resource.

Hopefully, I have been succinct and constructive, if not conclusive.

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