Monday, July 28, 2014

Invite More People into Activism! (Pass It Along!)

A few years ago, I stumbled on a book called Thinking Recursively. It opened my eyes to the power of things that propagate in a self-imitating way.

Recursive thinking is very familiar to computer scientists; it needs to be on the radar screen of social activists.

In a way, Malcolm Gladwell touched on some of the ideas in this book in his own work, The Tipping Point, with which many of us are familiar. The essential connection that Gladwell makes in his book is that for an idea (or organism or movement) to propagate, it needs to be reproduced at a rate equal to or greater than 1.0 (on average) by each entity that encounters it. Otherwise it peters out.

That's why the archetypal activist structure is the phone tree. (Imitated and amplified, of course, by newer technologies like Facebook and Twitter.)

(Of course, American revolutionaries of an earlier era were all about getting the word out!)

So I've realized that when we ask ourselves, "What is it that we hope people will do?" we must include an element of recursivity: One of the things we want people to do is to involve more people in doing it. In a way, that element of recursivity -- dare I say "evangelism"? -- defines what it means for people to really become part of a movement.

I conducted an interesting experiment with this a few years ago: a group of us committed to tweeting about ending the war in Afghanistan every week, on Tuesday -- #AfghanistanTuesday -- and the hard core called ourselves "Tuesdayistas".  The hallmark of a Tuesdayista? The commitment to encouraging others to be Tuesdayistas, of course!

In 140 characters or less, that can be expressed as:

@(friend's screen name here) PLEASE! Become a and ask 10 more folks to (become a and ask 10 more folks to (become...

OK, maybe that's a very nerdy expression of the idea of recursivity. But it started me thinking about the need to find the right balance between activism that consists principally of doing something, myself, and activism that consists of involving more people in doing that something. And to be sure that what I really do is "involve more people in doing that something (including involving more people in doing that something (including . . . . . ) )."

All of us are familiar with the need in our groups to do "outreach." How many times do we return to this issue, only to drop the ball?

There are lots of tools available today for conducting activism, many of which fall under the rubric "social media." There are many techniques for using social media effectively. But the most important is to understand how to propagate "recursivity."

What you can do

EASY: Share this post with people in your affinity group and discuss how you will put "recursivity" into action consistently.

EASIER: Personally invite one person to be an activist today. (Show them how you do it!)

EASIEST: Tweet this post to several people (including @scarry) and ask them to share it with others.

Related posts

There is an eerie similarity between events in the book Paul Revere's Ride and events in our world today. I'm thinking particularly of how a network of mass resistance springs into action.

(See New World Counterinsurgency: Deja Vu All Over Again)

Tuesdayistas are people who (a) take time each week to participate in a national (and now global) conversation about ending the war in Afghanistan; AND (b) help spread the word by reaching out to others (who will reach out to others (who will reach out to others .... to do the same!

(See I'm a Tuesdayista!)

In "USA Today Goes Viral" (New York Times, July 14, 2014), we learn that the paper with one of the largest daily circulations in the country has seen the handwriting on the wall and is requiring all its journalists to learn to drive readership via social media.

(See Social Media: If It's Good Enough for USA Today, It's Good Enough for Me)

"Surveillance is Useful and Also Threatening"

I was reuning with high school friends last week. One of them is now a principal in a suburban elementary school. He loves his work -- and I can't think of a better person to be shaping young lives.

Over a diner breakfast one morning, he said, "You know, Joe, we now have cameras throughout the school. So when a parent calls and says their kid had a problem, we can pull up the video and see exactly what happened." He told me that many schools installed camera systems in the wake of the Newtown shootings. (See for instance Schools beef up security after Newtown; cameras, panic buttons installed)

For him, as a principal, total visibility into the school is great. (Just imagine trying to settle a he-said, she-said dispute without being able to go back to replay.)

And the technology supports crisis management, if that should become necessary. (Local police are able to link in to the system.)

Of course, there are limits. There are no cameras in the bathrooms. (Yet.)

My friend is aware of my work on the issues of surveillance and drones. We talked about some of the philosophical and ethical issues. In general, the children in an elementary school are assumed to require the oversight and direction of school staff, so it is not unreasonable to have adults watching the children. On the other hand . . . .

I proposed a thought experiment: "Can you envision a situation in which a parent came to you about an issue, and you might elect to not make use of the video record? What would it be like to engage the people involved in resolving the conflict without being impacted by that video?"

(I think that my proposal was stimulated by the fact that what had been really interesting to me was listening to his descriptions of engaging with young boys who were engaging in troublesome behavior. As he recounted the way he talked to them, I thought, "He is not coming at them from a position of power and threat; he's using empathy, humor, modeling.")

We talked about the work of Michel Foucault, and his insights about how observation -- especially total observation -- is the tip of the iceberg in a system of one-way control. From the time I started focusing on the problem of drones -- about four years ago -- the work of Foucault and the alarm he raised about the "panopticon" society has been in the front of my mind.

How does someone who holds in his hands the power to see everything resist the temptation to control, and instead focus on the need to understand?

This conversation helped crystallized for me the broad insight: "Surveillance is useful and also threatening."

I hope a large number of people will take this up and struggle with it.

Here's more on the issue as it relates to schools: "Privacy vs. Security: Are you prepared for the thorny issues surrounding student surveillance?" by David Rapp in Scholastic

Related posts

The panopticon was a prison design that reversed the old paradigm, in which prisoners were stored away, "out of sight, out of mind," and instead arrayed them in a way in which they could be observed as efficiently as possible by the fewest number of managers.

(See Drones, 1984, and Foucault's Panopticon)

In the old order of things, power places itself on display, and hopes that the population sees fit to obey. In the new order of things, power compels every member of the population to display himself or herself . . .  In the new order of things, the courts are bypassed and the instruments of discipline -- observe, classify, examine -- run rampant.

(See "Surveiller et Punir" Indeed!)

A large number of people are marked for exclusion and deprivation -- and worse -- because they have characteristics that are susceptible to the whole apparatus of power:  they are easily recognizable as  NOT "normal" or "right" or "acceptable" . . . under the gaze of surveillance this condition is recorded and propagated . . . for perpetual recording and processing within the data centers of power . . . accompanied by intermittent acts of physical and cultural injury -- random, senseless -- to reinforce their unshakeable status. 

(See Drone Gaze, Drone Injury: The War on Communities of Color)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Boeing Has an Israel Problem . . . and Chicago Has a Boeing Problem

Yesterday I marched with other members of local Lutheran congregations in a march to protest the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Estimates put the number of marchers at between 5,000 and 10,000. (Watch this Youtube video "Protest in downtown Chicago on 7/20/14" and judge for yourself.)

As the march neared its objective -- the office building at Madison and Canal where the Israeli consulate is located -- the nearby Boeing building came into view.  For the first time, I wondered at its proximity.

Boeing, headquartered in Chicago, is one of the top military contractors in the world; and it's one that hides behind the veneer of providing civilian airliners, for "nice" travel. The antiwar community in Chicago has long sought to shine a light on Boeing's grisly war business and has called for it to cease those activities. (See "Activists Challenge Boeing to Disinvest from Drone Research".)  Getting the public to pay attention isn't easy in our see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, above-it-all society.

Now that the Israeli government's killings in Gaza are front-page news -- particularly the way military aircraft is being used to mow down innocent men, women, and children -- Boeing's involvement is in everyone's face.

"An Israeli Apache helicopter fires a missile towards the Gaza Strip
on Saturday as Israeli forces pressed ahead with a ground offensive."
(Source: Baz Ratner/Reuters/Landov, retrieved from 89.3 KPCC website.)

You can read the description of the "Boeing AH-64 Apache (Hebrew nickname: 'Peten' ('Adder'), 'Saraph')" on the Israeli Air Force website.

"An F-15I over the IAF’s Hatzerim air base."
(Photo credit: Ofer Zidon/Flash90. Retrieved from End Time Bible Prophecy website.)

You can read the description of the "Boeing F-15I (Hebrew nickname: 'Ra'am' ('Thunder'))" on the Israeli Air Force website.

It seems that Boeing has an Israel problem. And considering the close relationship between Chicago and Boeing, that means Chicago has a problem, too.

Most recently, several groups in Chicago took action in light of Boeing's leading role in the Gaza killings, with a protest where Boeing lives. (See "Police Arrest 5 Anti-Israel Protesters At Boeing HQ")

What will happen in just a few weeks, when Boeing sponsors a full-volume enactment of fighter jets and other military aircraft roaring over the Chicago lakefront in front of a half million spectators? Isn't the sight and sound of jet fighters coming in low over people on a narrow strip of land next tot he water a little too close for comfort?  Isn't the 2014 Chicago Air and Water Show likely to be a public relations disaster for Boeing?

"Die-in" at 2012 Chicago Air and Water Show.

Numerous peace and justice groups long ago committed to have a presence at the Air and Water Show to protest U.S. militarism, drone killings, abuses of the "war on terror," and recruitment of youth for war. (See, for instance, August 16-17: Protest U.S. Kidnapping, Torture, and Drone Assassinations at the 2014 Chicago Air and Water Show Protest )

It's beginning to look like Boeing's role in the Gaza killings may be the big story at the 2014 Chicago Air and Water Show.

Related posts

Year after year, hundreds of thousands of people from Chicago and the surrounding area gather on the lakeshore to watch aerial displays by an array of planes. Most don't suspect that they are being subjected to an intense propaganda effort by multiple branches of the U.S. military.  The Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo views this as a perfect opportunity to engage with the public and enlist them in the growing movement against U.S. war, torture, surveillance, and other crimes.  We will join activists from many other peace and justice groups who have had a growing presence at this event in recent years.

(See August 16-17: Protest U.S. Kidnapping, Torture, and Drone Assassinations at the 2014 Chicago Air and Water Show Protest )

Isn't the real problem that fully half of Boeing's business consists of making and selling war materiel? Is it really necessary to identify the one, or two, or three most egregious weapons that Boeing makes? Do we need to pick and choose?  Isn't the real issue that nice, all-American, fly-the-friendly-skies Boeing is one of the core purveyors of war and misery in the world today, by virtue of its Military Aircraft division? I mean, look at their own sanitized version of what they do -- "Strike, Mobility, Surveillance & Engagement, Unmanned & Missile Systems, Global Support" -- even in their own words its readily apparent that they're peddling poison.

(See The Wrong Labor Struggle at Boeing )

There's been a lot of talk in recent weeks and months about the problem of gun trafficking in Illinois, and how we will never meet our goal of stopping the violence in our communities if we can't stop the flow of guns. Maybe it's time for us to eat our own dog food . . . .

(See What If Illinois Became a "War-Profiteer-Free Zone" ? )

Monday, July 14, 2014

Social Media: If It's Good Enough for USA Today, It's Good Enough for Me

What do you do if you're not reaching a big enough audience through traditional channels?

This is an important question for people in the antiwar movement, since we can't count on the mainstream media to carry our message for us.

Well, as it turns out, the mainstream media has come to the conclusion that it can't count on traditional channels either!

In "USA Today Goes Viral" (New York Times, July 14, 2014), we learn that the paper with one of the largest daily circulations in the country has seen the handwriting on the wall and is requiring all its journalists to learn to drive readership via social media.

For Social Media Tuesdays, the staff must act as if there is no other way to get their articles except through sites likes Facebook and Reddit. That means USA Today’s journalists diligently place each of their famously punchy, graphic-rich stories onto various social media platforms. The purpose is to get them thinking like their readers, who increasingly get news through their Twitter feeds instead of the paper’s front page or home page.

As I read the article, I kept hearing echoes of lessons that I have been learning in the last several years as I have worked to communicate online about peace and justice issues.  Herewith the top of my hit parade, with reference to stories from the USA Today newsroom . . . .

(1) FIRST PRIORITY: Get the story out there

Social media is not the place for long-form journalism. If you've got one thing worth telling, get it out there . . . NOW! It doesn't have to be lengthy to "big."

(Or, as they say at USA Today: "A premium is placed on reporters’ speed and digital output. . . . 'Reporters have to write 5- and 30-minute stories.'")

Some of us find this incredibly liberating: no more writer's block! (Hey, it's binary: you either have an idea or you don't.)

(2) So: how "big" does a story have to be?

Big enough to be worth clicking to via Twitter.

(USA Today: "[R]eaders . . . increasingly get news through their Twitter feeds instead of the paper’s front page or home page.")

Steven Covey, of 7 Habits of Highly Successful People fame, used to say, "Start with the end in mind." So . . . start with the tweet in mind.

(3) What's the rush?

The flip side of being allowed to be brief is you can't procrastinate.

(USA Today: "Too many daily newspapers still focus on reporting what happened yesterday, despite many readers having learned yesterday what happened yesterday.")

Rule of thumb: Think of the information you have as having a half-life of about a day.

(4) Measure results

The coin of the realm is viewership numbers.  After all, if no one's getting the message, why bother?

(The USA Today version: "All of the paper’s journalists have tools allowing them to track the online viewership of their stories." )

If you don't get jazzed looking at how much your numbers have climbed every morning with your morning coffee, this isn't the place for you.

(5) Cultivate your channels

Want to be heard on Twitter? That takes followers, and you need to build followership steadily over time.

(USA Today: "Competitions have included who can . . . add the most new Twitter followers in a given time.")

Of course, the best kind of followers are those that have lots of followers (that have lots of followers (that have lots of followers . . . . See Invite More People into Activism! (Pass It Along!)

One lesson that's not in the USA Today story: "Everything's connected."  For instance . . .

Content Tags Across Dozens of "No Drones" Sites Now Networked

Hmmm . . . I wonder what else that story left out?


Related posts

There is an eerie similarity between events in the book Paul Revere's Ride and events in our world today. I'm thinking particularly of how a network of mass resistance springs into action.

(See New World Counterinsurgency: Deja Vu All Over Again)

The biggest single eye-opener for me came this morning when I was trading emails with Washington Post reporter Peter Slevin. I expressed amazement at the 286 comments that people had appended to his piece on the use of the Thomson Correctional Center to house Guantanamo detainees. (That's a lotta comments!) Peter said, "Yeah, well, that one got picked up by the Huff Post . . . ." (See The World Turned Upside Down - Huff Post, Wash Post, and Twitter )

Read about the #AfghanistanTuesday campaign - in which people made time every week to remember what's happening in Afghanistan and push for change.

(See Making an Impact on #AfghanistanTuesday)

I've started to organize some of the practices I've discovered, starting with the ten "guideposts" below. I'll expand on these from time to time, and hope to spur continued conversation with all of you!

(See Twitter: Scarry's Ten Guideposts )

Friday, July 11, 2014

"Everything Is Witnessed": Searching for "the Guilty" in GROUNDED

Grounded ended its run at the Greenhouse Theater Center on July 13, and my summer wish is that it can be brought back for an extended stay.

You can get lots of detail on the production in Tony Adler's review in The Reader ("A pilot brings the war home in American Blues Theater's Grounded: George Brant scores a direct hit with his one-woman play"); what I want to stress here is:

Gwendolyn Whiteside is an amazing actress. I was sitting 2 feet away from the stage, and I found myself attracted and scared at the same time. I kept wanting to get a word in edgewise, interrupt her cocky assertions, but also just hoping to be able just to sidestep her. I had to remind myself again and again that the wasn't a real fighter/drone pilot, that this wasn't really happening to me . . . .

The play itself is pitch-perfect. Gwendolyn Whiteside has help delivering an amazing performance because every word in this play works. And the other aspects of the production - staging, sound, video projections - all contribute to putting you in the boots of a "pilot" who drives back and forth through the Nevada desert every day . . .  shuttling . . . between home (sincere husband and pink-pony-wielding toddler) . . . and "combat" (a dark, air-conditioned trailer where she stares at images of the putty-colored Middle East terrain transmitted by a Reaper drone's cameras).

Grounded raises tough questions. I was hoping that the play would challenge the idea that killing people with drones is good. It's a reflection of the seriousness of this work that that is just one of the issues it raises; others include our society's willingness to destroy the people who we employ to "serve" ("serve our country," serve us in general), our culture's worship of violence / use of force, and the consequences of pervasive surveillance.

Find a way to see Grounded. And tell others.

Through 7/13: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 2:30 PM
Greenhouse Theater Center
2257 N. Lincoln

Related posts

At the end of the day, is surveillance bad if no harm comes of it? Foucault understood this to be symptomatic of the much larger project of societal rule. To Foucault, prior to the physical and bodily aspects of control and manipulation, there are aspects that have to do with seeing, knowing, naming, and categorizing.

(See Drones, 1984, and Foucault's Panopticon)

Leveling Up is the creative work that demonstrates just how thoroughly America's new ways of warfare have become intertwined with the other dominant strands in our culture.

(See Level Up, Step Up, Grow Up, Man Up . . . Wake Up)

In Chicago on Good Friday, 2013 (March 29), a cast consisting of long-time Chicago antiwar activists was joined by a NY playwright (and defendant in actions against US drone bases), Jack Gilroy, for one of the events kicking off a month-long campaign of anti-drones events across the country: a performance of Gilroy's play, The Predator.

(See "The Predator" in Chicago - Good Friday, 2013 - "A Passion Play for the Drones Era")

Monday, July 7, 2014

Antiwar Animation: A Lost Art?

I'm just back from a retrospective of the animations produced by John and Faith Hubley at the Siskel Film Center in Chicago.

I'm breathless over the short animation from 1964 called "The Hat."

"I ... must ... have ... my ... HAT!"

It's a pitch-perfect antiwar tale -- timeless.  You can read about it on the Michael Sporn Animation blog, and watch it in two parts on Youtube. I don't know what part of "The Hat" I like best: the totally convincing dialogue (spoken by Dizzy Gillespie and Dudley Moore)? the original soundtrack they created?  the mythic arc of the story? the exquisite drawings?

"The Hat" - Part 1

"The Hat" - Part 2

Where are we going to get more of this kind of work to power the movement to abolish war?

Related posts

Have you ever wondered . . . instead of just tsk-tsking about "The Great War," why doesn't anyone actually seize the occasion to try to put a stop to future wars?

(See Everyone Talks About World War I, But No One Does Anything About It )

I'm grateful to my friend, Jim Barton, for framing the problem in a way that is adequately broad, and yet contains a measure of hope.  It's about the future, and whether we have one -- or can construct one -- he said.  Young people today are asking: Do I have an economic future? Does the planet have a future? Will (nuclear) war extinguish everybody's future?

(See A FUTURE: Can we construct one? )


We have had a window of opportunity -- nearly 70 years in which the constitution of Japan has explicitly renounced war, pointing the way for the rest of us. What have we imagined we were supposed to do?

(See Renouncing War: An Opportunity Not To Be Missed )

Saturday, July 5, 2014

One Little Word That Will Sink the Hillary Clinton Presidential Run ("Obliterate")

Hillary Clinton signaled the beginning of her 2016 presidential campaign with a spread in People magazine in June . . . not to mention the publication of a memoir, Hard Choices.

I have no argument with the proposition that it's high time for Americans to elect a woman as president. I think the usual criticisms of Hillary reflect nothing more than double standards and sexism. I particularly relish the prospect of the Republican Party struggling -- unsuccessfully -- to contain its Hillary hating, thereby unleashing the full power of women voters against the G.O.P. in races nationwide . . . .

However, I think Hillary has one strike against her that is very profound and is a show-stopper.

I've been reading Hard Choices, with special attention to the problem of nuclear weapons. The first thing I am struck by is that the only thing that Hillary Clinton has to say about the problem of nuclear weapons is in terms of containing other states. It does not seem to register with her that the main nuclear threat in the world today comes from the United States.

Perhaps it is natural that a memoir of a former secretary of state would be organized around engagement with other countries. Nonetheless, Hillary's no longer just angling to be the head of the State Department -- she's running for president. Moreover, the tone of Hard Choices leans heavily on the degree to which every other country is in need of correction, and the willingness of Hillary Clinton to get tough with them.

Yet even the "get tough" posturing could be explained away, except for one quote that I just can't get out of my head. Hillary recounts her sparring with then-candidate Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries, and her tactical decision to position herself to his right. Fair enough. But then she adds, almost as an afterthought,

I also caused a bit of a stir in April 2008 when I warned Iran's leaders that if they launched a nuclear attack on Israel on my watch, the United States would retaliate and "we would be able to totally obliterate them." (Hard Choices, p. 420)

(See "'Obliteration' threat to Iran in case of nuclear attack," The Guardian, April 22, 2008)

Bit of a stir?

Now, I remember Hillary's "3 o'clock in the morning" political ads. But this choice of words -- and the insensitivity they betray -- put me more in mind of another famous political ad:

"The stakes are too high . . . "

Barry Goldwater was sunk in 1964 by a number of factors, but an important one was the sense (conveyed by his own words) that he simply didn't understand the stakes involved in nuclear conflict. The famous "Daisy" attack ad drove that point home.

(Hmmm . . . wasn't Hillary Clinton's favorite book back then Conscience of a Conservative? Or am I misremembering?)

We are approaching a moment when the threat posed by U.S. nuclear weapons will be brought into high relief -- by the possible Scottish rejection of continued involvement in the nuclear weapons basing, as I've already written about, and by developments that I will write about soon, including the trend toward defection by nations that are currently part of the NATO "nuclear umbrella," and by the likely showdown at the spring 2015 Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.

How will all these developments come together over the next several years? My prediction is that, despite a desire to elect our first woman president, the American public will reject a candidate that wants to "obliterate" other countries with nuclear weapons.

Background: the "Daisy" attack ad

Related posts

How do you formulate a statement that can somehow convince the United States to eliminate its threatening nuclear weapons?  How do you formulate the 10th request? Or the 100th? Knowing all the time that the United States is in the position -- will always be in the position -- to say, "No" ?  At what point does it dawn on you that the United States will never give up its nuclear weapons, because it has the power and the rest of the world doesn't?

(See 360 Degree Feedback in New York (2014 NPT Prepcom and How the World Views the United States))

Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon - a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War - deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.

(See Reviews of "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry)

I'm grateful to my friend, Jim Barton, for framing the problem in a way that is adequately broad, and yet contains a measure of hope.  It's about the future, and whether we have one -- or can construct one -- he said.  Young people today are asking: Do I have an economic future? Does the planet have a future? Will (nuclear) war extinguish everybody's future?

(See A FUTURE: Can we construct one? )