The revolution actually will not be televised. That hasn’t changed. If we want to build a real, lasting movement, it needs to be well-organized, it needs to produce its own media, and its own music.
As Gil Scott-Heron pointed out a long time ago, the revolution will not be televised. It also will not be streamed on Netflix, or promoted by social media algorithms, I would add for modernity’s sake.
My half-century or so of direct observation informs me in abundance that occasionally significant elements of the media and other corporate or mainstream political interests will align in one way or another with a social movement, whether for opportunistic reasons or because of the valiant efforts of some fine upstanding journalist who is going against the grain — and there have been and continue to be many like that.
But when it comes down to it, my decades of observation also indicate beyond any doubt whatsoever that we can never rely on the media, the news cycle, or the decisions of editors and owners about what to cover and what not to, and how to cover it, if we’re hoping for coverage — and preferably sympathetic coverage — of a social movement we’re trying to organize.
We have to do it ourselves — get the word out ourselves, build organization, recruit participants, and, very importantly, collect their contact info in order to continue to communicate with people by various means after meeting people in one form or another, whether in a chat room or at a demo in the real world.
What I’ve just in that last sentence is raising some alarm bells, whether that’s happening within you or not, I promise it’s happening with some, so let me address that: security culture doesn’t work. We don’t live in a dictatorship where you’re going to get executed for attending a protest or even blocking an intersection. If you behave as if you live in such a society by being secretive about your identity, using a pseudonym, avoiding signing up to email lists, text mobs, etc., for fear of being implicated in some plot or whatever, then you are just doing the work of the security state for them.
If we want to live in a free society, we first have to act as if we do. Secrecy only benefits those who already operate in secret. Without us being able to openly organize and know who each other is, we’re just handing a victory to the Stasi. If we don’t know how to communicate with each other without relying on anonymous accounts controlled by corporate social media algorithms and other mechanisms of divide and rule, or if we’re relying on the local NPR station to announce the next protest for us if it’s going to be well-attended, then we’ve already lost.
Lists are powerful things. We want to avoid being on certain lists — no-fly lists, wanted lists, etc. Keeping those lists helps those in power maintain the status quo. Similarly, corporations get us on myriad lists, these days using cookies and all sorts of other invisible techniques, and these lists are crucial for them to maintain their hegemony and make lots of money. And perhaps we use cash and delete cookies and make other efforts to not be on too many of these lists. Maybe it helps, I don’t know.
I think what is probably more helpful than avoiding getting on the wrong lists is paying attention to the right ones. That seems to be exactly what the corporate social media platforms thought, too. Which is why, when they started out, they served the role of being a lot like the old email lists, but with various bells and whistles that tended to make them a more interesting alternative. Once they captured our attention so successfully, they pulled the rug out from under us and remade our new universe to suit their interests — selling ads and making money, of course, not helping us organize a social movement.
Be that as it may, we can still stop relying on social media so much as a platform for communication and organizing, and focus on traditional methods that have been so effective through the ages. Taking the example of past movements, the telephone tree has been a fabulous tool for quickly getting the word out that something is happening that requires a quick response, such as an eviction taking place in Chicago in the 1930’s, or a squat being raided in New York City in the 1980’s. One person calls ten people, and each of those ten call ten more.
During the golden age of the internet — that brief decade or so after internet access became commonplace but before it became dominated by a handful of giant corporate platforms — email lists were a primary organizing tool, along with websites such as the network of Independent Media Centers. Along with all that was the text mob, which was employed widely in the global justice movement, before the same technology was adopted by social media platforms.
The text mob — signing up to receive a text message on your phone to be alerted about something that is happening right now that you might want to participate in — is, for our purposes here, nothing more or less than a modern version of the telephone tree. Either way, it requires getting on a list, rather than relying on other, far less dependable means of hearing about something that people are trying to organize.
The text mob list that’s on my mind is the one we have going on at abolishevictions.org, for those of us trying to build a rapid eviction response squad here in Portland, Oregon.
The text mob can be found at a website, which is not controlled by social media platforms and can’t be shut down by them. Of course it can be shadowbanned in all sorts of ways, and there are all sorts of methods to minimize any useful impact of talking about this website or anything related to it on those corporate-controlled platforms. But the website, and the text mob hosted on it, are independent, to the extent that this is possible.
Another DIY tactic for disseminating information and hopefully planting an idea that may spread is a longstanding one, which goes back thousands of years, as far as recorded history goes, and that is known as the song.
For anyone out there thinking I’m being a bit esoteric, impractical, or hippie-ish here, I’d point out that pretty much every corporation on the planet uses music to sell their products. They do this because it works. It helps people recognize their products, develop a positive association with them, and even to foster a sense of community around that product. If this can be done with a moped or a laundry detergent, imagine the possibilities for trying to promote something meaningful.
The song I just wrote to try to draw attention to the text mob at abolishevictions.org is what has been known since long before my birth as a “zipper song.” Classic examples of zipper songs include “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “We Shall Overcome.” (Pete Seeger was fond of the word, “shall.”) In the instance of the song I just wrote, “Join the Mob,” it means that if you wanted to use this song to promote a text mob or other such device for organizing an eviction defense squad somewhere other than Portland, Oregon, you’d only need to change the one reference to the website in the song and replace it with a different website, and perhaps swap the reference to Blackrock with a more appropriate evil corporation active in your area. In neither case is coming up with a new rhyme required.
OK, lecture over!