Nodes of Conflict> by Andrew Lowenthal

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First published in Undergrowth #3: Tales of the Simulacrum. Sept, 2004.

Listening to Indymedia radio streaming live from the Republican National Convention protests in New York City, I hear people calling from outside the jailhouse as their fellow activists are released. The crowds cheer and chant, updates are given, stories are fed back into a massive communications web, bypassing the corporate media who are ignoring the 500,000 people protesting the Bush administration and the more than 2,000 people arrested. On the other side of the planet I listen and tap my keyboard, adding a feature to Melbourne Indymedia about federal police harassing a local anarchist at the request of the FBI.

'Our resistance is as global as capital' has been a popular slogan amongst the global justice movements; it's also as nearly as well connected. The inter-connectedness of social movements via online media production has exploded massively since Indymedia launched itself onto the psychosphere in November 1999 at the WTO protests in Seattle. Of course this interconnection is limited to those with net access, yet Indymedias continue to come online at the edges of empire and many produce offline media such as newspapers, radio and video. After nearly 5 years there are close to 200 local Indymedia collectives across the planet and a new Indymedia has come online on average every 11 days. In the midst of the Republican National Convention the New York Indymedia site is receiving about 5 million hits a day and there are more than 600 Indymedia 'embedded journalists' covering the action.

In Melbourne last July Indymedia activists from Dunedin, Auckland, the Philippines, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, Vancouver, Sydney, London and San Francisco gathered to further develop these networks, assess the effectiveness of the Indymedia project and work out where to from here. What are the challenges and how does Indymedia weigh up to what it was originally meant to be? Some of the major themes were the role of open publishing, building networks of solidarity throughout the Asia-Pacific and the new forms of collaborative media production that are becoming possible via communications technologies.

>Indy Futures

At the Oceania Indymedia conference there were a host of responses to the question of where to? for the network. For some, Indymedia has reached a plateau and needs to make a leap beyond its current simple weblog format. San Francisco Indymedia believe 'the network-at-large needs to be less about small clubs of friends running a weblog and tackle the challenges of being a global, non-commercial media network. We want to kick start a shift towards maturing into a real media network that can compete with any of the best wire services in the world.' For others, the shift is towards more open editing systems. One of Indymedia's core functions - open publishing - means anyone with net access can upload audio, video, photos or text to the website. This exposes Indymedia to constant abuse from people who disagree or are outright hostile to the Indymedia project; it also opens up to some amazingly passionate story telling.

One of the constant contradictions of Indymedia has been how to harness the power of open publishing without the destruction it often wreaks. Proposed solutions that crystallise around the idea of open editing. In the words of Maffew, one of the original programmers of the Indymedia code, 'open editing would help to clear the current closed bottleneck on editorial functions in Indymedia and involve a new wave of people in media democracy.' Open editing would entail users having the ability to highlight stories to a personalised page, re-edit their own story, rate stories up or down on various criteria and provide more filtering tools, enabling users to find the stories they like without having to search for hours.

Indymedia has generally privileged speakers over listeners making it difficult for user to find the information they're looking for. Most importantly, open editing is about setting in motion the collective intelligence of the users of Indymedia rather than leaving it up to one small, over worked group. Others have taken Indymedia to an intensely regional level. For example: two years ago Indymedia UK was essentially a single collective working out of London. Now the United Kollectives are made of over a dozen local groups, building local roots in a global network. The Indymedia Estrecho project goes one step further, combining Indymedia collectives from southern Spain, the Canary Islands and Morocco to cover one of the great migration routes from Africa to Europe. The aim is to challenge the divisions of the nation state and the racism of the Spanish government by erasing the bordering through communications cooperation.

>Beyond Borders --- Counter Empires

'I am calling from Port Hedland Detention Centre' a voice crackles over computer speakers. A phone call received from inside the centre by a detainee, the message is uploaded automatically onto the Indymedia newswire. The Phone Indymedia Patch (http://www.melbourne.indymedia.org/pimp.php) is a system that allows anyone with a phone to upload an audio report to Indymedia like leaving a message on an answering machine. It has been used most effectively to breach the borders that divide during the Woomera 2002 protests. Similarly at the Baxter detention centre protests in 2003, a micro radio station was set up to breach the fences by radio waves and 'penetrate the silence that permeates the area of the camp.'

Media is a tool to breach all kinds of borders and enclosures that the state and capital would like to confine us to. Similarly the Oceania Indymedia project aims to be a 'media hub that defies national borders.' Capital has thrown up a great challenge to the nation state, pummelling its borders in the pursuit of profit in disregard for national frontiers. The nation-state has far from disappeared, it instead has transformed itself to also blur the boundaries between where the corporation ends and the nation-state begins while at the same time building new enclosures, whether its gated communities, detention centres or patents and copyrights.

The terrain of politics has shifted, power is increasingly constituted on a post-national level. Indymedia therefore posits a model that like capital, seeks to go beyond the nation state as the terrain of rule. This contrasts to the approaches of social democrats or state socialists who desire the re-strengthening of the nation state to protect against the ravages of globalisation. This overflowing of national boundaries by media networks aims to transcend the nation states in the interests of the self-organisation of social movements, for them to recognise their commonality and diversity beyond the divisions erected by governments, creating new forms of networked cooperation from below. It pushes through Empire, utilising the decay of boundaries by capital, migration and information networks to build a post-statist public sphere. It is an exodus from the (national) terrain upon which governments dictate politics must take place, and where less and less decisions are actually being made.

> The Oceania Indymedia project

Oceania Indymedia is one example of this logic. A 'media hub that defies national borders,' Oceania Indymedia is a project linking Independent media centres in what is actually the South East Asia and Pacific region. It has various permutations; the most obvious is a website that uses a syndication system to aggregate features from Indymedias in the region, providing a model of collective, decentralised and autonomous networking. A video project collating stories from the region and distributed online and on VCD acts in a similar vain. The network also functions as a network of mutual aid and solidarity where the common project of social change is more important than the national boundary. It acts in the here and now to erase the borders between us, to swap stories and circulate struggles. A number of stories were told throughout the Oceania conference; tales of media monopolies in New Zealand, of police repression in Miami, of people's resistance to neo-liberalism in the Phillipines, of forest defence in Western Australia; collaborative storytelling.

>New Forms of Collaboration

All these projects take advantage of new technologies that give rise to a gamut of ways in which communications can be collectively constructed to create a new commons that engenders both access and participation, opening spaces that have been appropriated by capital. A few of the collaborative tools that are being increasingly employed in the Indymedia network are wikis, rss/rdf syndication, peer to peer systems and creative commons. Wikis are WebPages that can easily be edited simply by numerous people, enabling documents to be collectively created and edited. Rich Site Summary (RSS) is a syndication system used by Indymedia to create a feed containing information of latest posts or features. Oceania Indymedia for example aggregates these feeds from IMCs in the region to create the site, allowing a networked form of collaboration that is decentralised and autonomous.

Peer to Peer (p2p) networks similarly work in a decentralised manner. A way of sharing large files, p2p systems limit the need to have a centralised server. Instead the information is downloaded from a web of peers. Creative Commonsis a project created to deal with licensing of media and other creations in the digital age. Its most salient feature is the idea of share-alike; i.e. I share if you share. If provides a legal basis for the sharing of creations that resists attempts of corporations to profit from cultural works and simultaneously create a communications commons where works can be shared and remixed at will, recognising that culture is always a collective creation and a common good. The key relation that all these tools carry is the harnessing of collective intelligence, breaking the passivity of the consumer/producer divide allowing for a horizontal networks of collaboration that build common spaces based on singularities: a commonality without homogeneity.

> Conclusion

The domination of the mainstream media over our lives is continuing to increase. Despite the fact that more than 500,000 people protested at the Republican National convention -the biggest demonstrations ever against such an event - it hardly rated a mention in the corporate media. In many ways, more than the construction of consensus, media regimes occupy attention. Drawing people away is a challenge that is not just about the information they produce or the way they produce it, it is something that requires guerrilla tactics that can intervene, block, stop, derail, divert and detourne the media messages that flood our brains. Cracks are everywhere. How can a machine of networked organs be set in motion against this Empire that would condemn us all to work, consumption, ecological catastrophe and war?