Doing it by the Facebook

I understand the merits of Facebook as a campaigning tool.  By nature I tend to be averse to anything that’s a)mainstream corporate and b)so fashionable, but I’ve taken the time to listen to those that use it and understood what they see in it as an information and organising tool. More to the point I’ve often said that we need to meet people where they’re at, and Facebook is the cyber equivalent of setting up a stall in the local high street on a Saturday morning.

The danger is that we become seduced by the popularity of the medium. When I’m in the high street I’m not buying into all the corporate consumerist nonsense being advertised at me through countless shop windows. I’m using the space because it attracts people.

This is my appeal not to buy into the ‘promise’ of Facebook. They’re a useful tool as far as they go, but they can’t be relied on when push comes to shove (see below). We need a plan B, alternate technologies that have our best interest at heart. In that sense I’m a Luddite  –  a much misunderstood group who opposed “technologies harmful to the commonality” and not all technology per se.

And if you need any persuading, cast an eye over this week’s edition of radical news-sheet, schNEWS:

Whether you are orchestrating an uprising against an Arab dictator, or planning to wave a few placards to protest the closure of your local library, Facebook has rapidly become a key organising tool for activists around the world.

Facebook’s faceless masters however, seem to have taken issue with being a revolutionary weapon and have instigated a purge of pages of UK activist groups. Around 50 sites disappeared down the internet memory hole in a ‘night of the long nerds’ on April 29th. Anarchist, student and anti-cuts protest groups were amongst those pages erased. No warning was given and no permission asked.

Enraged by this outrageous but perhaps unsurprising political intervention from the multi-billion pound business, Bristol IMC [Indymedia Collective] investigated the closure of the Bristol Anarchist Bookfair page. They were informed the site had been disabled as it was an “inauthentic account” that violated Facebook’s “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” by not providing a real first and last name. SchNEWS is now rifling through the phone book for the personal details of Mrs Clothing at Tesco, Ms Geeks Are Sexy and Mr R.I.P Raoul Moat You Legend…

If you were outraged at Google’s censorship of the internet in China, get outraged all over again. Let’s not sit by and let Facebook censor activism in the UK simply because we’ve come to see it as indispensable. I’m minded of the, admittedly, overused words of Pastor Niemoller and offer this version updated for the occasion (no offence to the Pastor):

First Facebook came for the anarchists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not an anarchist
Then they came for the direct activists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a direct activist
Then they came for the student activists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a student
Then they came for me
And there were no facebook friends left
To speak out for me

Here’s a link to a list of pages that have been deleted. A simple search on Scroogle will find you more info.

Planning the year ahead…but no blue tea thinking

blue tea - somewhere between black and green

Carl and I met this week for a general catch up and planning session. He very kindly made the journey to Leicester and after an early lunch we adjourned to a local cafe and explored a wide range of topics.

Naturally we had to cover the mundane stuff like finance, developing this website, publicising our existence and so on. But we talked about the year ahead as well. So here’s a taste of what we discussed and decided:

research and writing…

We already share our learning through this blog. But we realise that we’ve written loads of stuff over the years about building, supporting and empowering grassroots campaign networks, community organisations and so on. So we decided that the time has come to pull it all together into one place. We’ll be looking for funding to write a book that we hope will be of use to anyone involved in the life of a local campaign group or community organisation, NGO capacity-building staff, national networks and so on. If we get the funding we’ll blog it chapter by chapter so you can interact with it, and help shape it. Then it’ll be stuck together and made available to download, for free we hope.

We’re also considering a piece of what we like to call barefoot research, to look at participation on a community level – the aspirations and the obstacles. Barefoot because we’re practitioners not academics, because we want to approach it from the bottom up and work with communities. Whatever we come up with will shed some light on why people do or don’t get active in their community. This seems like essential knowledge to have in a world in which rebuilding community  and localising our economy may be our biggest hope in the struggle against climate change.

new media

Our conversation took in the social media. Clearly we already blog and the good news is that Carl has offered to write more regular posts, so look out for those. But it’s easy to believe that without a Facebook page you’re nothing. Nothing personal to those of you on Facebook, but we feel that right now we can live without it. Same goes for Twitter. We’ve played around with the odd tweet, mainly directing people to our blog or another blogger’s post that’s grabbed us, but in general we decided it was a technology we could live without for now.

It’s a bit like the blue tea on offer in the cafe. We’re very comfortable with black tea, green tea, even white tea… but there comes a point when the latest tea doesn’t really add much to the sum total of humanity’s tea-experience. Facebook and Twitter are a bit blue tea for us right now.

training, facilitation and coaching….

Lots in the pipeline, which you’ll read about as we reflect and report back. Specifically we talked about addressing the issue of the lack of funds in NGO training budgets to send staff on the training they want and need (at least at the end of the organisations that we deal with, network support and capacity building staff). We’ve tried to co-ordinate a couple of courses this year with our friends in the NGO Forum, but budgets have been tight and we haven’t been able to make it cost-effective. Given that we rely on work with the NGO community to fund us to work, for free, with other groups, that’s a problem. So we’re going to explore some funding options to work with NGOs as partners and design and deliver bespoke courses for their staff.

We’re also thinking about more coaching, as we’re often approached by people who want skills and want tailored support, but are the only person in their group or organisation that requires the support. Training isn’t appropriate, so coaching is the way forward…

co-facilitation…

We haven’t co-facilitated anywhere near as much as we’d have liked to. Shame – opportunities for learning from each other would be welcome. In general it’s been a pragmatic choice – the paid work we’ve been offered rarely pays enough to warrant two of us. And we’re a tad busy to co-facilitate the pro bono stuff. So we’ll keep looking for opportunities including outside of Rhizome. We’re both Turning The Tide volunteer resource people so we may well co-facilitate some of the work we do for them.

And for the curious – Carl’s was breakfast tea, mine mao feng green tea.