cyberspace and defendants campaigns: a boot grinding the face of the immaterial

The  Deterritorial Support Group (DSG) have written a must-read post called 'Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off in cyberspace'. It's a necessary close reading of recent dynamics among political hackers which highlights the emergence of a social cyberwar alongside the Arab Spring. I hope their text inspires more people in social movements to pay attention to hacktivism.

On the other hand, it behoves hackers and their supporters to connect more directly to the social movements on the ground. For one, it is a dualism to separate online and offline; while the internet establishes certain conditions of possibility it is not immaterial and neither are the hacktivists themselves. To carry on talking about cyberspace without being explicit about it's connection both to the bedroom and the street is unhelpful.

Secondly and more practically is the hard-won experience of social movements around defendants campaigns. Back in the day, I pointed out that "you'll know social media is making a social difference when people start getting arrested for it". What I see in the Lulzsec press releases is an intoxicated mishief making but no sense of the sheer brutality that The Man is capable of. After a popular carnival of creative opposition to the Poll Tax was converted into a pitched battle by police heavy-handedness, wise heads realised that the next step would be to blame & arrest the protesters. So they set up the Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign, an agile, nationwide and community-based movement of legal defence for people being railroaded in to court. (Sadly, being a pre-digital social movement, it's history is yet-to-be written online).

I think we can see a similar evolution around Anonymous; as Spain arrests Anonymous suspects a Facebook group emerges which seems to be calling for solidarity demos. I'm not saying we should stamp the Lulz out of activism - the cheeky communique has been a feature of political activism from the Angry Brigade to anti-globalization.  The hope is that the savvy around solidarity becomes stronger as online & offline social movements intertwine more closely.

The overlap seems to be accelerating. One part of the 'splintered politicisation' of Anonymous observed by the DSG is the appearance of an Op against Monsanto - so hacktivism joins a movement who's main prior activism has been the very embodied and sweaty work of pulling up GM crops by day or night.

And as DSG rightly call on us to master seemingly-immaterial tools like diaspora, flattr and bitcoin, others have taken a tip from the complete Internet shutdown in Egypt and are busy trying to cook up alternative network infrastructures. How do we best merge these efforts with older infrastructures of legal defence and solidarity?

Smashed PCs and blood stains: Images from the police raid on the Diaz School, Genoa 2001