Saving Florida by Leslie Kemp Poole: A Book Report

Saving Florida: Women’s Fight for the Environment in the Twentieth Century by Leslie Kemp Poole (2015)

About the Author

Leslie Kemp Poole is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. A writer and historian, she achieved a PhD in History from the University of Florida. Prior to academia, she was a reporter for several newspapers and is also a freelance writer. Her interests are in the role of women in the environmental movement (the subject of this book).

Methods

Saving Florida is published by the University Press of Florida. As such, the book is very academic in nature, including endnotes, a bibliography and index at the back of the book. That said, the book is written for a popular audience; the text is accessible to readers with little background and the language is engaging. Poole includes plenty of quotes in her text, not solely from academics, but also quotes contemporary to her subject. She situates the events in the book with brief consideration of national events, such as pertinent national policy decisions and the activities of national organizations like the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Poole writes this book using resources gathered from historical societies, women’s and garden clubs, museum and college archives, newspapers, interviews and “formal oral histories.” The focus of the book is on women and the environmental movement, as such, much discussion of the role of men is limited and lacks strong discussion of the African American community, whose goals were oriented at improving quality of life rather than protecting the environment. These missing viewpoints are acknowledged by Poole in the introduction, as well as those of the state’s Seminole and Miccosukee Indian perspectives. The missing points of view reflect not just a lack of current literature on the subject, but also the deficiency with which state and local entities interacted and discoursed with those populations during the 20th century.

Synopsis

Poole centers her discussion around numerous female leaders within their communities. Oftentimes these women have political power before starting their environmental campaigns. For example, Katherine Bell Tippetts was a “well-educated widow of a foreign correspondent” who took control of her husband’s hotel and real estate when he passed and May Mann Jennings, married to a former governor of Florida and daughter to a businessman who was very involved in Florida’s politics. In the later half of the 20th century, leading activists like Diane Dunmire Barile, who earned a master’s in ecology, had an academic background in science. The fight for environment protections started out heavily in grassroots movements that necessitated large-scale organizing and petitioning of governments. This evolved, after many federal and state laws were enacted, into fundraising for legal battles; around this time the larger organizations dwindled as single-issue, locally oriented. This shift occurred as women were gaining political power on local scales across the nation and an understanding of ecology was forming.

At the turn of the 20th century, women had a well-defined role in “municipal housecleaning.” Women, at the time, “considered the home and garden their domain,” and engaged in women’s clubs, expanding their role to wider community issues. Poole argues that this instilled an idea that women were the moral voice of the community, and their responsibility extended beyond their home. They increasingly saw the environment as part of their domain, as they saw it as their duty to ensure they lived in a clean environment. They were initially driven to maintain the beauty of the nature that compelled them to reside in the state, and later in the century, when pollution was rampant, the frame evolved into women needing to clean up men’s mess.

Saving Florida is divided into three parts. Part I, “Working through women’s groups,” deals with the start of the conservative movement in Florida and the nation, covering the early 20th century. This section is valuable within social movement theory for Poole’s coverage of the tactics used by women’s clubs to force policy decisions at a time when women were disenfranchised and largely not taken seriously by men in power. This section highlights the strength of grassroots activism and framing. Framing comes into play as different messages are needed to convince women and men for the cause due to the gendered roles of society at the time.

Part II, “Operating in Female-Male Groups,” covers the middle to late 20th century, when the science of ecology is developing and women are defining new roles within the political sphere. A rise in the prevalence of science and lobbying is immediately evident. Poole goes into more detail on a number of big projects during this section than the previous. During this time, federal regulations are passed to combat pollution. Rather than using strength of numbers, as they had done in the early 20th century, women were in public office and positioned to have a voice in traditionally male-dominated circles.

Part III, “Women Take the Lead,” is largely a closing section, wrapping up with chapters on environmental justice and important women leaders not previously mentioned. The coverage within these chapters include more national context than the in the previous sections, and are included moreso for completeness. Poole uses these chapters to discuss the role of African American women and Florida’s Indian population during the time period.

Part I: “Working Through Women’s Groups”

Poole starts the book talking about Audubon societies. Named after the ornithologist James Audubon, Audubon societies sought protection of birds. Women’s fashion of the late 19th to early 20th century included hats displaying feathers or bird parts. Because of this, birds were hunted aggressively across the nation as it was very profitable. Clara Dommerich, a wintering resident of Florida helped to establish the Florida Audubon Society (FAS) based on Audubon societies in other states. While protecting the birds was certainly on the mind of some members, many Florida residents moved there due to the beauty and nature of Florida, so loss of the songbirds directly impacted that aesthetic value. According to Poole. “women carried much of the organizational workload” within FAS. FAS distributed reports and leaflets throughout the state and had many success including establishing the first federal bird reservation in the United States through appealing to President Theodore Roosevelt (the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge).

One example Poole gives of the methods used by Audubon societies involves Katherine Bell Tippets. Tippets, with the help of other women, presented to the state legislature a seventy-foot long petition of signatures to convince an all-male legislature to pass a measure protecting the robin. Additionally, the members of societies like FAS or the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs (FFWC) worked closely with newspapers to publish articles and statements. In this way, they could educate the public or rebuke their opponents unfounded claims. Poole writes, “by contributing articles to local newspapers and women’s club publications, Tippetts kept her message at the forefront.” Other tactics involved sending letters and telegrams to congressional leaders — which would be very convincing with the large number of members within these women’s clubs. Another involved “invoking Lysistrata” whereby women threatened to withhold, in this example, pie, from those in the legislature until their demands were met.

There were many efforts at this time to designate certain plots of lands as state parks, and to preserve the state’s forests, that were disappearing due to unregulated logging. Even after winning policy and being granted funds, the women’s clubs often had to continue to fight in order to ensure that all of the funds were given to them. When presenting their argument, the women general gave two arguments: One focusing on the aesthetic value of nature, appealing to maternal senses, and another exhorting economic benefits in hopes to appeal to the male psyche.

This section concludes with a chapter on city beautification efforts. This chapter is one of the few points in the book where Poole acknowledges the African American community. She gives nod to Eartha M. M. White, for working hard to secure a playground in an era “burdened by Jim Crow laws.” An important reminder that much of the progress was won in white communities, and rarely extended to the disenfranchised African Americans.

Part II: “Operating in Female-Male Groups”

Poole makes it very clear in within this section that ecology is not well understood throughout Florida (or the United States) at this point in history. Having land set aside as a state park did not ensure that it was maintained as a natural environment with native plants. Drainage of swamps was considered acceptable; benefits of forest fires were unthinkable. This is an important realization, as what was a good conservation effort in the 1920s could be considered unacceptable nowadays and establishes the importance of the science of ecology. This section sees the rise of science in convincing legislatures to impose regulations and shifting public opinion, notably with the release of Silent Spring in 1966. Women are gaining political equity and further disrupting the dominant male hegemony.

Pollution is a major issue that arises in this section and threatened Florida’s aesthetic appeal, water supplies and health of residents. With Florida’s population booming only after the second world war, Floridians weren’t caught off guard as much as the big cities in the northeast and midwest were. Despite that, the phosphate industry was strong within the state and could devote a lot of money to lobbying, situating itself as a big opponent of the environmental movement. The phosphate industry resulted in eutrophication in many lakes and rivers, disrupting the natural balance within those ecosystems. Outside the phosphate industry, sewage dumping was very common. From Poole’s framework, women were key in changing public opinion, as the male-dominant government considered pollution as a side effect of progress. Much of the debate was conservation versus industry.

Marjorie Harris Carr was a persistent activist who sought to stop the construction of a canal through North Florida. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was constructing the Cross Florida Barge Canal. Carr used scientific knowledge, economic and legal research, expert testimony, a grassroots letter writing campaign and public education to warn the public of the dangers of this project, which was well underway by the time the public was concerned. Unconvinced, state officials voted to continue the project, and a furious Carr “turned her kitchen into  the campaign’s command center, complete with a whirring Xerox machine.” She sought support from news media and scientists. She portrayed herself as a housewife to catch politicians and engineers unaware and garner public sympathy and publicity. The media promoted an image of the mother versus a military bureaucracy, elevating the campaign to national attention. Carr became more aggressive, and with the political climate surrounding the Vietnam War, problems in the Everglades and other ongoing protests, eventually stopped the building of the canal after over $70 million had been invested in its construction.

The above is only one example provided in this section of a powerful display of women carving out a space within the public sphere. This section highlights the progress of women through the century, as opportunities for education grows.

Part III: “Women Take the Lead”

This is the shortest section of the two.The first chapter addresses the inequalities faced by African Americans and the local Indian population. The aboriginal Floridians vanished in the early eighteenth century as a result of imperialism. The tribes residing in Florida at the time were Seminole and Miccosukee Indians who migrated from Alabama and Georgia. Their populations within the state were small, however, as many of the Indians were relocated to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears. Those left lived in the surrounding areas of the Everglades. A few women rallied for support of the Indians; although, the support was often what was deemed appropriate from the white perspective, as the natives were never consulted. The lands they were granted were often not suitable for their lifestyle, or they were transplanted without consideration of their preferences. There were some women, such as Harriet Mary Bedell who directly interacted with the Miccosukee people to support them and preserve their culture, including a trip to Washington, D.C., “to prevent Japanese imitations from being sold in America.” Rightfully distrustful of the state government’s interests, the Miccosukee Indians hired legal help to fight the State of Florida on tightening pollution requirements.

Poole’s also discusses African Americans, and their propensity to live near hazardous waste (Florida Superfund) sites compared to whites. Her discussion on the issue and related transgressions are unsatisfying, however. Including the discussion in the next chapter on the Civil Rights movement, this issue isn’t addressed as thoroughly as in similar examples in Parts I and II. Nevertheless, she accurately captures the systematic pollution of African American communities with a couple of detailed examples.

Lastly, Poole talks about activists in the farmworker community. The farmworker community, she explains, is often forgotten by the public seeking local interests or overlooked in government policy. Poole paints this activist community as relatively young, citing work as recent as 2011.

Her last chapter, titled “Women Leaders,” takes another look at the progression of women in the public sphere from a broader perspective than that explored within the rest of the book. “We are the beneficiaries of [early female activists’] gritty determination,” Poole concludes. Saving Florida is certainly worth the read for understanding the efficacy of grassroots organizing and the role women played at shaping society in the 20th century. This report is certainly not exhaustive of the topics discussed.

Movement Outcomes

When social movement theorists study the consequences of a social movement, they are predominantly concerned with three types of outcomes:

  • Political: changes in policy, political discourse, political parties, etc.
  • Biographical: effects on the lives of social movement participants, such as career path, attitudes towards subsequent movements and political ideas.
  • Cultural: changes in culture, which could be evident in anything from fashion to media discourse.

This week the class read about how our understanding of these types of outcomes is shifting, how various types of outcomes are related and other categories of outcomes that might exist.

Our discussion began with an example of biographical outcomes: the case of an MIT student, who was heavily involved in campus activism in the late 60s and early 70s, and later became the president of a community college. As a result of their experience with social movements, they became more sympathetic to student concerns on campus, as well as issues in their community.

This raised the question of what happens when social movement participants pursue career paths within the institutions that they once protested and become targets of movements themselves. It is possible, for instance, that their previous movement participation will make them more tolerant of a social movement, even when they are its target. However, if the social movement participant has become disillusioned by their previous experience, it can make them even less tolerant.

Another student commented on the difficulty of retaining activist commitments throughout a lifetime, suggesting that, in Puerto Rico, this does not always seem to be the case. Often people use social movements as a stepping stone to a political career and subsequently lose sympathy for the social movements that they had participated in.

Another student expressed skepticism about our ability to measure movement outcomes. What constitutes evidence for social change, they wondered, and how accurately can it be tied to social movements?

In effort to answer these questions, the class worked as a group to brainstorm the ways in which social movement theorists might attempt to measure outcomes of various types. We came up with lists for possible dependent variables for measuring biographical, cultural, political, mobilization and infrastructural outcomes.

In response, a student raised the question of how to show causality. In other words, they wanted to know how properly controlled studies could be performed in context where a variety of factors could be influencing the dependent variables being measured. Along these lines, they wondered whether the dependent variables being studied actually indicated the outcome being measured. As in the case of Twitter, social movement scholars sometimes make the mistake of assuming that discussion on Twitter is representative of discussion offline.

The class took on the challenge and attempted to design a controlled study to measure personal learning as evidence for a biographical outcome. We determined that interviews and surveys could constitute evidence for skills learned and knowledge gained, but it would be difficult to show causality without conducting surveys both before and after the activism took place.

It was also pointed out that, in the context of social movements, some scholars reject the notion that it is necessary or useful to show causality, since social movements always take place in complex environments under the influence of complex combination of interrelated factors. Other social movement scholars turn instead to studies of new ideas, concepts and theories being generated by social movements, such as feminist activism and its relation to the history of feminist thought.

Our discussion concluded with infrastructural outcomes, on often overlooked consequence of social movements, which merits further study. Examples included how the access to infrastructure is often won as a result of the demands of social movement actors; as well as how online resources, such as mailing lists and software, created for activism can be applied in other contexts.

Book report: Social change and creative activism in the 21st century

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The Yes Men, one of the dozens of examples of creative activism mentioned in the book (source: Shadow Distribution)

Presentation link

In this book, Silas Harrebye explores the field of creative activism today by studying its definition; characterizing the roles played by creative activists; discussing the ways social movement theory has accounted for it; and ultimately proposing a theoretical framework that distinguishes creative activism from other creative endeavors outside activism, and from other forms of activism that don’t rely on creative tactics.

He tentatively defines creative activism as “civic, project-driven, and nonviolent forms of democratic participation where critical perspectives on a societal issue or a political system are communicated when, where, and in ways that no one else can or will. They do so in creative ways through temporal interventions such as strategic happenings, transformative events, and manufactured spectacles characterized by a cynical approach, an ironic attitude and/or [a utopian] quest in order to provoke reflection in the individual spectator and the public sphere at large.” This definition encompasses the dimensions he explores throughout the book: critique, cynicism, irony, utopia and participation.

He starts out by tracing the relationship between activism and creativity by appealing to the idea of the political theater, the performance; he expands on the definition by listing practices that serve as examples:
– pranks and protests
– happenings,
– street art,
– tactical media,
– social utopian experiments,
– viral campaigns,
– flash mobs,
– subvertisement,
the-emperor-has-no-clothes disruptions,
invisible theater,
minor additions or twists to the already known traditional repertoire of demonstrations, sit-ins, strikes, barricades, lobbyism, information campaigns, boycotts, mass petitions, the urban insurrection, etc.

He also defines 21st century creative activism in terms of the old vs the new. Creative work in organizing is not new; what is new, he argues, are “the changed conditions for the immanent and potentially emancipatory critique at the heart of this type of engagement”. These new conditions imply the crisis of representative democracy, the rise of inequality; in terms of media, they imply “new forms of cognitive capitalism”.

He argues that the roles played by creative activists too can shed light on the question. He poses them as facilitators, people who “make it easier for a group of people to do what they want to do together”, a practice rooted in deliberative democracy; he also poses them as mediators/translators “in the cacophony of critical voices”.

Before proposing his own framework, Harrebye provides an overview of the theories of social movements that have in accounted for different aspects of creative activism: questions on formal membership, brief or sustained engagement, Rochon’s ‘critical communities’, specific vs global theories, repertoires, causes, dialectic dynamics, identity formation and framing and dynamics of contention.

To understand creative activism and its role in promoting critique and democratic participation, Harrebye proposes an analytical framework that relies on three core elements: cynicism, irony and utopia.

– Critical preaching, scandalous behavior, and provocative dialogue, the three qualities of praxis associated with cynical philosophers, can be used to understand some of today’s creative activism. In quoting Andy Bichlbaum from The Yes Men, “We are not just making fun of people. We are laughing with a purpose.”

– Irony “is critically directed towards those who cannot see and share this existential insight”, and political action is enabled by humor that can take a critical stance and “speak truth to power” in ways that other discourse can’t.

– Utopia addresses the widespread political demand for alternatives as a price to pay for criticism. “But to a number of [creative] critics, being taken seriously is not seen as a goal nor a quality in and by itself – quite the opposite, it sometimes seems”. The critical exercise may aim to revitalize our political imagination, above all, by rethinking the world we want.

This last feature of creative activism points at the idea of mirroring, the practice of creating alternative reflections as a way to carry critique. “Instead of having a clear idea about what the good life is and let that form the basis of a critique, which eventually might lead to reflection, the logic is reversed in more experimental practices”, argues Harrebye.

“Critique does not only become ironic, cynical, and question utopian attitudes and strategies, it becomes a reflexive act when it is negotiated with and within the system that it is an inherent part of”; this system is capitalism, and Harrebye aims to circumvent it by building on Nancy Fraser’s theory of framing for social justice (redistribution – economics, recognition – culture, and representation – politics) that responds to the seeming inescapability of the framings of capitalism.

What, then, are the pragmatic consequences if we take this theoretical framework of creative activism at heart? Harrebye addresses future dilemmas and impact evaluation. He focuses on dilemmas around the limits of participation, innovation and implications of different funding models for creative activism; the evaluation culture and considerations around causality and cultural change; and makes recommendations on experimental design for impact assessment.

Finally, he explores the implications this all has in our theories of change: “We must renounce the wish for an administrative politics of ‘truth’ and ‘necessity’, and foster forms of action that dare to celebrate the vacuum it leaves and the possibilities that follow in relation to how we conduct ourselves as political subjects – in praise of an elusive but valuable revolutionary ethics of political imagination”

————

Silas Harrebye is an Assistant Professor at the Institute for Society and Globalisation, Roskilde University, and serves as a board member for the Centre for Artistic Activism. His background is in international studies and philosophy, and he describes his methodological approach as interdisciplinary, using academic literature reviews, interviews and an impressive collection of examples from the field, as well as quantitative data from European Union sources.

 

Citation:
Harrebye, Silas F. Social Change and Creative Activism in the 21St Century : The Mirror Effect. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire : Palgrave Macmillan, 2016., 2016. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat00916a&AN=mit.002412010&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Book Report: Campus Wars

Campus Wars: the peace movement at American state universities in the Vietnam era

In Campus Wars, Kenneth Heineman aims to tell the lesser-known story of anti-war activism at state schools from 1965-70, arguing against the traditional narrative that this activism originated and was centered at elite schools. He does this through a comparison of activism at state and elite universities, as well as case studies of four state schools that played an important role in campus activism of the era: Michigan State University, Kent State University, State University of New York at Buffalo and Pennsylvania State University. Additionally, Heineman is interested in how demographic and cultural qualities of activists affected types and quality of activism, a concern that he addresses through discussion and comparison of demographic statistics across the four campuses and at elite schools.

In the first three chapters, Heineman describes the conditions in which anti-war activism arose, pinpointing the factors working either in favor of or against campus activism. He first discusses this from the perspective of the administrators, describing a Cold War environment in which the government and academic administrators saw higher education and its products as an anti-Communist weapon. To this end, in 1968, a third of the money spent on university research and development had either a military origin or purpose, and university administrators often worked for the government, often in defense-related positions. The academic community expected its members to, at least publicly, support these goals. As a result, free speech was suppressed on campuses and it was customary to discipline activist faculty and students. FBI and police surveillance of activists was also common. Ultimately, these were all factors that often fueled activism; the fact that universities were so intimately involved with the war machine gave students and faculty a stronger sense of obligation. Similarly, when their professors were fired merely for expressing dissenting views, students became more engaged and mobilizations increased. Heineman also proposes that, in comparison to elite schools, activism was more difficult at state schools because administrators were less tolerant. In some cases, though, state schools were ahead of their elite counterparts, such as the early adoption of the teach-in tactic and emergence of an SDS group at Michigan State.

In contrast to the administrators, faculty views were often less homogenous and more polarized in their view of the war in Vietnam. There were, for instance, many scientists whose careers could be advanced by an anti-communist foreign policy and military research. This state of affairs began when academics were called to action in WWI and again in WWII. Whether as a result of patriotism or of reliance on government funding, being an academic became politicized in support of the status quo. Younger faculty, who joined after the World Wars, became disillusioned and were more likely to speak out against the Vietnam War than older academics. Another factor associated with academics’ political views was their area of study: dissent was much more common among faculty in the humanities and social sciences, as opposed to science and business, where research was often related to the war effort. It was not uncommon for faculty to be punished for expressing dissent, and faculty were often victims of McCarthyism.

For students, higher university endowments in the cold-war era meant student activists could benefit from more low-income students could, more students overall, and a more diverse student body. Students were mobilized by moral obligation to oppose military research and recruiting on campus, as well as spillover from civil rights and other movements. Institutions unwittingly created more activists by placing increased emphasis on the study of social sciences, making students more politically aware and engaged than their peers studying business or science. In addition, students were moved to action when they felt alienated by the impersonal quality created by increased enrollment and the in loco parentis administration. Heineman goes into demographic statistics of activists in great detail in order to show their diversity. His most emphasized finding is that, contrary to mass media portrayals, not all anti-war activists were middle- or upper-class and privileged. Different avenues of action were available to privileged students than working-class students: the latter usually attended state schools, while the former were more likely to attend elite schools. Different schools differed in tolerance toward activism; thus, privileged students were more likely to get away with violent tactics and have parental support networks that were unavailable to working-class students.

After describing the conditions in which activism arose, Heineman dedicates the next three chapters to a chronological description of major events on campuses across the country. The account begins with the years 1965-67, when anti-war activism got off to a slow start. Initially, pro-war activists collected more signatures and, in popular conservative media, branded anti-war activists as traitors or communists. Even peaceful protests were poorly attended and often suppressed entirely, yet activists were optimistic at first. They overestimated the power of popular opinion and thought that President Johnson merely needed to be made aware of their dissent for the war to be put on hold. Meanwhile, Johnson increased troop commitments and draft calls, as well as the grade requirements for draft deferment, amplifying discontent among students. In response, mobilizations increased and students formed new groups, such as Students for Democratic Society (SDS) and anti-draft unions. Two factions began to emerge: many students were increasingly radicalized while others continued to advocate for a more moderate movement. some students were alienated by use of violent tactics. Heineman also distinguishes between activists elite and state schools, claiming (without much evidence) that violent forms of protest immediately propagated at elite universities, while students at state schools were forced to engage in less drastic forms.

With the discouraging outcomes of the Tet Offensive, political assassinations of MLK and others, and the increased polarization of American society, the period of 1968-69 was one of increased intensity of activism, causing many activists to turn to radicalization and violence. The main focus of student activism at the time was protesting ROTC and on-campus military research and recruiting. In response, administrators attempted to crackdown on student activism, increasingly involving policing, FBI surveillance and seeking punitive actions. In addition, this was a period of increased activity among Black, gay and women’s groups, which was at times not well received or supported by anti-war activists. The lack of solidarity between anti-war and other movements contributed to divisions among activists, which resulted in the fracturing of the SDS and other student groups. One of the factions of the SDS formed the Weathermen, a violent revolutionary student group, which led a bombing campaign targeted at government buildings and invaded campuses to tell the coming of the revolution.

In 1970, anti-war activism on campus reached its climax with a period of chaos and violence. A number of campuses became combat zones as a result of riots, police occupation of campuses, and firebombing of ROTC buildings. Perhaps the most extreme example is the case of the Kent State shootings. In May, Riots on campus and throughout Kent had caused the National Guard to occupy the Kent State campus. When student activists did not back down and continued rallies, National Guard fired 61 rounds into non-violent crowd gathered for a rally, wounding nine and killing four. In response to these shootings and continued military occupation of Kent State, as well as the invasion of Cambodia, over four million students across the nation mobilized for the largest student strike in American history. Police responded to continued protests with more unprovoked violence.

Ultimately, the anti-war movement declined as a result of ideological and cultural divisions, as well as an increasingly unsupportive academic environment (though supportiveness of environment depended largely on the institution). A majority of Americans despised the campus peace movement and loathed the war; they often viewed against student activists as justified and, in extreme cases, thought more students should have been killed at Kent state. In the face of such intolerance, the price of activism was incredibly high. Additionally, activists groups were fractured from within as radical activists alienated those who wanted to pursue less extreme tactics. This led to the decline and dispersion of SDS and other student groups.

Heineman does not discuss the long-term impact of the movement in much depth. In the end, he emphasizes that the anti-war movement was one of unprecedented diversity, which led to the creation of more diverse social movements. However, the anti-war movement was far from true intersectionality, and diversity was often cause for disputes. It was not uncommon, for instance, for woman and minorities to be alienated in anti-war groups and for movements like women’s liberation to be rejected by anti-war activists. Additionally, Heineman points to the record-breaking size of mobilizations across the country to emphasize its importance and impact for large portions of the population, even in the face of fierce opposition. Finally, Heineman links the extent of student anti-war activism to changes in campus culture, such as the eventual acceptance of the necessity student activism.

Social Action Coordinating Committee

Project Proposal: MIT Social Action Coordinating Committee

The Social Action Coordinating Committee (SACC), originally known as the Science Action Coordination Committee, was a student activist group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1969 to 1973(?). Initially, the group tasked itself with collective action in opposition to military research at MIT and the war in Vietnam, employing a variety of tactics. In attempt to broaden its scope, the group later turned to support the women’s movement, as well as the Black Panthers. A large archive of documentation of its activities, including meeting minutes, correspondences, and the media they produced or circulated exists in the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections. In this study, I will work closely with the documentation of the group, performing in-depth case analysis and producing information for comparison with larger student movements of the period.

 

Research Question

Generally, I am interested in evaluating the tactics, particularly media, employed by the SACC in terms of various measures of effectiveness. As I learn more about the movement, the question will become better defined. For instance, I may consider broadening the temporal scope of the question to account for how its change in tactics might have resulted in its decline of the group. Alternatively, I might want to do a study of effectiveness of strategies used for antiwar movements compared to those used for more general movements.

 

Case Selection

My position as an MIT student allows access to the institute archives, which facilitates an intimate knowledge of the group which would not otherwise be feasible. With this knowledge in-hand, the case of the SACC is of interest for a number of reasons. It is an instance of a thriving student activist group at an institute that has virtually no record of activism otherwise. Further, MIT’s position as a leading research institution biases the mass media towards it and makes it a potential role model for other schools, suggesting a high likelihood for tactical diffusion. Perhaps most importantly, MIT received huge (90) percentage of its funding from the Department of Defense, potentially catalyzing forms of activism that might be otherwise unprecedented at other universities.

 

Methods

The research will take the form of a case study proceeding in an exploratory fashion. Findings will primarily based upon archival research and literature review, though there is potential to contact movement participants and conduct interviews.

 

Workplan

To be able to recognize qualities unique to the MIT movement, it will first be necessary to acquire a working knowledge of overall antiwar movement of SACC’s contemporaries.

Once this is accomplished, I will turn to the MIT Institute Archives, where I will conduct the majority of my research. This will involve an initial reading through the four boxes to determine the relevant documents, which will then be analyzed deeply and comparatively. Afterwards, if it appears that there is relevant information which is not available in the MIT archives, I will attempt to locate it in other sources, such as interviews, books, newspapers or other archives.

Throughout this process, I will be open to criticism and inspiration from my peer researchers.

Discussion Apr. 13: Tactical Media

Guest:

Alessandra Renzi, https://camd.northeastern.edu/artdesign/people/alessandra-renzi/

A key writer and theorist of tactical media, in addition to being a practitioner and media creator. She has studied tactical media activism in Italy, which is the focus of discussion for this class.

Tactical Media

Tactical media does not have a clear definition and is constantly being redefined by its actors and contexts. Instead it is marked by transience, a sense of defiance, and an ad hoc creation. Tactical media is often about the short term and seizing a creative moment. To having a lasting effect, it can be situated within a strategy, or longer term plan, often including and connecting many tactics together.  Tactical media can be effective at grabbing attention and can be used as a tool progress a larger campaign. Many things may start tactical, and when they are successful, they can be turned into a more sustainable project, becoming a strategy rather than a form of tactical media. However, one of the most valuable pieces of conversation, coming at the time when “The ABC of Tactical Media” (1997) was published, is that not everything has to become a larger project, and that a tactical medium employed can be abandoned and still be effective.

Telestreet (early 2000s)

Telestreet (http://imaginationforpeople.org/en/project/telestreet) is a network of pirate television stations in Italy that began in June 2002. Around this time, the prime minister of Italy controlled >90% of the media. Telestreet formed as a different mode of media production and dissemination to provide alternate stories and perspectives to the state-sanctioned ones. Using home-made transmission tools, Telestreet employed a network of micro tv-transmitters to broadcast on a street or in a neighborhood. This is an example of tactical media being disruptive and seeking to subvert the dominant narratives.

Telestreet occurs at a time where tactical media has been in existence and Telestreet ties into a lot of other projects around the same time. Many people within the movement had a media background. It is a good example of how social media movements and technology are co-dependent. A lot of the technologies that Telestreet employed they needed to develop themselves. They developed technologies for a means of indiemedia, as well as a peer-to-peer network for horizontal communication and sharing videos. For the video sharing network, they had to work on codecs to read the files and create a method for circulating media online. These are examples of tactical media intervention, and were soon institutionalized and became strategic. It is also in this context of co-evolution of social movements and technology that there is a sense of a “do-it-yourself” (DIY) character of tactical media.

Squats as a site for tactical media development

Another important aspect to tactical media is the face-to-face interaction. Many Telestreet stations occurred in squats, or abandoned properties that were repurposed by those who moved in. Squats are often key cultural hotspots that act as zones of innovation or cultural experiments. People working on tactical media projects, like that of Telestreet, can remain close and live outside of authoritarian influence. Additionally, squats are the sites of hacklabs where helpful software is developed to distribute among those who needed it. One notable example is Dyne:bolic (https://www.dyne.org/software/dynebolic), which is distributed freely and can be run on low-end computers, designed with digital resistance and privacy in mind. Another example of such software is Reamweaver (http://amy-alexander.com/projects/artisticactivist-software/reamweaver.html) which allows for quickly parodying a website in real-time.

Naples Garbage Crisis (2008)

Another instance of tactical media is within the city of Naples, Italy in 2008. Government works were refusing to pick up trash, which then piled up along the streets. In response to public outcry, the government decided to dispose of it improperly and negligently. The populace of Naples, who studied EU laws on waste disposal, decided to fight back against their negligent government. The citizens gave visitors tours of the garbage mounds and improper dumping sites. They recorded where and how much the garbage piled up, and videos of the improper disposal.

This was ongoing before the proliferation of smartphones and easy-to-use recording devices. Many groups had to organize trainings and obtain cameras for people to use so that they could capture a lot of the ongoing transgressions. Because of these workshops, and the large amount of video recording, all of these groups collaborated to create a documentary. The documentary was highly collaborative and crowdfunded. The documentary was viewed at guerilla screenings where new spaces were created to talk about the garbage crisis, as the government was tightly controlling discussion of the topic. This was all possible due to the networks formed in the beginning from organizers encouraging everyone to record the garbage sites and speak out against their negligent government.

Tactical media in the present day

Some recent examples of tactical media include the check-in at Standing Rock, Facebook page. It was effective in raising a lot of awareness of the situation and garnering public support. Another example from 2017 is the national park alternate twitter accounts that arose to protest a temporary media blackout. Additionally we discussed the overpass light brigade and it’s efficacy as tactical media.

Are memes tactical media? There is some overlap between meme warfare and tactical media. For example, in Puerto Rico, a fake Facebook account was created as a satirical page about duplicitous government decisions that was successful. However, meme warfare tends to concentrate on content and rarely extends beyond the online sphere, where tactical media mostly resides. Alternatively, effective tactical media that occurs in the offline world can create a powerful image that will be circulated online. This is because we can take for granted the access many people have to social media. Twitter itself started as a tactical media project and is conducive to circulating information due to its responsiveness. Before social media, the most important thing to do was to get into the mainstream media or go viral to draw attention to a specific keyword to change the understanding of what is ongoing (branding). Going viral nowadays can be achieved through an effective hashtag or compelling image. Tactical media can be used to set an agenda, for example Ferguson and reporting on Twitter instead of through mainstream media.

Tactical media can also be inward facing, not necessarily designed to grab attention. On tactical media’s current relevancy, Renzi commented that it’s about realizing “you can tweak the system,” “get creative, weav[ing] different media together” and “recogniz[ing] what others are doing.”

Additional Discussions

Disaster capitalism is a term for when certain policies are presented and progress that otherwise would be rejected due to a catastrophe that has caused chaos. One example is after Hurricane Katrina, lands were rezoned, displacing people and benefiting those who were given the land. It’s the premise that companies are prepared to turn any crisis into an opportunity, by bypassing normal democratic mechanisms. In this instance, tactical media would be very useful. The tactical media arising could distract and raise awareness to examples of disaster capitalism and help prevent inequitable policies from being approved. Often in a state of chaos, it requires being creative and flexible to ad hoc designs, which is why tactical media can play a crucial role.

Also discussed, in light of the recent backlash against Pepsi for “trivializing” ongoing social movements, was the co-opting of tactical media by ad agencies. Corporations now have the resources and time to search the web and incorporate tactical media into their campaigns. For example, many alt-right organizations are able to expand in ways that grassroots organizations don’t necessarily have the means to. However, Aziria commented, “Even though there’s often a space which gets co-opted, that doesn’t mean that what has been does loses its effect. So there’s still reason to press on in this space, as there’s room for negotiation and the tactic hasn’t lost it’s value or use in political discourse.”

Additionally, we experimented with NewsJack (http://newsjack.in). Similar in concept to Reamweaver, but it isn’t real-time and designed to be more accessible.

Readings

Medios Tácticos/ Tactical Media

Tema: Tactical Media/Medios Tacticos

Exponente: Alessandra Renzi

https://camd.northeastern.edu/artdesign/people/alessandra-renzi/

Para la clase de Networked Social Movement la profesora, activista y artista Alessandra Renzi discutió con la clase las características de los Medios Tácticos en términos de su producción, su aportación y las problemáticas que presentan. Alessandra participó activamente en el desarrollo de varios proyectos de Medios Tácticos. Igualmente aportó académicamente al libro Digital media and democracy: tactics in hard times con el capítulo: The Space of Tactical Media donde discute la definición, relevancia, uso y espacio que pueden ocupar los Medios Tácticos en el proceso de activismo social y democracia.

 

¿Qué son los Medios Tácticos?

Los Medios Tácticos son usualmente definidos como producciones mediáticas de disidencia colectivas e independientes, desarrolladas por los mismos usuarios utilizando tecnologías accesibles y baratas. Usualmente son muy difíciles de precisar y definir lo cual los hace muy particulares. (Boler, 2008)

Historia de los Medios Tácticos

Según Alessandra Renzi la producción de medios tácticos inició a través de las conversaciones que se comenzaron a llevar a cabo una vez el muro de berlín cayó. Activistas a través de toda europa comenzaron a incorporar formas de producción mediática desarrolladas e incorporadas por activistas del este europeo. Muchas de estas conversaciones iniciaron en centros de arte y producción cultural. En estos espacios se reflexionaba sobre las posibilidades creativas y combativas de los medios tácticos, principalmente se muchos artistas y activistas se preguntaban cómo podían comenzar a identificar objetivos y métodos de lucha en contra de situaciones de opresión sistémica económica y social. Más que nada cuestionaban los métodos utilizados hasta el momento para participar activamente de la lucha social. Se percataron de que la organización debía ir más allá de salir a la calle y protestar, ya que la lucha corporativa descansaba en una base informática y mediática para llevar su agenda política y economía que tenía que ser combatida en otros niveles (no necesariamente los tradicionales)

¿En qué lugares usualmente se producían los medios tácticos?

En el caso particular de europa los “squats” eran semilleros de producción de medios tácticos por diversas razones. Squats son usualmente edificios privados o gubernamentales que han sido abandonados y son reclamados por la ciudadanía de los cuales no puede luego ser desalojados después de haber vivido un tiempo en ellos debido a reglamentación gubernamental particularmente en europa. Sin embargo, esto está cambiando en el siglo 21, ya que muchos gobiernos han buscado deshacerse de estos espacios. La razón por la que estos espacios han ido eliminando estiba de su importancia como centros activos de disidencia y pensamiento crítico que son sustentados de manera colectiva y muchas veces gratuita ya que no se tiene que pagar alquiler o arrendamiento. En Estados Unidos los casos de “squats” son muchos más limitados debido a la primacía que se le da a la propiedad privada en el país.

Igualmente, ha habido un esfuerzo increíble por parte de distintos gobiernos locales y estatales por crear espacios de creatividad e innovación contenida, muchas veces desde una estética y práctica técnica y empresarial, mientras simultáneamente eliminan estos espacios de creación que no se adecuan a sus ideas de lo que se debe criticar y/o producir.

Tácticas vs. Estrategias

Una de las formas en las que se tratado de definir los Medios Tácticos ha sido a través de determinar las distinciones entre que se puede determinar como táctico y estratégico. Esto ha probado ser problemático ya que cuando hablamos de tácticas tendemos a pensar en herramientas utilizadas en un momento dado con una finalidad específica mientras que si pensamos en las estrategias estas se presentan como un plan a largo plazo que buscar cumplir con unos goles en el futuro. Sin embargo, al utilizar estas definiciones se limitan las posibilidades de incorporar proyectos de medios tácticos que tengan momentos más largos de duración. La producción de medios técnicos evista ser definido precisamente porque le permite mucha más agencia política el dejar la definición de la práctica lo más amplia posible. Esto le permite a la práctica cambiar constantemente y no ser atada en la práctica.

Cabe destacar que los medios tácticos no solo se pueden  pensar en relación a fin definido porque mucha de la producción también busca cuestionar la necesidad de llevar a cabo acciones políticas que después se convirtieran en un proyecto definido. Muchas veces, era más efectivo llamar la atención a gran escala de un gran número de personas a un issues y luego saltar a realizar otros proyectos que forzar esa producción y tener que unirse al complejo corporativo sin fines de lucros o a vender algún producto para subsistir.

De igual forma, los proyectos de medios tácticos pueden buscar “mirar hacia dentro” más que generar un espectáculo. Estos pueden buscar más que nada generar una discusión entre los miembros de su comunidad y problematizar “issues” al igual que pueden buscar llamar la atención de los medios tradicionales.

Para Alessandra Renzi los medios tácticos sirven para presentar una nueva actitud de innovación hacia la de producción de medios. Muestran una sensibilidad específica donde se puede identificar qué medios utilizar para cambiar la forma en que protestamos y cambiamos la política pública y la sociedad civil.

Ejemplos de Medios Tácticos

  •    Telestreet (http://imaginationforpeople.org/en/project/telestreet ):Es un proyecto de una Red de Televisión Pirata que se creo en italiaen el 2003 (no había YouTube, FB, Twitter,Etc) debido a las condiciones de posesión de medios de comunicación. Uno de los precursores de Telestreet fue IndieMedia. Sin embargo, IndieMedia dejó de existir porque fue perseguida y “targeteada” por las instituciones policiales italianas  para el 2001, lo que provocó que la mayoría del trabajo que se produjo allí comenzará también a utilizarse en Telestreet. El presidente Berlusconi controlaba el 90% de los medios de comunicación en Italia. La estación de televisión pirata tenía el nombre de TeleAut y funcionaba desde edificios ocupados haciendo uso de lo que se conoce como un P2P network y tenían la misma estructura de producción que IndieMedia.Todo se realizó DIY. Podemos mirar al pasado y ver cómo hemos evolucionado y donde estamos ahora en términos de transmisión y producción de contenido gracias a plataformas como Telestreet. Esta red permitía convertir tu televisor en un receptor pero también proyector de contenido. Más que nada la red buscaba proveer información diferente y diversificar la producción de contenido e información en Italia. Buscaban crear formatos innovadores televisión haciendo un mix de nuevas y viejas tecnologías. Solo había conexión dial up los videos se transmitían bajando y subiendo los files via esa conexión o podían compartir todo vía cd y vhs. Esta conceptualización  inició la  distribución portable de la información.

En términos de su relación con los medios tácticos Telestreet comienza cuando en la era de producción de medios tácticos se buscaba pensar sobre el uso y la implementación de medios para propósitos de activismo social.No obstante esta luego se institucionalizó y comenzó a producir medios más estratégicos, algo que tiende a suceder en muchas ocasiones con la producción de medios tácticos cuando se comienza a pensar en la temporalidad y sostenibilidad de los proyectos.

Telestreet también entrenó ciudadanos en Nopole, Italia para que hicieran uso de cámaras portátiles para documentar los abuso cometidos por parte de la administración de Berlusconi para no atender el desastre ambiental de manejo de basura que enfrenta la ciudad. El presidente Berlusconi hizo uso de la crisis de basura que había en Napoles para instaurar política pública opresiva que buscaba sustentar las ganancias monetarias corruptas de su administración al igual que las de la mafia italiana.

https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_doctrina_del_shock

Si bien el entrenamiento no paró la instauración de medidas draconianas por parte del gobierno italiano, si logró que se produjera colaborativamente un documental llamado: “Una montagna di balle”. El documental se produjo colaborativamente en todas sus facetas de producción y buscaba más que informar a la ciudadanía Nápoles del problema de basura (ya que estos eran muy versados) buscaba que el resto de la ciudadanía  Italiana y el mundo se percatan del asunto. Este documental es más un ejemplo de Medios Estratégicos que de mediots tácticos pero sirve como ejemplo para demostrar a donde los medios tácticos pueden llevar en términos de producción.

Mucha de la tecnología que fue utilizada por eso grupos es precursora de muchas de las prácticas que llevamos a cabo ahora como: compartir video de brutalidad policiaca y el uso de medios de comunicación para fomentar justicia social.

  • Desobediencia Electrónica es otro ejemplo de medios tácticos. El documental Info Wars(2004) nos muestra la desobediencia electrónica como una forma no violenta de protesta digital que busca enfatizar en el uso de las palabra como guerra en vez de utilizar las palabras para apoyar o avanzar la guerra. En el documental se proveen los ejemplos de los Zapatistas como precursores del espacio digital para dejar al pueblo saber de su agenda más allá de los espacios discursivos que permiten los medios tradicionales y el gobierno. El uso por parte de los zapatistas de llevar a cabo DDOs (ataques de denegación de servicio que no le permite a usuarios legítimos acceder los portales) para hacer al gobierno Mexicano al igual a múltiples bancos fue increíblemente novel y le permito una exposición mediática y efecto real en el proceso político de la lucha zapatista. https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ataque_de_denegaci%C3%B3n_de_servicio

 

Nuevos Ejemplos de Medios Tácticos

 

  • Standing Rock Check-in: Cuando se le requirió a los usuarios de internet y Facebook que hicieran Check-in en Standing Rock para que la policía de South Dakota no pudiera descifrar y targetear a los activistas que se encontraban defendiendo el agua en Standing Rock.
  • Overpass Light Brigade: Crean banners llamativos y fotográficos  con luces decorativas para llamar la atención a asusntos politicos importantes como la guerra en Syria, los recursos de agua en Standing Rock etc… Su contenido está diseñado para ser altamente distribuido y  compartido en los medios sociales.  https://www.facebook.com/OverpassLightBrigade/

 

  • La Junta de Control Fiscal(JCF): Una página ficticia que buscaba hacer broma de la junta de control fiscal impuesta al gobierno de Puerto Rico como parte de las medidas de austeridad que se le impone a la isla por la deuda de 72 billones de dólares. El gobierno utilizó como excusa la situación precaria de la isla para cambiar la legislación que protegía a los trabajadores y sus derechos, so pretexto de que generaría más empleos. Los empleadores comenzarona despedir empleados y a contratarlos bajo la nueva legislación. La JCF publicó las corporaciones que estaban incurriendo en la práctica y junto a los usuarios llamaron la atención del gobierno quien se tuvo que involucrar y parar las prácticas corporativas en las que se estaban incurriendo. https://www.facebook.com/Lajuntadecontrolfiscal/

 

Conclusiones

Por mucho tiempo se creyó que la ventaja que tenían los Medios Tácticos era la rapidez de producción y distribución y el cambio constante del uso mixto y diseminación de contenido y medios de los cuales hacían practica. Sin embargo, la oposición usualmente tiene más recursos para mantener el uso de los medios y distribución del mensaje lo cual provoca que la producción de medios tácticos combativos sean cooptados por el capital. Esta modalidad lleva a muchos teóricos de medios tacticos a la conclusión de que los medios tácticos han muerto.Estos entienden que su fácil incorporación y uso por parte de las corporaciones, el gobierno, al igual que grupos de extrema derecha los ha rendido inútiles para llevar a cabo el trabajo político que necesitan realizar.

No obstante Megan Boler nos recuerda lo siguiente:

“In an age of spectacle and complicity, tactical interventions are often simultaneously recuperated by dominant power while still functioning to shift and modulate perceptions and representations within the dominant culture.” (Boler,2008)

“En la época de la complicidad y el espectáculo, la intervenciones tácticas son simultáneamente recuperadas por el poder dominante mientras todavía funciona para cambiar y modular las percepciones y representaciones dentro de la cultura dominante”(Boler, 2008)

Todo para decir que si bien es cierto que los medios tácticos pueden ser utilizados y robados por el capital eso no los hace inefectivos para llevar a cabo crítica y problematización social.

Herramientas:

Dyne:Bolic: https://www.dyne.org/software/dynebolic   -Era un kit para producción activista de medios de comunicación. Era open source y accesible para todos.

newsjack.in (2012)- Originó de el concepto de hackasaours que permitía a niños cambiar y hacer remix de los elementos de HTML que están en una página Web. Esta herramienta permite a los usuarios ver cómo se vería una página web hackeada que luego puedes compartir para problematizar las ideas que se muestran en muchos espacios de diseminación de información virtual. Igualmente la herramienta puede ser utilizada para hacer pensar a la gente sobre el futuro y las victorias que pueden tener como parte imaginar el futuro que desean ver.

Reamweaver– Creado por los YesMen es una herramienta que te permite cambiar palabras clave en páginas web haciéndole creer a las persona que el texto que observan realmente fue creado por el gobierno o corporación al cual la página aparente pertenecer.

Bibliografía

Boler, M. (Ed.). (2008). Digital media and democracy: tactics in hard times. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.