Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Technopolitics – An Idiosyncratic Introduction

I promised to write “next” on “Technopolitics and Social Centers.” Those are the hardest parts to explain of all the Spanish-language conference events I have been attending lately.
They are also the least reported.

This time I'll tackle the technopolitics. This basically amounts to using the internet to build platforms – interactive websites – to change government, to make it more transparent, more responsive, more honest, and, finally, more truly democratic.
The chief hacker in charge of civic platforms in Taiwan, Audrey Tang offers a good English-language introduction in about 20 minutes. (All links in the text are below this blog post [saves the fingers]). S/he comes from the electorally successful Occupy movement in that country. There was no police violence in all of that, so nobody heard about it. “Media doesn't like that peaceful resolution stuff. So it moves on to the fighting,” Tang said. “Democracy is not just voting. Voting is just the entry level of the game.” S/he is working to “upgrade democracy in Taiwan,” building platforms of engaging citizens in bottom-up policy development, and a digital media channel to engage politicians directly.
Tang was here in Madrid in 2016 at the Collective Intelligence for Democracy conference at Medialab. That's going on again now, as I write. A convocation of vetted hackers are working on these platforms in the center of this city, across the plaza from the occupied social center La Ingobernable.
(Actually, La Ingob had their own “Hackmeeting 2017” at the same time as MAC3 in October. I've no idea what they were working on. But the local gang is up there in the occupied social center pretty much every night, burning the midnight oil on something...) The Madrid Medialab's bi-lingual Intelligencia Colectiva Para La Democracia conference is “two weeks of collaborative work, multidisciplinary teams around projects related to democracy, citizen participation and the tools and methodologies that facilitate these processes.”
It climaxes with public events – a series of talks by different luminares, including media theorist and ex-punk pirate radio guy Richard Barbrook, and the mayors of Madrid and Barcelona.
Honestly, this is really geek stuff. And, like most of what Medialab does, it's over my head. But the implications of all this development are indeed revolutionary. Even though most of it is till in beta (in development), it is being used all over Spain, and, clearly in Taiwan.
It's important to note that this isn't “smart city,” using digital technology to enable managers to manage more efficiently. It isn't internet entrepreneurship training. And it isn't about voting in elections. This is a total re-imagining of what it means to govern in democracies.

Taller de Tecnopolítica posted to Twitter by Ourense en Comun
The MAC3 Workshop in A Coruna

My closest exposure to all this was at the MAC3 conference in A Coruna, in the workshop on technopolitics. Several Spanish hackers presented their platforms and their features, which are all in operation in governments today. (In this account, I'll skip the usual moaning and groaning about my low level of Spanish and the social exclusion an old person feels in an event dominated by the young. I plunged on, and do continue despite all that. But it is still the grain of salt dear reader must hold in mind.)
The workshop leader introduced, saying that technopolitical work is “more transversal” than meetings and assemblies, which tend to attract people who are already activist.
It is the program of capital, he said, to conquer and privatize critical infrastructure, including online. Our capacity to organize depends upon these infrastructures. Added to this is control of our own digital identities. As well, the militarization of technology is underway. Drones, robots, and mass surveillance are only a part of it. Like food production, the web is controlled by five companies, Google (now a unit of Alphabet), Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft.
(E.g.: Video from the recent “Peoples' Disruption” meeting on platform cooperativism was posted by its host the New School to their Facebook page; only a week later it is already deeply buried in the endless stream of university publicity.)
Counterposed to this is the ideal of a transparent media, exemplified by WikiPedia. (There is also a 15Mpedia, which concentrates on the Spanish movements.) It is through this transparent media that we can do important things like monitor our physical environment, and transversally coordinate the municipalist movements.
A second speaker talked about how municipalist platforms have a different view of the “smart city,” a discourse that dominated architectural theory in the late '90s, and by now has become a major paradigm of urban policy, planning, and development. This is not going without criticism. Municipalists are introducing proposals in every city in which they are active.
Presentations then began. First up was Agora the platform of participation of Ganemos Jerez. (That's a city in the province of Cádiz in the autonomous community of Andalusia.) This is an online space of citizen participation. It includes voting and process, which could be an invitation to participate in a workshop. It also solicits agreement (or not) on political initiatives, like alliances of the Ganemos electoral platform with the political parties Podemos or PSOE (Socialists/liberals). He showed proposals from citizens which were active on the website, some 25-30. One proposal he liked was for a school of critical citizenship.
Privatized consumer electricity is a big issue. It accounts for many citizens' sub-proposals. (The necessity to “re-municipalize” public services privatized by right-wing city governments, and how to do that was a major theme in the MAC3 conference.)
Inter-city connections are needed to make a strong technopolitical group. The methodology of participation itself is political. In smaller cities there are fewer activists, and it is harder to launch and sustain a group. These folks especially need connections to larger operations.
A presenter gave an overview of the Decidim platform used by Barcelona en Comu, the city council of Barcelona headed by Ada Colau. (He promised to send me the link, but didn't; what I found through search is in the “Links” below.) Decidim – (which I have also read is based on Consul, developed in Madrid – ah, Catalonian pride!) – is developed and maintained by “a productive ecosystem” of hackers, citizens and others working as meta.decidim. At the moment of our briefing, Decidim had 27,000 participants, 12K proposals, 14K “processes,” 1.6K “results,” and 36 projects underway with the city.
Decidim is “a guarantee of democratic quality” as well as privacy and security for citizen participants. It is used by 12 cities now – Pamplona, one in France, and all the rest in Catalonia.
An open question is what role Decidim played in the recent independence bid. In any event, the whole mishegos has certainly obscured the positive developments in innovative governance in Catalonia. I have never seen any of this covered on Spanish television. (Unsurprising, that; dinosaurs don't like mammals.)

network cloud of the French "Nuit Debout" movement
Big Conference, Big Talk

These guys (nearly all) are geeks, working for municipal governments in Spain. The big ideas come out at the conferences from the muck-a-mucks and little cheeses that give formal presentations. As I wrote above, I'm going to one of these in Madrid very soon. But in preparing this post I stumbled upon Heather Marsh speaking at the 2016 Medialab conference.
This “internet activist, programmer and philosopher” is trying to build “trust networks” within “network commons” to counteract the companies which are “are nothing more than gated wells of our personal data,” or “walled gardens.” She says, “Because of all this control of our data, and our minds and our actions and our relationships” we are all “being funnelled into this really ridiculous asinine infantile world where all we're getting out of Silicon Valley are dating apps, and Facebook and - who here is bored? There's other things that I'd rather be doing, like looking at our governance... and those applications aren't being built for us.”
At least not by capitalized private enterprise.
And in New York, the recently concluded third conference on Platform Cooperativism called "the People's Disruption” intends to bolster the challenge to the aforementioned “fearful five” platform monopolies.
There's a great deal more to be said about technopolitics, of course, and many folks working wholeheartedly on that. As the internet is gradually taken away from us, just as radio and television in their turn were privatized – (does anyone even remember the “equal time” provision on U.S. television anymore?) – it becomes increasingly necessary to defend what remains of its open nature.


Audrey Tang: Stories from the Future of Democracy
Tang is a high-powered Chinese hacker, and presently "Digital Minister" -- or a minister without portfolio, in Taiwan's government
You can also see his 2 hour talk on “Digital Innovation in Public Service Transformation at Medialab-Prado”

Hackmeeting 2017 en Madrid

Collective inteligence for democracy

There's hours and hours of videos from the 2016 conference on the subject, in both Spanish and English, which come up on this search:
"Medialab Intelligencia Colectiva Para La Democracia"

Farhad Manjoo, “Tech’s ‘Frightful 5’ Will Dominate Digital Life for Foreseeable Future,” New York Times, January 20, 2016

Agora – Plataforma de participación de Ganemos Jerez

A school for critical citizenship. I like that too. Here's one proposed for Egypt:
Maha Bali, "Critical citizenship for critical times," April 14, 2014

Re. Decidim, there are these two presentations on Slideshare, explaining "BCN DIGITAL/ Barcelona: Collaborative policies for the collaborative Economy," published in March '17 by Alvaro Porro (Barcelona Activa) i Mayo Fuster (IN3)
and this: "Discussions and decisions on Decidim Barcelona" from April '17 by Pablo Aragon

Heather Marsh speaking at “Inteligencia Colectiva para la Democracia. Sábado 19. Tarde”; She says the quoted words around the 39 minute mark.
Heather Marsh: "Rethinking the moats and mountains"
her project, Getgee:

The People’s Disruption: Platform Co-ops for Global Challenges
Link for all video including breakouts

Equal-time rule
Geez!, could this still be law? I can't imagine that it is...

Friday, November 3, 2017

Reading Matter – Transeuropa 2017 in Madrid

Summary: This blog post is mainly about the printed paper reader published in advance of the recent Transeuropea festival in Madrid. (PDF available; see links below.) Described as an artistic, cultural and political event, it was my first dip into the hazy, crazy world of EU-funded get-togethers for an “alternative Europe.” This time the TE Fest people were partnering with the muncipalist city council government Ahora Madrid, and the European Commons Assembly. To save my weary fingers, links are pasted below.

How to write about these things? I'm blogging, so I express insecurities, and throw in gonzo bits and cracks. I don't have to make sense of it all. I want it to be interesting... This writing now is about these meetings, encounters, conferences. Everyone there is doing something. They are not on their personal path of best advantage. These events are evidence that folks are moving towards and in a generalized positive human future. It is, I truly hope, the drifting vector of the 'general intellect,' be that political or social or, well, only art.
During my weekly short eviction for flat-cleaning, I sit in the Centro Centro of Madrid, the exhibition and workplace of the city hall. From time to time, I hear the groaning sounds of the “Charivari” exhibition on political noise as the show disgorges a group of visitors. I feel so lucky to be here in this ample public building with beautiful light and internet for free. I wonder what to write, of my experiences here in participation city. With Transeuropa festival, I am moving decisively into NGO-land. So this isn't about squatting – or urban development from below, gentrification and the like, which is what this “Occupations & Properties” blog has been about for eight years. And it isn't about artists' collectives, which is what another long-neglected blog based on my 2012 book “Art Gangs” is about.

The Municipalist Submarine Rises from the Sea
I was so psyched for the Transeuropa 2017 festival! I burbled on about it at the English happy hour at the La Ingobernable squat. The newsprint publication, which appeared a couple of weeks in advance, was wonderful, shot through with enticing formulations and revelatory ideas.
The introductory text by the director declared that the festival was to be about “going beyond the nation state.” At the same time, this “can mean renewed autonomy at local levels.” That's the strategy – the “bet,” in Pablo Carmona's formulation – of the municipalist movement.
The three themes of the festival, in addition to understanding a transnationalism advanced by flying in folks from around Europe (including one of our SqEK colleagues), were “Europe as a refuge,” i.e., engaging the crises of refugee and migrant flows into Europe; “the Commons,” exploring ideas and practices of this powerful emergent political and social paradigm; and third, “cities of change” – the new municipalism. That's my meat, as I've been blogging the MAC 3 conference of Spanish municipal platforms on this blog for a month now.
Their newspaper promised a kind of wedding cake of artistic and political futurism. As it turned out we were delivered a tray of cookies and some piles of crumbs. But there were some tasty bits in there!
At one point during the opening session I ran into Georg from Hablarenarte who said the TE people had wanted to hold the conference in Barcelona. Maybe that would have been better, he said. God no!, I cried. That place is a political tire fire now. You're much better off in Madrid, where at least the municipalist program is running fairly smoothly (if invisibly).
The festival kickoff saw a rather despairing intro talk by a German quite traumatized by the rise of the nationalist right in the east, the “illiberal” democracies – and a short video showing handfuls of people waving at the camera in a plethora of European cities large and mostly smaller. Argh, sez me. This isn't how you start a conference! You don't 'share your concerns.' You just intro the big cheese, who tells you what you should be thinking about and working on. I ran away.

Madrid is a Democracy Lab
But I came back the next day... But first, to return to the newspaper – it included an abridged version of Bernardo Gutiérrez' text published on the Open Democracy media platform “Madrid as a democracy lab” (July '17). He has just released a book, Pasado mañana. Viaje a la España del cambio (Arpa Editores), which I am trudging through, full of accounts of the interesting things that are being done in Spain now.
Now Bernardo is working at Medialab, a radical city-funded media center which was a partner in the festival, and the site of the somewhat concurrent European Commons Assembly. Some TE Fest action was happening in the Medialab, and a lot more across the plaza in La Ingobernable. (This partnering of adjacent places, one city-funded, the other an illegal occupation is in itself somewhat jaw-dropping.) The Commons Assembly is a recently formed grojup. There's more about it in the newspaper, but I did attend one brief session. People were sitting in a circle talking about their concerns, then they stepped back and let others come up and talk. All of it was thought-provoking, very orderly and well-behaved – a serious and intelligent group of folks. I'd no idea this was happening, and couldn't really open up to it all, since I was already booked into the TE Fest. But I digress.

Bernardo's text introduces Pablo Soto's concept of disintermediation, which is the political process of “removing intermediaries from representative politics” and “getting citizens to make their own decisions.” That this is a technical question is what concerns Medialab. Soto, a longtime hacker with the peer-to-peer movement, now works for the city government of Madrid, precariously controlled by an alliance of municipalist political parties. (It was for years in the hands of the right-wing PP, which resulted in some spectacular corruption trials.) Soto is managing the Decide Madrid citizen participation e-platform, which is already being used for “binding urban planning consultations.” This means in effect citizens get to vote on fully articulated proposals.
The Imagina Madrid program at another TE Fest partner, Intermediae, opened the proposal process to the public. (In fact, to make a fully articulated architectural development proposal is specialists' business, so “public” means merely an expanded field of experts; but that's something different than a closed bid process, for sure.)
Bernardo's text goes on to describe the “forceful decentralization policy” of the Madrid city government. This started some years ago, even under the PP mayoralty, as Intermediae took over cultural budgets in the city's peripheral barrios, and started to hire architecture collectives like Basurama, Zuloark and Todo por la Praxis to do citizen activation projects.
The city also handed out empty buildings to citizen groups to self-organize as social centers, thus in effect officializing a long-time current of “citizen protagonism” – Madrid's squatting movement.
The one squatting collective that was disappointed in its desire for a social center was the Patio Maravillas (covered numerous times in this blog in years past). They wanted a space in the center, and the city hall just wouldn't allow that. Finally they took one: La Ingobernable. And it fits right in.

Time of Monsters
Back to the paper. The article, written by two “advocacy coordinators,” Troncoso and Utratel called “Commons in the Time of Monsters: How P2P Politics Can Change the World, One City at a Time,” is the best rundown of the city-hacking change machine that is commons-based municipalism.
“The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.” (May be Gramsci.) This time, a century later, we can zap them with our rayguns – “commons enabling, aka P2P (peer-to-peer, person-to-person, people-to-people) technologies... [which] enable small group dynamics at higher levels of complexity, and enable the reclamation of power.”
Yes, “power concedes nothing without a demand,” and the plan here is to weaponize demand, an unanswerable RFS attack on the power structure as it is, with its mazes of bureaucratic offices and blizzards of paperwork. “RFS” – that's a Request for Services attack/demand, to signal this new kind of online activism. (Not the negative disruptive DDoS or Distributed Denial of Service attack, which is what the current state bureaucracy sadly amounts to in much of its day-to-day operation.)
The beast fights back. The “activists-turned-political representatives” of Spain's municipalist platforms, write Troncoso and Utratel, “face an unwaveringly hostile media environment, which exaggerates their blunders (or invents them when convenient) while burying their achievements.”
They go on to discuss the “Partner State” idea, which includes the “promotion of real, needs-oriented entrepreneurship... bottom-up productive infrastructures” like coops and renewables, and – here's the key, which puts this all squarely into “Occupations & Properties” territory – programs to “allow commoners to repurpose or take over unused or underutilized public buildings for social ends, which giving legal recognition ot the act of commoning, whether through copyleft-inspired property-law hacks or through a longer process of gradually institutionalising commons practices.”
So squatting has a new name – commonsing. And as I learned at MAC3, there are already developed protocols for the process of evaluating and legally recognizing squatted spaces. And they are not only the idealized protocols evolved by artist Adelita Husni-Bey. They are being put into practice in Naples, as we shall see below.

“Renewed Political Force”
A text from the muckamucks in the European Commons Assembly outlines the “why” and the “what.” While the municipalists don't seem to focus much now on citizens assemblies, and the U.S. ones for sure don't care – this recently-formed bunch is all about that. And “that” is where popular power begins. “On the streets,” okay, but with thoughtful, civil citizens deliberating together on the matters that concern them. It's from there to action, personal, collective, and political.
Bloeman and Leonard write, in “For a Renewed Political Force in Europe,” that relentless markets, growth, comoodification, “extractive relationship with nature” blah blah blah have broken down social cohesion. That's what they start with. They applaud and support local initiatives to make community wifi, co-housing, community land trusts, and workers' co-ops. Their brief in the Madrid meeting was to go “beyond ideational affiliation,” and grow their movement. The emphasis was on “production” – political production around the commons. What could that mean? I don't know, 'cause I didn't make any of the breakouts. I was busy with the TE Fest.
The newspaper foregrounded migrant rights – “The Cities Want Them In!” came from the book Shifting Baselines of Europe. (That title's actually a creepy concept; the example is fishermen who don't notice that the fish are getting smaller and less numerous since they are invested in a “baseline shift”; it's a fancy name for gettinig used to the unfolding disaster.) While I didn't follow this line closely, we had a breakout (which I'll describe) wherein I met a refugee from conflict Africa. I realized that there is a difference in advocating for refugees and for economic migrants. They are mixed together in the waves trying to get into Europe, but the bureaucracy favors one over the other. (I'll be addressing these questions in a forthcoming essay on the union of manteros – blanket-sellers from Senegal – in Madrid.)
It's a theme struck strongly by the radical mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris. “Naples was the first Italian city to establish a 'Department of the Commons' and the first to change the municipal statute by inserting the commons as one of the interests to be protected and recognised as the functional exercise of fundamental rights of the person.” (That's from another interview, “In Naples we are all illegal or no-one is.”)
The Naples protocol for legalizing occupied social centers as “social commons” was studied in A Coruna at MAC3 in a late session which I haven't gotten around to blogging yet!
De Magistris describes the “absolute novelty” of a new way of working together between city government and social movements. “How does this happen? Through direct contact, open meetings, popular assemblies in the neighborhoods, observatories, and by keeping a direct relation with social centres and spaces of activism and active citizenship.”
Naples is a refuge city – in “the vanguard of a new 'diplomacy from below' working for a Mediterranean of peace and not war.”

Theory of Nomadism
There is another interview in there with Roi Braidotti “On Nomadism.” It's always great to hear academics wrap up all the politics into conceptual categories. Because that's really the job with municipalist politics, and post-nationalism of course, is to think all sorts of things that before have been only peacenik hippie dreams into place as government policy.
She has written three books on recent subjective transformations, and finally proposes post-identitarian nomadic subjects who are delinked from ethnicity. This breaks down to a proposal for “flexible citizenship,” a “temporary, interim citizenship.” Immigrants denied papers in Spain certainly need this. How do we do it if the government won't?
How can we “postulate citizenship on participation, on belonging, on taxation, on being there... allowing people without countries, stateless people, to be citizens”? Legal minds are working on this.
Finally, on the climate crisis she notes: “We need to be able to think for future generations who cannot do anything for us. The future per definition, cannot be reciprocal, so we should exit the Kantian morality” – which governs modern political arrangements since the 18th century – “'I do that for you, you do that for me'... No! You do that for the love of humanity, because if we don't do that, there is not going to be a humanity!” We must give up the idea of reciprocity, the soul of compromise, as the engine of our politics.
Easy to say, but harder to say clearly.
The TE Fest put great store in culture as a vehicle to “break walls and create bridges from the ruins of xenophobia and hate spaeeches.” Indeed. How to escape from our political habits? From what Reich called the “emotional contagion” encoded even in our bodily behaviors of anger, frustration, and the social media escape from an actual public sphere already in tatters?
There's a good deal more in this little newspaper – on Turkey, Syrian refugees, feminism in politics. But that's a good start.

NEXT: Well, we'll just have to see.


Transeuropa 2017 – Convergent Spaces

Ahora Madrid

European Commons Assembly

“Charivari” exhibition on political noise as the show disgorges a group of visitors.

La Ingobernable – Centro Social de Comunes Urbanos

The texts under discussion are all in these PDFs:
The journal of the Transeuropa Festival in English and in Spanish, La revista de Transeuropa Festival

Bernardo Gutiérrez , ?Madrid as a democracy lab,” 10 July 2017
An exuberant ecosystem of citizen practices and self-managed spaces has turned Madrid into an international reference of the urban commons. (also in Español y Português)

Stacco Troncoso andAnn Marie Utratel . "Commons in the Time of Monsters: How P2P Politics Can Change the World, One City at a Time,” June, 2017 at:
This article expands on themes showcased on Commons Transition and P2P: a Primer, a short publication from the P2P Foundation and the Transnational Institute examining the potential of commons-based peer production to radically re-imagine our economies, politics and relationship with nature. (Download.)