HEWN, No. 332

"To dismantle is to set aside the dithering of 'yes, but' and to try instead the hard work of critique" -- Matt Tierney

The newsletter is a day late, as I spent Saturday making my way back home from Berlin, where I spoke at a Wikimedia event, at OEB 2019, and on a panel for the Future Trends Forum. It was a very long flight, and I didn’t sleep, so I suppose I could have worked. (I also didn’t really read much online this week to share with you, other than this terrific book review of Matt Tierney’s Dismantlings.)

My brain always turns to mush at 30,000 feet, and even when I think I should work or could work or must work, I can’t. Instead I spent a fair bit of the 11-hour flight staring at the screens that other people were watching — truly the best way to take in most of the movies that get churned out these days. That is, watching with no idea of what the movie even is and hearing no dialogue — just piecing together the plot based on which actors are cast and how they grin or grimace.

Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the WTO protests in Seattle — one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Much as I’d prefer to squint across the airline aisle and watch a bad movie muted than to actually listen to the banter, I’m honestly a bit relieved that I didn’t have to watch or listen to yesterday’s media's recollection of the event. In the last few weeks, I’ve caught a bit of it on my local Seattle NPR station — as frustrating as I found the reporting two decades ago, when the violence was ascribed to the window-breaking “Eugene anarchists” and not to the real culprits: the Seattle PD.

Earlier this year, April Glaser wrote about the organization IndyMedia — “Another Network is Possible” — and the role it played in helping spread the messages of the anti-globalization movements in the early 2000s. More recently, some of the organizers of the WTO shutdown created a website about November 30, 1999 — about the planning, the aftermath.

And the planning was truly brilliant — members of the Direct Action Network and others were able to seize and shut down key intersections and alleyways, effectively cutting off access to and from the site of the WTO meeting at the Seattle Convention Center. I was reminded of the power of this sort of tactical organizing when I landed in Berlin on Tuesday night and the center of the city had been ensnarled in traffic by the thousands of farmers who had descended on the German capital — some 5000 giant tractors blocked the streets — protesting new agricultural policies.

I don’t know how the farmers organized — online or offline, apps or word-of-mouth. I couldn’t help but think of what’s changed in the last 20 years since the anti-WTO protests — how the Internet has made some activism easier and some activism much harder, how the Internet has made some counter-narratives easier to tell and made some bullshit narratives easier to tell.

That was sort of the inspiration behind the talk I gave at OEB: the ease with which bullshit narratives are told and retold in education technology circles. “Ed-Tech Agitprop.”

The talk was received far better than I’d expected — something I allude to in the opening sentences. But one thing that the flurry of responses made me wish for: that we had slightly different practices and infrastructure around social media tagging. I mean, I am thrilled that people read my work and share my work. And I do want my work to be cited. But that’s not quite the same as being @-mentioned in hundreds and hundreds of Twitter messages. There’s the adrenaline rush of giving a talk, and then there’s the exhaustion that follows. And then there are the days and days of Twitter chatter that sort of extend the latter.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the jet lag.

This week’s pigeon is a Jacobin pigeon. (Image credits) Because why not.

Yours in struggle,