Carl Guderian on Mon, 14 Dec 1998 10:00:08 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Late thoughts on net-based direct action

This position was arrived at (with Pieter and Robin Banks) over 4 beers
and one Pernod, so please bear with me. 

Despite the generally cold reception Electronic Disturbance Theatre got on
nettime, I think the question of internet-based direct action is still

Granted, activists who worked a long time for the Zapatistas and Mumia
Abu-Jamal asked EDT/Stefan Wray to stop actions against online sites of
the governments of Mexico and Pennsylvania, respectively. 

But the appropriateness of denial-of-service attacks (which FloodNet
appears to be) and of replacing official websites with hacked versions has
not been addressed in general, I think. 

A recent article on IDA by Evelien Lubbers, I think, mentions EDT as well
as Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc). The latter may or may not have had
something to with the hacking of a Chinese government website and
reconfiguration of some of the firewalls the People's Republic of China
usse to block websites it finds objectionable. 

It's a tricky question. The activists working for the Zapatistas and
Abu-Jamal have a very good point in asking EDT to butt out, reasoning that
constructive dialogue (or more lawsuits) still may sway the authorities.
Also, the lives of one or more readily identifiable persons hangs in the
balance. The PRC, on the other hand, appears unlikely to be swayed by any
arguments or political pressure. And hacking their sites may be the only
way to get a reaction (and question the utility of firewalls Sun
Microsystems designs for oppressive governments (see
for the hacked Chinese page)). And no Chinese dissident stands to suffer
for the cracked website. 

Like it or not, direct action has been a part of many movements. In the
best outcomes, it has functioned as bad cop to the good cop of lawsuits,
sit-ins and moral suasion. Good cop-bad cop tactics can sometimes wear
down the established order just as they do a suspect in an interrogation
room. A great example is the NOlympics campaign here in Amsterdam in
1988?. There were plenty of good reasons not to have the city host the
games: disruption of living patterns, benefits accruing mainly to
Amsterdam developers and speculators, displacement of city residents and
farmers. The city fathers clearly didn't care about these issues. But
harassment of the Olympic Committee by demonstrators may have been what
killed A'dam's chances to host the games. 

The U.S. Civil rights movement included Malcolm X as well as Dr. Martin
Luther King. Sure, Dr. King had the moral high ground. But being right
isn't everytiong. Malcolm X and later the Black Panthers inspired many
blacks not to take the daily humiliations of American apartheid lying
down. They made the white establishment see how serious some blacks were
and how reasonable (on second glance) King's demands were after all,
compared to those nightmarish armed blacks. Between them (and with the
help of thousands working earnestly behind the scenes), blacks got the
legal right to live and vote without fear of harassment. 

On the other hand, the Unabomber's campaign of terror probably didn't win
many converts, and nor did the various Red Army Factions. Hey, sometimes
it works and sometimes it doesn't. 

But against an enemy that uses all the weapons at its disposal, eschewing
direct action is like fighting with one hand behind one's back. If you
decide against direct action tactics, you'd better be absolutely sure they
won't help. And who is? EDT may be a posse of cowboys, but sometimes you
have to round up the posse when the townspeople can't roust the bad gunmen
(to use a cliche'ed American metaphor). 

Was EDT's call to electronically inconvenience the governments of Mexico
and Pennsylvania appropriate? What if they caused trouble for the Chinese
government? Would they have drawn applause? After all, they were willing
to dirty their hands. They may be today's goats, but they could be
tomorrow's hereoes. 

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