why do street protests?

As government officials grow depressingly less accountable to the public they’re supposed to represent, we have to resort to  other means to get them to pay attention and set them straight. Going out on the street en masse to air grievances is obviously one of the oldest tactics in the book. Sometimes, it works. It works when it grabs press attention, when it catalyzes others to take action, or when it’s really big and it causes officials to shake in their boots and actually change their course.

But most of the time, it doesn’t do any of those things…and if so, is it just a waste of time?

I thought about this a lot when I was in Washington D.C. for protest actions against the TPP this week and as I went to my third march yesterday in Oakland to perform with my protest dance flashmob group. I spent a pretty significant amount of time and energy preparing for the D.C. actions in the weeks leading to it, getting other organizations to endorse them and invite their members to come out and join us. My goal was to have as many people on the streets at the main action on Monday afternoon as possible.

And we did get a good number people out there (I first said on Twitter that I thought it was at least 1,000 people but given my knack for being horrible at guesstimating large numbers or sizes of things it was probably pretty off). I think it’s safe to say that we had 300~400 people when it was at its largest when we marched through downtown D.C.—apparently, that’s not too shabby for a protest action on the Hill. We had Flush the TPP lanterns shaped like rolls of toilet paper, some big light projections on nearby buildings, and actual rolls of toilet paper with facts about the TPP printed on them that we used to TP trees and statues along the route.

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On the following morning, we had another action to march to each of the 12 embassies of the countries involved in the agreement. It was way smaller (about 60 people) but we definitely made up for it in theatrics and props. We had a big Mr. Monopoly puppeteering the flags of the TPP countries and a massive blow-up globe that four people had to carry on their shoulders.

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Popular Resistance did an incredible job at organizing everything that happened last week. Not only did they plan out a dozen or so separate activities, they coordinated with people who came from all over the country, figured out how to house and feed 30+ people in a church which was our planning HQ, and most impressively of all, kept up their energy and had a positive attitude the entire time. The folks at Popular Resistance were the most impressive organizers I’d ever worked with.

Really though, I think it came down to that: the people you meet at these events. Obviously the goal of doing this kind of thing is to enact some real change but it’s really hard to quantify and measure that kind of impact. But if during the process, you meet and connect with people who share a common goal of resisting oppressive, backward government policies, I’d still say that’s a success.

It’s empowering to get together with a group of total strangers who come from entirely different backgrounds from you and recognize that you’ve got each other on your team. Protests and rallies are just as much about taking up space and creating a spectacle to call attention to an important issue as it is about celebrating your community.

I can say that I definitely needed the inspiration and hope that we still have a chance (see previous bleak blog post for reference). It was an intense few days with the several dozen people who stayed at the church HQ and were involved in all the action.

There was the kindergarten teacher-turned-activist in her 60’s who got teary-eyed with me as we both ranted about how hard it was to make more people care about the TPP. She said she starting doing activism when she realized she couldn’t bear the thought of her kids’ futures in the world the way it was.

There were the 20-something-year old brothers from Michigan who run an organic farming business on their property. They were there because they’re against GMO’s (which we disagreed about) and think Monsanto is an evil company that should not be empowered any more than they are already are (which we agreed about).

Then there was the guy who flew all the way from Washington, from the northern most county in the state. He’s an organizer who managed to turn his entire district Democrat with his grassroots work to rally thousands of people to turn out for local elections.

These and the other people I met this week are, in their various communities, doing whatever they can to be an active participant in re-shaping the future for the better. I hope they went back feeling as pumped and re-energized as I did. We got a pretty good team going, but to win in the long term, we’re going to have to keep building this community bigger, stronger, and with more love and common respect.

Having said that, I think I’m good on going to any more street actions in the near future… 😛

the shadowy incessant dread

i’ve been staring the TPP in the face for so long, the details of its horrifying features fade away sometimes. numbed to the shock and anger, the thought of it morphs into a shadowy incessant dread. it’s hard to make it go away, even when i’m supposed to be relaxing.

the negotiations ended two weeks ago, then the Intellectual Property chapter leaked a few days after that. that bit is pretty much as bad as we’ve always thought it’d be. we haven’t even seen the other 29 chapters.

but the specifics don’t matter if the whole thing’s rotten.

At the National Lawyers’ Guild Convention where i spoke this morning, someone from the audience got up to say that with social and economic justice work, we’ve all been painting and fixing the roofing on the house when its entire foundation is caving in beneath our feet—that, the entire edifice of democracy based on common public interest (at least the hope of a universal, inclusive kind that many are trying to build) is crashing right before our eyes.

the TPP, and other trade deals TTIP and TISA, is representative of a longer trend of policymaking that’s based on myopic priorities of “economic growth” at the expense of ALL other considerations—be it human rights, economic/gender/racial equality, etc. it seems like we’re nailing ourselves into the coffin of neo-liberal, corporate-sovereignty-enhancing international regulations.

on the whole i’m optimistic that we’ve got a chance to kill this thing, and make room for a larger dialogue about how we ought to be making good, solid policymaking that’s not driven by an elite of private wealthy interests.

but sometimes, here and there, i let the immensity of it get to me and i just want to roll up in a ball and cry at the indifference, the greed, and the powerful toxic insecurity that drives it all. the insecurity of corporate execs who fear the diminishing growth of their companies and will do anything to curb it. the insecurity of U.S. officials about whatever threat BRICS countries poses to its current hegemony (and similarly for countries that take advantage of the United States’ current geopolitical standing ::cough:: japan ::cough:: australia ::cough::).

years of sending trade delegates back and forth across the world meeting at expensive luxury hotels to make a giant deal based on a screwed up agenda, with the guaranteed sugarcoating by officials who’ll do anything to make it all seem palatable to the common person…it’s so goddamn frustrating that we’re wasting so many resources doing this when we actually have real problems to solve.

i just want to take Obama by the shoulders and shake him and yell “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS.” he, more than anyone else in this world, is in a position to pop this bubble of madness. he used to be critical of all this… at least he claimed to….

anyway. i’m exhausted. i feel somewhat better having dragged this rant out of me. tomorrow i have to wake up and think optimistically about all this or else i’ll never want to get out of bed.

 

centering & creating opportunity out of crisis

First, it was at an event put on by the Asia Foundation where I was speaking. I met a leading feminist and human rights organizer from Mongolia who put on the first production of the Vagina Monologues there (and to much controversy).

Later that week, I spent three days with two fellow digital rights nerds in the Sierras. We cooked, explored, chatted, and made sense of our community with each other. Both of them incredibly hard-working, passionate, hilarious, and thoughtful people.

With them, I visited and slept in an old schoolhouse of a ghost town recently purchased by a woman my age, who was one of the most gorgeous, elegant people I’ve met. She’s re-building this long deserted town into a sustainable community centered on organic farming. So far it’s inhabited by a dozen or so happy humans, dogs, goats, pigs, and chickens.

I had lunch with one of my colleagues who I consider an influential mentor. She almost single-handedly built an international project to create legal principles that would guide surveillance policies so that they could fall in line with international human rights. It has been too long since we hung out and talked about life.

All of this came after spending the last few weeks reading the entirety of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything. The book blew my mind in its comprehensive explanation of why climate change is an urgent crisis that must be addressed immediately, but in the same vein, an opportunity to re-think many aspects of governance, the economy, and the ideologies that underpin both social structures. She manages to make someone, like me, who has peripherally cared about this issue into an evangelist for direct action against carbon-based fuels and demand subsidies for renewable energy programs.

These past few weeks, I’ve encountered these and other inspiring women who are putting their all into fixing this broken mess of a world in varied but individually stunning ways. Despite how fucked things seem lately, thinking about them and their work help me shake off the despair and get to work. Just as Naomi would say, we can take a crisis and turn it into an opportunity. Whether or not they’d admit themselves, these individuals are doing this through their day-to-day work and are committed to making things more just and sustainable.

I’m preparing myself for a busy few months as TPP negotiators may announce tomorrow morning that they’ve concluded this sprawling trade deal once and for all. If they do, I’ll be laser-focused on killing this agreement dead because it goes against everything I believe in. I hope to soon do more work that involves building towards positive, equitable institutions, rather than having to fight this bullshit neo-liberal/private-interest-captured policies. But in this crisis, I’ll be looking for new opportunities. In this work, I’ll try and emphasize ways of organizing that will make people feel more connected and responsible to their society and global community. Who knows what the hell that looks like but I’m gonna do my darnedest and I’ll take a cue or two from these bad ass women who’ve come into my orbit.

a peek at monsanto's evils.

I don’t have a problem with GMOs, but I do have a problem with Monsanto.

First I heard about the multinational agricultural biotech firm was in high school, when my dad told me about how they’d sue farmers for having crops that contain traces of their patented plant genes—including threatening their neighbors, for simply having their farm nearby a farmer who used Monsanto seeds, the genetic traits of which could get transmitted through pollen that floated or carried over to them by bees. I just did a quick search to find out about their other evil doings, and found these:

  • They’ve continued to sue farmers for having “improperly reused their patented seeds.” Yes, they have invested millions into their R&D for their products, but it’s perverse for them to go after farmers for reusing seeds when that’s what farmers have done for literally thousands of years. Farmers are under ever-increasing pressure to yield more and more crops (esp. corn and soy beans), and making these farmers dependent on Monsanto’s products to remain competitive seems dangerous and unsustainable..

Sooo on Saturday, I ended up going to the March Against Monsanto in San Francisco. Food safety and anti-pesticide activism isn’t one of my fights, but I deeply respect those who’ve taken up the cause. It also happened that one of the dances that my political-dance-flash-mob does, Toxic, fit perfectly with the demo’s message. On some level, I felt bad that I suddenly showed up to perform (which as I said in an earlier post, feels more like activism-cheerleading than anything else) and join their protest. But I think it’s actually okay to be peripherally involved in a cause like this, especially if you’re already focused on a different one.

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There’s only so much anger one can muster in a week. My day job is to wrangle with a massive trade agreement that could obligate its signatory countries to various bad awful digital regulations, and really threatens to upend public interest policies from across the board. It’s already been a struggle for me to try and stay positive and focused on the things that we can do to stop the TPP, so I have to be okay with letting others lead and fight in those trenches to do what they can on issues I also care about.

Anyways, I’ll just end this post with this awesome video on Youtube, “Lobbyist Claims Monsanto’s Roundup Is Safe To Drink, Freaks Out When Offered A Glass.

And a photo of me in a gas mask, which was really fun dancing to Britney Spears with. 🙂

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celebrating the Everett Program

As an undergrad at UC Santa Cruz, I spent all four years with a student organization and academic program called the Global Information Internship Program (GIIP), now called the Everett Program. It teaches undergrads how to become “social justice entrepreneurs”, by training them in practical tech skills, as well as in professional advocacy, such as doing needs analyses, project management, grant writing, and other tools to execute an internship with a non-profit.

About 17 years after it began, it’s now a Major and Minor study under the UCSC Sociology department and it get a yearly contribution of 0.33% of the student body’s combined tuition (a couple $10,000’s per year) following a student initiative that was a passed by vote. It then received an endowment that supports the staffing and management of the program, establishing a new chair for the program—the Dorothy E. Everett Chair, named after a woman who spent years dedicated to the cause of free, universal higher education in the state of California.

So this past weekend we celebrated the retirement of the incredible sociology professor, and my mentor, Paul Lubeck, who built this program, and the launch of the new Chair of the Everett Program, Chris Benner. It was really exciting to see how much the program has grown and to think about new ways it will continue to expand.

The Everett Program is what converted me from an unfocused student with broad, but deep discontent about the world, into a practical, effective advocate and activist. It changed my life most profoundly because it was a program that was run *by* undergraduate students *for* undergraduate students. It taught us how to take ourselves as activists seriously in a way that most of us never knew how.

So now, as a big side project to my work at EFF, I’ve founded an alumni foundation to connect all the incredible people who’ve gone through this program together. Between the more than 100 of us, we have resources, experiences, and networks that can be harnessed and shared to make us all more involved in pragmatic change-making.

 

ISDS: the crown jewel for global plutocracy

Wikileaks has publicly exposed another chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and in effect, has delivered a massive blow against this secret, multinational trade deal. This time it was the text on Investment, which has, among many other things, language on what’s called “investor-state dispute settlement,” or ISDS for short. This investor-state process essentially enables corporations to file lawsuits against governments—federal or state/provincial—over policies that the company claims harms their investments or “expected future profits.”

There have been ISDS cases involving oil companies suing small countries, like Ecuador, which tried to enact rules to protect the forests and rivers. There have been cases where an energy company sued a country for deciding to shut down its nuclear power plants. And there have been cases where a court found that an over-broad medicine patent was invalid, leading the pharmaceutical company to challenge the ruling in an ISDS process.

I’ve briefly ranted about ISDS before. Now that we’ve seen the text, we can confirm it’s utterly as evil as we expected it to be. This is about corporations having sovereignty, and having the power to challenge government rules, even if the law was passed democratically and is seen as totally legitimate in the eyes of the people. Given all the other provisions in trade agreements, such as those on “Intellectual Property”, ISDS enables corporations to challenge the way government interprets those provisions as long as the corporation can claim that the law stifled their profit-making abilities.

Think about that.

These rules mean that private industries can unravel public-interest policies, through the singular, self-interested justification that their ability to make money has been made more difficult…Since when do companies have an unalienable right to profit, at the expense of everyone else’s concerns?

More importantly, why the hell are public officials selling us out to mega-corporations? Are they just getting lobbied so hard, and have become so intimate with myopic corporate representatives as to believe that this is remotely compatible with an actual functioning democracy?

 

I'm proud of this one.

I wrote a piece for my job this week about how the White House has started to intensify its propaganda campaign about Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and I think it’s in the top 10 best blog posts I’ve written at EFF. It even got republished in TechDirt, which is a first for me!

Thought about writing somethin’ else for my weekly personal blog post, including some reflections I had about an interview I did with a libertarian trade policy analyst about trade policy, or how much I enjoy the annual Chinese New Year Treasure Hunt that I just did for the third time over the weekend. But I’m just going to re-post the piece I did for EFF cause I just don’t have much writing juice flowing through my brain and fingers atm. Here it is below!

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The White House Has Gone Full Doublespeak on Fast Track and the TPP

Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Orrin Hatch are now in a stand-off over a bill that would put secretive trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement on the Fast Track to passage through Congress. The White House meanwhile, has intensified their propaganda campaign, going so far as to mislead the public about how trade deals—like the TPP and its counterpart, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)—will effect the Internet and users’ rights. They are creating videos, writing several blog posts, and then this week, even sent out a letter from an “online small business owner” to everyone on the White House’s massive email list, to further misinform the public about Fast Track.

In a blog post published this week, the White House flat out uses doublespeak to tout the benefits of the TPP, even going so far as to claim that without these new trade agreements, “there would be no rules protecting American invention, artistic creativity, and research”. That is pure bogus, much like the other lies the White House has been recently saying about its trade policies. Let’s look at the four main myths they have been saying to sell lawmakers and the public on Fast Track for the TPP.

Myth #1: TPP Is Good for the Internet

First, there are the claims that this agreement will create “stronger protections of a free and open Internet”. As we know from previous leaks of the TPP’s Intellectual Property chapter, the complete opposite is true. Most of all, the TPP’s ISP liability provisions could create greater incentives for Internet and content providers to block and filter content, or even monitor their users in the name of copyright enforcement. What they believe are efforts toward protecting the future of the Internet are provisions they’re advocating for in this and other secret agreements on the “free flow of information”. In short, these are policies aimed at subverting data localization laws.

Such an obligation could be a good or a bad thing, depending on what kind of impact it could have on national censorship, or consumer protections for personal data. It’s a complicated issue without an easy solution—which is exactly why this should not be decided through secretive trade negotiations. These “free flow of information” rules have likely been lobbied for by major tech companies, which do not want laws to restrict them on how they deal with users’ data. It is dishonest to say that what these tech companies can do with people’s data is good for all users and the Internet at large.

Myth #2: Fast Track Would Strengthen Congressional Oversight

The second, oft-repeated claim is that Fast Track would strengthen congressional oversight—which is again not true. The U.S. Trade Representative has made this claim throughout the past couple months, including at a Senate Finance Committee hearing in January when he said:

TPA puts Congress in the driver’s seat to define our negotiating objectives and strengthens Congressional oversight by requiring consultations and transparency throughout the negotiating process.

Maybe we could believe this if the White House had fought for Fast Track before delegates began negotiating the TPP and TTIP. Maybe it could also have been true if that bill had ensured that Congress members had easy access to the text and kept a close leash on the White House throughout the process to ensure that the negotiating objectives they outlined were in fact being met in the deal. However, we know from the past several years of TPP negotiations, that Congress has largely been shut out of the process. Many members of Congress have spoken out about the White House’s strict rules that have made it exceedingly difficult to influence or even see the terms of these trade deals.

The only way Fast Track could really put “Congress in the driver’s seat” over trade policy would be if it fully addressed the lack of congressional oversight over the TPP and TTIP thus far. Lawmakers should be able to hold unlimited debate over the policies being proposed in these deals, and if it comes to it, to amend their provisions. It would be meaningless if the new Fast Track bill enabled more congressional oversight, but if it did not apply to agreements that are ongoing or almost completed.

Myth #3: Small Online Businesses Would Benefit from Fast Track

Then the third misleading claim is that Fast Track would help small businesses. Their repetition of this has become louder amid increasing public awareness that the TPP has primarily been driven by major corporations. What may be good for established multinational companies could also benefit certain small online businesses as well. The White House says that tariffs are hindering small online businesses from selling their products abroad, but research has shown that the kinds of traditional trade barriers, like tariffs, that past trade agreements were negotiated to address are already close to non-existent. Therefore it is unclear what other kind of benefits online businesses would see from the TPP.

Even if there were some benefits, there are many more ways that the TPP could harm small Internet-based companies. The TPP’s copyright provisions could lead to policies where ISPs would be forced to implement costly systems to oversee all users’ activities and process each takedown notice they receive. They could also discourage investment in new innovative start-ups, even those that plan to “play by the rules”, due to the risk that companies would have to sink significant resources into legal defenses against copyright holders, or face heavy deterrent penalties for infringement established by the TPP.

Myth #4: TPP and Other Secret Trade Deals Are a National Security Issue

The last, and most confounding of the White House’s assertions is that the TPP and TTIP are an “integral part” of the United States’ national security strategy, because its “global strategic interests are intimately linked with [its] broader economic interests.” As we have seen with the U.S. government’s expansive surveillance regime, “national security” is often invoked for policies even if they directly undermine our civil liberties. It is hard to argue with the administration whether the TPP and TTIP are in fact in the United States’ economic or strategic interests, since only they are allowed to see the entire contents of these agreements. Either way, it seems like a huge stretch to say that we can trust the White House and major corporate representatives to determine, in secret, what is in fact good digital policy for the country and the world. We may be hearing this line more and more in the coming weeks as the White House becomes more desperate to legitimize the need for Fast Track to pass the TPP and TTIP.

Conclusion

The fact that the White House has resorted to distorting the truth about its trade policies is enough to demonstrate how little the administration values honesty and transparency in policy making, and how much the public stands to lose from these agreements negotiated in secret. The more they try and espouse the potential gains from Fast Track—while the trade agreements this legislation would advance remain secret—the more reason we ought to be skeptical. If the TPP is so great and if Fast Track would in fact enable more democratic oversight, why are the contents of either of them still not public?

life is so much better when your throat isn't a festering mess

on Monday i felt good—stressed, but good. my day started early with a conference call, dense with meetings, and ended with me teaching choreography to some others in preparation for the big climate action that was planned for this weekend in Oakland. By the time i was in bed, i was exhausted by the full day while undeniably worried about the things I didn’t get to.

dammit i didn’t respond to that email yet and i didn’t get a chance to check in with **** about that task why can’t i get that blog post done yet that doc has been open for a week now would ***** think it’s rude if i didn’t respond to that DM i just don’t know what to say fuck i think my roommates and i need to sort that issue out but it’s impossible for us to meet in person i have to write a diplomatic email to everyone man i really don’t like my hair right now is getting a haircut for growing it out a thing i haven’t been eating healthy enough i need to make better lunches for myself that conference is coming up i have so much to do for it, for all of it ………….

on Tuesday i woke up feeling, again, like a creaky old lady. My body hurt, my head hurt, my throat hurt. But i had some stressful calls i had to do so i worked all day from bed in wrapped in my down comforter wearing two layers on all my body. my teeth still chattered. It got really bad by the evening—sweats, fever, no appetite, and god awful pain everywhere—it was even worse by the next morning. People close to me thought i was dying and told me to go see my doctor.

“Say ‘ahhh’.”
“Ahhhhhhh~”
She shined a light down my throat and says “Yikes. That’s strep alright.”

She then told me the lymph nodes in my neck were so swollen i might have to get them drained. wut. o_o “I’ll set up an appointment for you at a head and neck specialist tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I’m gonna get you going on antibiotics.” i told her this was the second time i got it in 6 months. “Have you been under some stress lately?”

thankfully the head+neck specialist didn’t need to drain anything nor remove my tonsils (yay) but also asked me about my stress. “y’know, that can have a huge impact on health—not sleeping well, not eating right—it can all add up and do a real number on your immune system.”

yes, fine. i’m stressed. i always have so much to do and so much on my mind. maybe it’s that i wake up every morning and listen to Democracy Now’s war and peace report, a thing i started to do as a way to motivate myself to fix the broken messed up world. i can’t give that up though—the constant hum of indignation that i feel in my bones is a part of who i am. it colors my actions and decision every day to do work that could make the world better, more just, or just make some more goddamn sense.

i don’t know. i think it’s a lot of things i need to reassess about my life, but i’m not gonna stress about my stress. i’m gonna try and stop worrying about things that are out of my control and that aren’t part of my current task at hand. to be more present throughout the day so that i’m still productive, but not wasting my brain-energy fuel on those dumb nagging feelings in a way that’s unhelpful and exhausting. that’s probably a good first step.

the power of protest theater

I finally made it out to a protest last night in Berkeley over state violence and police brutality, hearing about the march from my fellow dance-flashmobbers. I’m in a group called GUST (Get Up Street Theater), wherein we show up at protests and do one of two dances—one that’s about the environment, and the other that’s related to military industrial complex, state violence, and police brutality.

Our dances—especially in the case of our “Toxic” dance, done to Britney Spears’ top hit song from the early oughts of the same name—is a little bit cutesy. Sometimes it feels like being in a protest cheer leading group. But the point is that it makes onlookers watch, a bit engrossed in the sudden theatrics and the loud music. People put their guard down, which is something most random passerbys don’t do when they see a protest. It lets us get our message across and makes it memorable.

Up until yesterday, I felt that going to a rally, a protest, or a march and doing our dances would make other participants of the general action a little uplifted, inspired, or at the very least, amused. But one of the times we did it last night…it missed the mark. It detracted from the crowd’s collective rhythm of their chants: “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” It felt like it added to the impending chaos of that moment when we came upon the headquarters for the Berkeley Police Department. Only a few minutes after we finished the dance, the police began shooting tear gas and the crowd dispersed into a frenzy.

The timing and the use of it matters a ton. Last night, I felt bad that we were detracting from the leaders of the march. It really didn’t help that none of us in GUST are people of color…

[Vine of our dance at the protest]

Despite my misgivings about this particular protest last night, I still believe in the power of theater in direct actions.

Die in at University of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeSolidarity with Ferguson, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Die-In [Source]

Many of the more well-known aspects of these protests is the powerful use of theatrics. Hundreds of people holding their hands up, saying don’t shoot. A die-in in the middle of a busy square or street. Students dragging twin-sized dorm mattresses across campuses to represent the weight of the burden of living in a sexist, misogynist system that doesn’t do enough to take care of rape victims. These convey powerful images that get at the heart of these institutional transgressions. They empower people across state and national boundaries, and maybe just as importantly, they help these protests make the evening news in a way that can cut through the incessant mainstream media’s emphasis on the rioting and violence on the fringes of these larger actions.

What’s exciting about this isn’t just that protest theater has been so effective in these recent demonstrations, it’s also that there’s tons of more room for experimentation.

Citizenfour and the Power of Narratives

I saw Citizenfour this week, the new Laura Poitras documentary about Edward Snowden and the NSA revelations. It’s a momentous, chilling piece of film making that shines a glaring light on the disturbing folly that’s become of the US in the post-9/11 world. The hours of raw footage that Laura filmed throughout the week she and Glenn Greenwald first met Ed are intimate in a way that makes you, as a viewer, feel like you are part of the history that unfolds on the screen.

And that’s what struck me most about Citizenfour. The historical relevance of the Snowden revelations not only lies with the truth that he chose expose about the government, but also in the way he did it. It was the way he partnered with Glenn and Laura to curate the release of state secrets, and to do it in a way that they could maximize the impact of the truth and trustworthiness of his actions.

But as anyone who follows the work of Glenn and Laura knows, they aren’t ordinary journalists. They are part of a new crop that reject the ideal of objectivity in journalism—a farce, I believe, that only works to hide the inevitable subjectivity, the motives of the presenters and the producer of the news story. And they are overt about their motive: to shed light on the truth and to expose the dangers of unchecked state power in an effort to inspire change.

To Glenn and Laura, it may have first been surprising, but also strategic to help Ed show his face to the world. In the film, they make it seem as though their main motivation for doing this was for his safety. Making him known to the public makes it much more difficult for any powerful entity that felt threatened by him to snuff him out. He was a guy who did this for the sake of the greater good, not out of some egotistical need, some narcissistic urge. By presenting him as the heroic individual that he is, they were able to ensure that the public would stand by him and his action. What they don’t say is that his publicity would, and likely already has, inspire others to follow his lead as a government whistleblower.

The thing about fighting power is that the powerful do an excellent job of hiding their motivations from the public. In the cases where the policies themselves are carried out in secret, talking about the secrecy itself is enough to rile the public and undermine their faith in their government. Secrecy is a major way they’re able to get away with these policies, but it’s also their greatest weakness. When their actions, and especially their objectives, are revealed to the public, their legitimacy shrivels up along with the faith and trust people had in them.

For activists, our strongest ally is the truth. But sadly the truth alone isn’t sexy enough. The truth can be dry, non-compelling, or confusing. Governments, corporations, and other entities of concentrated power invest a huge amount of their energy in the optics of their actions. When it’s a matter of public opinion, they’re adept at hiding even their most heinous acts by using lofty justifications or simply relying on the fact that the mainstream media won’t report it. Too often it’s because these stories are just too tedious to unpack for the viewers. As John Oliver said to describe the net neutrality fight, whether on purpose or by function, those in power have figured that “If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.”

Which gets me back to Citizenfour and its potential to add a new wave of energy towards significantly reforming mass surveillance. What the global fight for digital privacy, and really any issue in social justice issue needs, is better storytelling. Stories are what inspire people. Stories are what frame big, complicated, boring issues in a way that humanizes them and makes them tangible for people. No matter how much something warrants newsworthiness because of its impact and relevance for people’s lives, it won’t resonate with them, and they won’t care about it unless they can see the narrative and place themselves within it.

We especially need stories at a time when things are seriously broken. Democracy is a joke. Corporations make and break the rules they want. And meanwhile the government is doing more and more to persecute and silence journalists and individuals who are fighting to fix the system. What Laura does with Citizenfour is tell Ed’s story, to show why a modest, every-day person would put their life on the line for the public-interest, and how they can, alone, put a giant wrench in a powerful, corrupt, and seemingly unstoppable system.