2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source

New campaigning models that are de-centred mean 2011 promises to be a year of immense excitement for grassroots politics in our country, writes Aaron Peters.

The last several months have witnessed some of the most exciting developments in British grassroots politics for a generation. While in the immediate aftermath of the May general election it appeared, all be it briefly, that a coalition government of the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties might be able to articulate a coherently centrist ‘Liberal Communitarian’ agenda that might potentially win broad public support for the medium term, the last few months indicate otherwise.

Discontent has mobilised across several groups, including schoolkids, university students, trade unions and, most importantly, passionately concerned members of the British general public from a diversity of backgrounds. The first organised and innovative manifestations of this discontent have been facilitated by networks not organisations.

It has been the student movement, multi-headed in nature (including the occupations movement, the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts, the London Student Assembly and the Education Activist Network) that has mobilised and won political arguments against reforms to higher education and the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance – not the NUS.

Likewise it is the UKuncut movement and other networked platforms such as False Economy that are making the arguments in both the old and new media and engaging with actions on the ground whom are making the early running against the cuts more generally and corporate tax evasion in particular rather than the unions, although the latter are beginning to now mobilise and will be a massive and vital voice in the months and years ahead.

It is these networks, such as the student occupation movement and UKuncut that utilise zero-cost social media tools and networks to organise and communicate, that are one of the big political stories of 2010. Along with Wikileaks and Anonymous it is these actors that give credibility to the argument that in 2010 we finally saw the internet and the immense possibilities it brings in terms of undermining all the certainties of the ‘Old Politics’.

The vast tranche of Wikileaks documents gives credence to the belief of many cyber-activists since Richard Stallman that with these tools and systems, ‘information wants to be free’, and that in the words of John Gilmore, ‘the net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it’. Just as state censorship in the age of the internet is massively undermined so to the possibilities for social movements engaging in contention at the grassroots level are exponentially increased.

One important aspect of this new politics is what one might refer to as its ‘open source’ nature, just as the Linux operating system and Wikipedia can be built upon by anyone with the capabilities, skills and requisite passion to do so, these movements are constituted in a similar fashion crowdsourcing the skillsets and social networks of anybody who wishes to participate.

Hitherto NGOs and social movement ‘organisations’ have been exactly that, organisations, with centralised bureaucracies and internal hierarchies – a coterie of activists who ‘produce’ activism and a mass membership who consume it. This paradigm can be extended from the trade unions, to the NUS, and might be seen as an equivalent to the ‘closed source’ approach of Microsoft and the Encyclopedia Britannica where only a small cadre of professionals contribute to the code or add to the content of the encyclopedia.

In the new ’crowdsourced’ paradigm the distinction between producers and consumers of dissent is dissolved – there is no organising or membership structure in place, with instead all individuals being potential ‘participants’ within a movement.

Anyone can contribute, hence we have the rise of what has been termed dissent entrepreneurs with such individuals similtaneously performing the old roles of both producers and consumers of dissent – indeed they are much like those who participate in citizen journalism or use content on Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo or Twitter being what Alvin Toffler called ‘Prosumers’ – at once producing dissent, mobilising and faciliating it – while also participating in actions facilitated by others.

An example of this new paradigm might be a student involved in a university occupation, who would participate in a demo organised by the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts, who would later blog and share via Facebook and Twitter content they have watched on the False Economy website as well as their own photos of the demo in which they have participated, before the next day facilitating and organising a flashmob within the UKuncut network.

It is this prosumption of dissent and ‘entrepreneurialism’ that is vital going forward. While the trade unions will prove massively important organisations, individual trade unionists must also see themselves as capable of participating within this multiplicity of networks in combatting the cuts. This movement needs the unions, but it also needs unionists at the individual, grassroots level engaging with networks like False Economy and being dissent entrepreneurs, perhaps even more so.

This new model that is de-centered and networked and possesses the ability to spread virally may well be the big story of 2011 – a year of immense excitement for grassroots politics in our country.

It may well be the genesis of a period where political contention and dissent in general and the anti-cuts movement in particular will broaden to the point where absolutely everyone from kids to students, to parents and trade unionists, will be able to contribute, when opposition to this government, the cuts and systemic tax evasion is no longer confined to Westminster, political parties, the media and political classes, trade union leaders, lobby groups or NGOS but is available to everyone.

A year where the production of this dissent goes truly open source.

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117 Responses to “2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source”

  1. anyleftiwonder

    Macc – The common ground should be Labour – and it isn’t. All those months to elect a leader and he has more harsh words for the unions than the governments cuts.

  2. Ian Wardle

    RT @TeresasMisc RT @CarlRaincoat: Discontent has mobilised..without bureaucracy Excellent piece on activism http://bit.ly/eos4cn #solidarity

  3. Tony Bovaird

    Cyber-possibilities for social movements to engage & contend at grassroots level raised exponentially- http://bit.ly/eos4cn Via @IanWardle

  4. Karis

    RT @aaronjohnpeters: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/1GF1l5t

  5. Trakgalvis

    2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source: http://bit.ly/frgaft by @AaronJohnPeters via @leftfootfwd

  6. GuyAitchison

    "2011: The year political activism goes open source" – great stuff by @aaronjohnpeters http://bit.ly/eos4cn #solidarity

  7. Helen Lambert

    RT @GuyAitchison: "2011: The year political activism goes open source" – great stuff by @aaronjohnpeters http://bit.ly/eos4cn #solidarity

  8. Homo Economicomical

    RT @aaronjohnpeters: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/1GF1l5t

  9. SlashedUK

    2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source: http://bit.ly/frgaft by @AaronJohnPeters via @leftfootfwd

  10. Vegan Panda

    RT @trakgalvis: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source: http://bit.ly/frgaft by @AaronJohnPeters vi …

  11. Richard

    Macc, there are possibilities,such as Coalition of Resistance which brings together all the networked prosumers. Next meetinf early in the New Year.

  12. william

    OMG. The Labour party lost the election, by a landslide.The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Lliam Byrne, said the money had run out.Any chance of winning an election , in future, means having a credible economic policy.

  13. Jim Richardson

    2011: Political activism goes open source http://j.mp/exivZI #demo2010 #ukuncut #P2P /via @aaronjohnpeters cc @mbauwens

  14. dan mcquillan

    "dissent entrepreneurs" oh yes RT @jimrhiz: 2011: Political activism goes open source http://j.mp/exivZI #demo2010 #ukuncut #

  15. Peter J Barnes

    RT @jimrhiz: 2011: Political activism goes open source http://j.mp/exivZI #demo2010 #ukuncut #P2P /via @aaronjohnpeters cc @mbauwens

  16. Laurie Penny

    RT @aaronjohnpeters: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/1GF1l5t

  17. andywartrol

    RT @jimrhiz: 2011: Political activism goes open source http://j.mp/exivZI #demo2010 #ukuncut #P2P /via @aaronjohnpeters cc @mbauwens

  18. Mike Press

    RT @aaronjohnpeters: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source http://t.co/1GF1l5t via @pennyred

  19. Anna Machell

    RT @aaronjohnpeters: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/1GF1l5t

  20. Edward Dingwall

    RT @leftfootfwd: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source http://bit.ly/fuHVQ8

  21. Mr. Sensible

    william, the Tories didn’t exactly win it, did they.

    It is only because of the Lib Dems propping them up that we are where we are today.

  22. Marta Owczarek

    RT @GuyAitchison: "2011: The year political activism goes open source" – great stuff by @aaronjohnpeters http://bit.ly/eos4cn #solidarity

  23. Charles Bivona

    RT @aaronjohnpeters: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/1GF1l5t

  24. Alan Hook

    RT @aaronjohnpeters: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/1GF1l5t

  25. Heathcote Ruthven

    RT @aaronjohnpeters: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/1GF1l5t

  26. Anon E Mouse

    The left wing delusion marches ever onwards it seems. All that will happen is that Labour will get the blame. The Tories popularity will increase and Labour will remain in opposition. Nothing will change.

    Leave aside the incompetent Labour leader, the useless Ed Miliband, the fact is all this type of drivel does is get the public against the protesters. And rightly so. You have these idiots against the LEGAL tax avoidance of Topshop, just like Ed Miliband did with his inheritance tax so hypocrisy is rife (again). Why aren’t they protesting at The Guardian? Hypocrites.

    Then we have Charlie Gilmour, the son of a man worth £90million and they expect minimum wage workers to pay for his education?

    This whole movement seems to consist of a bunch of middle class prats who need to do a real days work instead of telling other people how to live their lives.

    And by the way that tax is legally avoided so any claims as to what the treasury may be “losing” is bulls*^t and to state otherwise is deceitful. Just grow up and get a life I say…

  27. Seth Mowshowitz

    RT @aaronjohnpeters: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/1GF1l5t

  28. Democratic Society

    Noted: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source http://bit.ly/h7Kk5y

  29. Chris Johnston

    Some very interesting predictions on the future of activism – http://ow.ly/3sfM3 – via @andyjameshicks. Open-source, networked & horizontal?

  30. Jacob Richardson

    RT @aaronjohnpeters: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/1GF1l5t

  31. phil

    RT @aaronjohnpeters: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source | Left Foot Forward http://t.co/1GF1l5t

  32. Noel Douglas

    Aaron, how is all this different from the Anti-Capitalist movement of the late 90s/early 00’s? I mean we may have not had twitter and FB but we could publish and participate with things like Indymedia and other websites. And these tools are not ‘zero cost’ you need expensive computers/phones/network contracts/broadband connections to run them. I’m not disagreeing completely with you’re argument, it’s just I’ve heard it all before I’m afraid, and as we don’t own or control the net, I’d be loath to say that our movements should be utterly dependent on them.

  33. paulbirch99

    RT @danmcquillan: "dissent entrepreneurs" oh yes RT @jimrhiz: 2011: Political activism goes open source http://j.mp/exivZI #demo2010 #uk …

  34. Tony Bovaird

    Cyberspace exponentially raises potential of social movements to engage & contend at grassroots level – http://bit.ly/eos4cn Via @IanWardle

  35. Hitchin England

    RT @leftfootfwd: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source: http://bit.ly/frgaft by @AaronJohnPeters

  36. Trakgalvis

    RT @leftfootfwd: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source: http://bit.ly/frgaft by @AaronJohnPeters

  37. Pyrmontvillage

    RT @leftfootfwd: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source: http://bit.ly/frgaft by @AaronJohnPeters

  38. Paule Wendelberger

    RT @leftfootfwd: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source: http://bit.ly/frgaft by @AaronJohnPeters

  39. SlashedUK

    RT @leftfootfwd: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source: http://bit.ly/frgaft by @AaronJohnPeters

  40. DrKMJ

    RT @leftfootfwd: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source: http://bit.ly/frgaft by @AaronJohnPeters

  41. 田中次郎

    RT @leftfootfwd: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source: http://bit.ly/frgaft by @AaronJohnPeters

  42. Bristol Civic Soc

    RT @leftfootfwd: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source http://bit.ly/fuHVQ8

  43. Corktree

    RT @BristolCivicSoc: RT @leftfootfwd: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source http://bit.ly/fuHVQ8

  44. Dave Mellows

    2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source | Left Foot Forward: http://bit.ly/feEuXV via @addthis

  45. Aaron Peters

    http://bit.ly/dEp4an link to yesterday's piece for @leftfootfwd

  46. Maeve McKeown

    @aaronjohnpeters blog on political dissent going 'open source' http://bit.ly/dEp4an Does this make me a 'dissent entrepreneur'?!

  47. Chris

    @mouse

    “Just grow up and get a life I say…”

    What a good idea, mouse, why don’t you?

  48. Anon E Mouse

    Chris – So you do think LEGAL tax avoidance is wrong then?

    Finally. You now have to agree that the LEGAL tax avoiding Ed Miliband* is a hypocrite…

    Well done Chris. See, being truthful isn’t that hard now is it?

    *And a useless election losing incompetent buffoon who dithers more than Gordon Brown…

  49. donald james pearl

    RT @leftfootfwd: 2011: The year political activism and progressive politics goes open source http://bit.ly/fuHVQ8

  50. Michal Jaworski

    Great job of framing dissent in categories of consumption.

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