Mobile Text Messaging Evolves into a Political Tool

While I observed the sporadic protests in New York City during
the Republican National Convention, a pattern began to emerge.
Numerous people sporting anti-Bush t-shirts would be quickly
shuffling down the street, eyes glued to their mobile phones; then
they would stop, turn around, and begin hurrying in the opposite
direction. Following these people inevitably led to a hotbed of
activity, where an impromptu protest would be maximizing its
efficacy minutes before the police arrived en masse. Day and night,
the streets became a giant game of Pacman, with activists trying to
gobble up valuable street time before the ghosts of the NYPD
arrived in hot pursuit. Moreover, a more cautious breed of activist
used the technology for a similarly useful but opposite effect,
using the frequent updates to stay clear of ‘hot spots’ where they
might be arrested or beaten. Naturally, police dispatch also
subscribed to these alerts, making sure each act of civil
disobedience did not go unnoticed by the folks in blue. This is the
world of political text messaging, and it’s heralding a new wave of
technologically-savvy activism.

Galvanized by the successes of the RNC protests, activist
networks are holding an SMS summit to compare notes and share new
techniques for quickly mobilizing hordes of concerned folks.
Involving folks from the Ruckus Society, a direct action group
influential in the RNC protests, and the Institute for Applied
Autonomy, the group instrumental in coordinating the SMS ‘loop’ at
both the DNC and RNC, the ProTECHt Democracy SMS Summit will
feature participation by Radical Designs, Code Pink, True Majority,
and other activist groups interested in maximizing their mobility
and impact.

Organizers and participants have high hopes that the summit will
prepare them for the challenges of the upcoming election, a hotly
contested race where the effectiveness of activist groups may be
hugely influential. Specifically, techies have their sights set on
the elections themselves. John Sellers, director of the Ruckus
Society, claims that Democrats didn’t make enough noise during the
disputed election counts of 2000 and wants to make sure that such
inactivity doesn’t happen again. ‘What would have happened in
Florida if there were 100,000 people in the streets the next day?’
asks David Taylor, a Ruckus developer. Given the startling power
SMS messaging has had in coordinating effective protests in
countries such as Spain and the Philippines and raising the ire of
censors in countries like China, Ruckus organizers have the right
idea. As technology helps coordinate and catalyze activists during
the national drama of presidential elections, the phrase ‘nerd
power’ will take on a whole new meaning.
Brendan Themes

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ProTECHt Democracy Summit

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