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Mass Inaction

Xiamen Protest One

Activism for Dummies has, on page one, the saying “One Dollar, One Vote”. It’s the simplest way to make a statement without actually having to stand up and make it, less demanding of your time then writing letters to the intern who volunteers for your congress-person and more hygienic than slopping gruel in tin cans at your local soup kitchen. Everyone buys shit so there’s only the slightest impact on your day to day lifestyle– feel the warm rosy glow?

Some chapters in you’ll see inspiring pictures of groups of people wielding signs and marching. Pretty popular in these parts but probably less of an every day event where the thermometer carries more weight in daily planning. Mass inaction has been credited with drawing (un)popular attention to issues that some find important as well as, in some rare cases, prevented unsavory meetings between powerful men and women from proceeding, trains from carrying nuclear waste, scabs from crossing the picket line. In recent years the advances in communications technology have enabled these group whine-fests to more effectively occupy the police and cause general disruption. Cell phones allow people to orchestrate without immediate contact. After the US invasion of Iraq (Part Deux) downtown SF was “pure anarchy” according to the police and business was hardly carried on as usual. Those of us who were home or at work could follow along with events by watching the constant updates provided by Indymedia or various pirate radio stations.

Obviously we have quite a homegrown history of these sorts of actions and we’re a pretty cutting edge town when it comes to having the coolest, latest gadgets science & business can concoct but the rest of the world seems to be catching up. Recently in the coastal Chinese city of Xiamen a Taiwanese company began construction on a chemical plant which, according to the Xianglu Group responsible for the factory, would produce massive amounts of P-Xylene and would be doing so about a mile from the city limits. Citizens were understandably concerned and requests were made through government representatives to relocate the site. Despite these efforts the local environmental bureau announced that the plant passed its evaluation, saying the plant would discharge half the national standard of various toxic waste. Of course, the national standard is lowering average lifetimes throughout China but context is context.

So the people of Xiamen took to the streets as per usual, waving banners and shuffling along the accepted route into the wall of bored police. But the numbers grew, and continued to grow. Pressure began to mount on local government officials– the usual motley collection of hippies and pensioners suddenly was a swell of popular reaction against the plant. As a result the local bureaucrats rubbed heads and decided to stop development until a second (possibly even a more stringent) environmental evaluation could be performed.

Xiamen Protest Two

The Chinese government was a little confused about the unexpected numbers who turned out for the marches or phoned whoever you phone to yell at when these things happen. They poked their noses into peoples shit and discovered, much to their dismay, what a role text messages and internet postings played in spreading awareness about the issue and organizing the display of dissent.

In China there’s a security device called The Great Firewall of China which filters web content and blocks certain information from being viewable to anyone using a Chinese server. A popular example is the subtle difference between an internet search of Tiananmen Square. This censorship has attracted a lot of attention in the past but slowly American companies have begun to play ball– most notably Google over a year ago. There are teams of government employees trolling through the web at any time, following up on what people are viewing, to add to the blocked list. Suddenly a loophole was discovered– anonymity.

So Xiamen officials are now hell-bent on requiring names. Websites running in the city (over 100,000 is a number being tossed around) and any postings on those sites will require people sign in to an official account. Big deal? You had to give your social security number to use this site, your credit card number for that? Yahoo doesn’t collect people for praying and beat them to death in prison. The very threat of being identified will be more than enough to kill any voices of dissent except the most righteous and sacrificial…

Yet another blow to human rights but unlike places like Sudan or Burma there’s no concerted effort to exert pressure geopolitically– China’s an economic powerhouse on the rise and no one’s likely to get in their bad graces over some disappeared citizens. Too many of them anyways, right? But tho placed like Rainbow Grocery refuse to stock Israeli goods because of their occupation of Palestine I challenge you to find a store that doesn’t carry a million trinkets from China. I was tempted to say my modem, the device allowing me to say things which would be automatically blocked from view in China, was made there but it’s Malaysian. Not sure I have anything in my room that was made in China except my shoes and I didn’t buy those…

Anyways the whole no Chinese goods movement died long ago for the simple reason that it became impossible to find shit that didn’t come from there. They’ve got the consumer over the cheap plastic barrel and there’s no changing that. You could say it was born dead because, really, what does denying them and their import contract a buck fifty do and I couldn’t help but agree and start drinking from the bottle. What can your measly contribution do?

Cult of the Dead Cow Attacks

Some years back when I worked for an evil corporate law-firm protecting American businesses who operated sweat-shops in China I found myself often unoccupied and, well, bored. I had a computer (often times a couple) but the internet has never really revealed the mysteries of life and once I stopped compulsively buying records on eBay (or looking at underaged Russian girls) I mostly went to the sky deck to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee. Until I remembered my old fetishization of Cult of the Dead Cow. So I started to read old text files, finally available without having to call some BBS in Texas.

And I remember reading an article, well, more of a report from Def Con 9 where a small panel of hacktivists spoke. The star of the show was Dr. Patrick Ball who sounded like a mustached emcee in a bad nightclub (Restaurant at the End of the Universe?) but somehow managed to also have some pretty stellar experiences to talk about.

Since 1991, Dr. Ball has designed information management systems, provided training on the use of cryptographic tools, and conducted quantitative analysis for large-scale human rights projects for truth commissions, non-governmental organizations, tribunals and United Nations missions in El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, South Africa, Kosovo and Sri Lanka.

Which seems like the coolest thing in the world to me. The idea of people using their tech-smarts to help out the fucked-over of the world is more effective, to me, then selective purchases or even a day a week spooning the soup. Yeah, you can go hold the hand of some demented old lady slowly breathing it out over at Laguna Honda but that’s just piss on the wall compared to helping an entire people slide under the fence to chip at the levy. And even tho Def Con 9 was years ago and Guatamala doesn’t need as much help today there’s signs of life on the front. WordPress, the tools behind Hesitating, offers a plug-in which is supposed to circumvent the Great Firewall. I’ve also seen sites asking foreigners to satellite-host Chinese blogs. While cDc still seems to have an eye on China it relates mostly to the occupancy of Tibet and nothing in their Hacktivismo manifesto or their Ninja Strike Force side-page have anything titled “Nuking the Great Firewall of China to Free the People” or anything like that.

Still, after reading such horrible news and realizing the tacit support granted the wide world over it was nice to see a small group of people quietly finding ways to monkeywrench the bastards. Godspeed!Google in China

Categories: Hesitating
  1. July 13, 2007 at 3:00 pm

    Hey! Thanks for mentioning us and our work with the Tibetan Government in exile.

    People can make a difference.

  2. July 18, 2007 at 11:25 pm

    Hi Blaark,

    Thanks for the interesting article and link to my blog. I’m still in China and the censorship here really does suprise me:
    I went to a tibetan horse festival a week or so ago and met a fairly high up Lama. I obviously wanted to blog about this and also wanted to see if I could find any sort of buddhist “organisational” chart to see where the lama we met stood. the Dalai Lama’s website was blocked and so whilst looking at it via an anonymous proxy I had a couple of local men come over and hover around behind me – they were excitedly pointing at the pictures of the Dalai Lama on the screen and trying to write down the URL of the site. I later found out that pictures of the Dalai Lama are banned in China and it’s not very often they get to see a photo of the man himself so wanted to get the website down so they could print out a copy.

    I was a fan of cDc when I was younger as well and recently started ploughing through back issues of the PLA which I always found amusing.

    The problem is the younger people here are so worried about the government that they kind of fall in line with what is expected of them – don’t circumvent the great firewall, don’t ask too many questions and carry on playing computer games rather than exploring the web and reading forign news sources.

  3. blaark
    July 24, 2007 at 11:15 pm

    It’s pretty tough to imagine the level of persecution the Tibetans are suffering– being excited about a picture of the Dali Lama… Doesn’t seem to be a parallel experience in modern Western history leaping to mind…

    That last bit, tho, about the Chinese youth pretty much bending over in the wind… I noticed a similar attitude towards authority in Japan but don’t really know enough of normal Chinese culture to say if the rigidity is comparable… The students who were leading me around town day and night delighted in my ability to do normal things like buy beer and cigarettes anonymously from vending machines on deserted streets… Nothing prevented them from doing the same, of course, except for their ideas of right and wrong…

    Tho it could also be that this newfound middle-class and wealth expansion is so exciting that people could give a fuck… Why be worried about what sites you can’t access when the government has provided so much for you?

  1. July 14, 2007 at 3:37 am
  2. July 18, 2007 at 11:54 pm

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