Between Micropolitics and Martyrdom

Lawrence Lessig and Aaron Swartz (2002) / Rich Gibson / CC BY

Lawrence Lessig and Aaron Swartz (2002) / Rich Gibson / CC BY

I can’t really add much to the beautiful eulogies for Aaron. Except perhaps one thing.

Somewhere back in the 1970s micropolitics emerged as the dominant paradigm of change. As a Generation Xer, it’s really all I’ve ever known. My parents grew up in the civil rights age, where the idea was to get hold of the levers of power and use them. I grew up in the Think Global/Act Local age, where we all try to affect our immediate environs by being slightly better people and somehow this is supposed to lead to a better future.

You can see the massive failure of this Act Local paradigm in environmentalism, which sold us on micropolitics as a solution. We have a population now that busily sorts its trash while we careen towards global apocalypse. And while polluters continue with abandon, even supporting our cute little recycling efforts.

So one problem with micropolitics is that it does not work.

The second problem is that the Rosa Parks’s of the world did not really go away. But when they emerge nowadays, micropolitics is a lousy way to break their fall. We need money in the movement, people to staff it. We need think tanks and lobbyists. We need media people, lawyers. People like Aaron should not have to worry that they will bankrupt themselves or that there is a chance in hell that they will go to jail for 30 years.

The most depressing reaction I have seen to Aaron’s death is the “PDF tribute” — put up your your PDFs of articles! Pay tribute!

Putting up your PDFs will change things about as much as sorting your trash will stave off global warming.

This is not a micropolitical problem. The reason a prosecutor could act with such cruelty is that there is a set of people with hands on the levers of power, and those people reward cruelty in IP cases of this sort.

If you care about this stuff, stop mucking around with sorting trash, and get your hands on the levers. The  conspicuous lack of strong macropolitical institutions creates the hole activists like Aaron fall through. It creates a system that requires we feed it martyrs. We should be looking for ways to address that, not posting the PDFs we should have been posting anyway.

via Hapgood http://hapgood.us/2013/01/14/between-micropolitics-and-martyrdom/

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2 thoughts on “Between Micropolitics and Martyrdom

  1. > We need money in the movement, people to staff it. We need think tanks and lobbyists. We need media people, lawyers.

    This is what broke the old system, and ensures that it breaks over and over again .

    > If you care about this stuff, stop mucking around with sorting trash, and get your hands on the levers. The conspicuous lack of strong macropolitical institutions creates the hole activists like Aaron fall through.

    I agree that sorting trash is not a response to the problem. But neither is merely seizing power. I would rather render the levers inoperable.

    Thus, for example, instead of trying to seize control of the corporate-owned press, which is basically impossible, I seek to render it mute, through the creation of newspaper cooperatives, owned by nobody (and everybody), staffed by the community.

    The people trying to seize power are as bad as he problem. The people – like Aaron – trying to *em*power are the way of the future.

  2. I don’t know Stephen — I respect your opinion, and agree that part of the work is to create workable alternative models. But in a world where those models have no traditional power and their alternatives do, you’re always a lawsuit away from being crushed.

    Within hours of the arrest of Rosa Parks a network of organizations — with staffing, funding, connections — was laying the groundwork to make sure her stand was not in vain. That stuff was there before Parks (and she was a part of it).

    There are organizations, of course, that rallied to the defense of Aaron. But I can’t but feel that it was a frayed response — as state power has grown, change organizations have grown weaker.

    With your newspaper example, I agree you will not seize control of the New York Times. But if their are laws or government actions which give the NYT the power to imprison your employees for insane amounts of time we need to deal with that first before we can lay a solid foundation for an alternative, right?

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