#OccupyAPA: Mad Power, Mad Pride, Mad Action


Last weekend I went down to Philly to Occupy the American Psychiatric Association’s yearly conference (#OccupyAPA). I joined the protests on Saturday, attended the APA on Sunday, and participated in the Radical Caucus, hosted by a group of psychiatrists attending the conference on Sunday night. The weekend was overflowing with information and emotion, and I when I finishing unpacking it all I might just have a dissertation (or, at least a fat chapter).

This year’s APA was especially controversial since the DSM5 is scheduled to be published in 2013. Over a decade in production, and already delayed more than once, the DSM5 is, in a word, disastrous. Many psychiatrists, including the lead author of DMS-IV, have spoken out vehemently against both the processes and outcomes of DSM5.

[CALL TO ACTION: The final round of public comments on DSM5 is now open, until June 15th, 2012.]

The controversies around DSM-5 coupled with the energy of Occupy Wall Street, brought activists and the media out in force. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a front page story on the protests (Former patients protest psychiatric convention), New Scientist covered the protests alongside their DSM coverage (Label jars not people), The Grey Lady covered and opined the DSM disaster (though not the protests), the BBC was filming, NPR was recording, and at least 2 documentary film crews (Cause of Death: Unknown), and a multitude of citizen journalists captured and reported on the actions.

Saturday morning kicked off at Quaker Friend’s Center, with a powerful lineup of psychiatric survivors firing up the protesters with speeches, songs, and changes. Hundreds of protestors marched through the streets of Philly to the main convention center, many wearing psychopharmacomania t-shirts, and holding creatively maladjusted signs.

The protest culminated in a label rip, staged outside of the main convention center (The Alchemist makes an appearance at 2:25, warning that psychiatry is a threat to itself and to others).:

The Icarus Project represented, and we were thrilled to distribute physical copies of the eagerly anticipated Mindful Occupation to protestors, psychiatrists, and the media.

The protests were a rush, but for me, the surprise thrill was gaining admission to the APA conference itself on Sunday. I attended a few talks and a poster session, irrefutably detailing and confirming my research and predictions. Then I hit paydirt. The vendor exhibition hall. HOLY FUCK. Highlights included:

Future Blockbuster? Anti-psychotic action in 3D:

A live psychiatrist, hired by AstraZeneka, delivering their powerpoint presentation (she only squirmed a little when I asked her if this was the drug that killed 3-year old Rebecca Reilly):

and devices that only psychiatry can dream up uses for:







The Radical Caucus deserves a follow-up post of of its own. For starters, Brad Lewis’ brilliant breakdown seamlessly applies the hard-fought lessons of academic theory to the trenches of emotionally-loaded, real-life conflict. I have much more to say about this meeting, but first I need to track down who swallowed the comment that I posted in response to Brad’s post ;-).

For now, I’ll leave you with a teaser for next year’s APA: “Pursuing Wellness Across the Lifespan” – I guess that covers kids, the elderly, vets, prisoners, pregnant women, and whoever else is ensnared by DSM-5’s diagnostic nets (including the appendix).

Dispatches from Cairo: The Raw Data

I just returned from a whirlwind eduventure at the American University of Cairo (AUC). My trip included a detour through Ancient Egypt and a 36-hour decompression-stop in the capital of the Ottoman Empire, but our main purpose was to participate in a week-long professional development conference for Palestinian Educators:

Challenges and Practices of Pedagogy and Instructional Technology: Professional Development Exchange for Palestinian Educators

The AUC conference was a continuation of the project that brought me to Palestine this past summer, and was creatively imagined and improvised by my mentor/advisor/boss, Frank Moretti.

I am still processing and synthesizing my experiences, and I plan for this to be the first in a series of posts detailing what I learned on this trip. For now, I will just capture the raw materials and highlights.

For starters, the conference was covered by both the AUC News and CCNMTL’s blog.

AUC’s Center for Learning and Teaching hosted an incredible conference – the talks were provocative and well balanced, and the food was fabulous! They even captured the entire event and posted the video and slides here. Our hosts were hospitable and generous beyond words, and we are forever grateful to Aziza Ellozy and her staff for making us feel at home.

Our plenary keynote, featuring my colleague, Mark Phillipson, and my doctoral cohorts, Travis Mushett, Madiha Tahir, and Charles Berret is viewable here:

#celebrity #violence #resistance: Media Analysis and Social Pedagogies

Mark and I also presented two workshops:

In reply to Frank’s intro, the Palestinian educators we were working with sent him a warm get-well video.

Of course, there is more. There is always more. But, for now, I rather sift through these pictures (Mine and Madiha’s, Mark’s, CLT’s) than write.


Last Call

Our Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of Mindful Occupation: Rising up Without Burning Out is in full swing.  We have made our financial goal (w00t!), and all additional funds raised will go towards additional printings.  Thanks to everyone who contributed and helped spread the word.  Let’s finish this campaign with a bang. Please share widely:


A guide for participants in the occupy movement to strengthen our psychic, soulful and heartfelt contributions. #mutualaid #peersupport

Yelling it like it is

Adrianne Jeffries is a journalist on the tech beat who just published a pretty hot story in The Observer detailing how banks are mining social networking data to calculate credit scores. The article, As Banks Start Nosing Around Facebook and Twitter, the Wrong Friends Might Just Sink Your Credit, describes how startups like Credit Karma and Lenddo are convinced that deadbeats flock together, and are harvesting our data-exhaust and feeding it into FICO scores. Having friends who default on their loans may soon negatively impact your credit worthiness.

Following standard journalistic convention, Jeffries contacted privacy experts for their take on the issue. She reached out to Eben Moglen, a Columbia Law professor, social justice advocate, and director of the Software Freedom Law Center. Although Moglen is a vocal defender of personal privacy and liberty, he refused to provide her with the ease-to digest soundbite she came looking for.  Instead, he takes Jeffreies to task for her hypocrisy, accuses her of contributing to the problem she claims she wants to fix, and for failing to fulfill her responsibilities as a professional journalist. Jeffries is stunned by this reaction, and published the complete transcript of her interview with Moglen, even though she did not use any quotes from him in her story.

As I read the transcript of Moglen eviscerating professional journalism, I initially cringed in empathy for the journalist on the receiving end of Moglen’s brilliant tirade. Why would Moglen treat a journalist this way instead of giving her the harmless pull-quote she came looking for?

The easy answer is that Moglen had a bad day, is a fool, or a jerk. However, in my experience, Moglen’s communications are usually purposeful and deliberate (although ‘tender’ is not the first adjective I would associate with him 🙂 ). I think it is worth giving him the benefit of the doubt, and speculating on possible deliberate motivations for this response. Was Moglen trying out a new media strategy? Was this a calculated publicity stunt? A performative critique of journalistic conventions? How effective was it, for both Jefferie’s career and Moglen’s message?

I think this incident deserves a close study, as it raises and reveals many important meta-questions about the shifting roles of journalism and activism, in addition to exposing the sad disarray of the nascent privacy movement.

On the substantive issues covered in the story, Jeffries did a pretty good job researching the specifics and the underlying issues, and the piece is smart, witty, and provocative — with decent odds of capturing the attention of a few passing of eyeballs. The story conforms to the standards of the genre, and she quotes CEOs, venture capitalists, and a activist/public intellectual, Doug Rushkoff.

The trouble is that over the years there have been countless stories detailing the pressing dangers of corporate surveillance, and the public does not seem to care (many have been covered on this blog, including a story about medication compliance factoring into FICO scores). After decades of trying to educate and advocate journalists and the public about these issues, I can easily imagine Moglen losing patience for the ineffectual conventions of mainstream journalism.

U.S. journalists continue to water down their responsibility for truth-telling, speaking truth to power, and taking responsibility for being agents of change. The stilted genre of fair-and-balanced soundbites is even more absurd in the digital age when stories can be supported by providing long-form context and elaboration. Instead of pandering to the decontextualized soundbite, Moglen responded in a manner that demands all-or-nothing coverage.

Similar to Emily Bell’s analysis of #occupywallstreet’s success, where the protester’s refusal to conform to soundbites and slogans helped them gain mainstream media cycles, Moglen’s response to Jeffries rejected the soundbite and resulted in her publication of their complete interview. For all we know Moglen has responded this way to other journalists, and this is just the first time the interview has been published. But, I think that activists should consider this response and weigh its relative benefits.

Would the privacy movement have gained more any more credibility if Moglen had produced an easily digestible soundbite?  Perhaps, although privacy has proven itself to be such a complex issue that another round of he-said/she-said warnings/reassurances are unlikely to truly educate or persuade.

I think the real challenge posed my Moglen’s response speaks to journalism’s failure to embrace the possibilities of hypertext, and grow beyond the conventions that dead-tree publishing imposed.  Why don’t stories regularly include links to the expert  interviews, in their entirety? Or, if the interview is sloppy or inaccurate, links to the experts relevant work. Moglen has spoken on numerous occasions warning about the dangers of corporate surveillance, an Jeffries easily could have quoted Molgen in her article, and referred readers to talks like Freedom in the Cloud or Navigating the Age of Democratized Media. Her interviews with him should have started with these talks as a baseline, not require him to rehash privacy 101 for the umpteenth time.

The comments to the interview are also rich with perspectives on the responsibilities of journalists, though not many commentators engage in the critique of journalism that Moglen advances.  Jeffries herself often engages, defending her response on the grounds that “The reporter’s responsibility is to report the truth. I’m not an activist or an advocate”, and branding Moglen a “digital vegan”.

The polar extremes portrayed in this exchange indicate just how desperately the privacy movement needs to develop more nuanced models of strategic agency, as “going off the grid”, or giving up and “promiscuously broadcasting” are the only choices most people think are available to them. My research on the The End of Forgetting outlines alternatives that expand our range of choices and might help advance the terms of this debate beyond – unplugging vs. sticking our heads in the sand.

Mindful Occupation: Part II

In a previous post, I described my initial involvement with #occupymentalhealth and birth of our forthcoming zine Mindful Occupation: Rising Up Without Burning Out.

I alluded to the heated debates that emerged around our work on this  zine and my direct participation in the local NYC ‘Support’ working group. It was through these deliberative processes and exchanges that I rediscovered the promise Occupy’s discursive ‘public space’.

As a researcher of the radical mental health movement, I recognized a unique opportunity in Liberty Park to explore the rhetoric around mental health, in context. I was hopeful that the activists involved in supporting the health and safety of the #OWS community would be critical of mainstream corporate medical models, and would be very receptive to alternative perspectives and language. The discussions that ensued were provocative and transformative, and  the experiences have helped me crystallize future directions in my research.

As the occupiers settled into Liberty Park the task of self-governance grew in scale, with complexity that rivaled running a small town. Dozens of working groups sprung up to meet the challenge of non-hierarchical, self-governance — many committed to modeling the kind of society they dreamt of living in, rather than replicating existing broken forms. The working groups took responsibility for the protester’s basic human needs – food, shelter, sanitation, safety, spirituality – as well as organizing, maintaining, and sustaining the occupation, over the short/medium/long term.

A number of working groups took up the challenge of maintaining the heath and well-being of the protesters, and in New York City these groups  organized themselves into the Safety Cluster. The Safety Cluster included people committed to mediation, non-violent communication, security and deescalation, as well as people committed to anti-oppression and reducing sexual harassment (the Safer Spaces working group). Additionally, there was a working group calling itself ‘Support’ that had been operating as a subgroup of the Medic working group. The Support group was comprised primarily of mental health professionals – social workers, chaplains, psychiatrists, and a few non-traditional emotional support practitioners. Together, the safety cluster developed protocols for handling interpersonal conflicts in the park, and organized nightly “community watch” shifts, where members of the community organized to support protesters, and identify and defuse conflict.

While some of my fellow collaborators on the Mindful Occupation zine felt more comfortable working with the Safer Spaces working group, I realized that the best education  happens outside of our comfort zones. Tension and conflict are inherent properties of activism, as activists attempt to question and dislodge accepted norms.

Initially, I thought that this particular group of mental health professionals would be very receptive to questioning psychiatry’s mainstream medical models. These individuals were volunteering  their time and energy at #OWS.  As it turned out, although I found many sympathizers and allies among the Support group, I was stunned by the systemic efforts to silence and marginalize voices from outside the mainstream. While many of the Support volunteers were fully engaged in critiquing social and economic injustice in the world at large, few seemed prepared to apply a self-reflective critique of their entrenched beliefs and professional norms.

Through countless interminable meetings and mailings, I witnessed efforts to exclude the voices of those without formal expertise and training. Voices outside of the mainstream had difficulty getting their issues on the meeting agenda and were actively excluded from some events and conversations. I remained committed to working with the Support group, although I did not always feel welcome.

Within the Support group, proposals were raised for the “community watch” volunteers to wear identifying badges which included their profession (e.g. social worker, chaplain, psychiatrist) and license number, and for an active recruitment of more psychiatrists to patrol Liberty park. Some of the medics insisted on “clearing” all of their patients medically, before turning them over to social and emotional support. Sounds reasonable until you begin to question what’s medical, and more importantly, what’s not? A head trauma might be medical, but what about a chemical imbalance? If all conditions are ‘medical’, then all authority around health and well being has been effectively ceded to a narrow range of medical specialists.

In subtler ways, i believe that some of the work in this group contributed to an atmosphere of fear and control in the park. Support’s role-plays often focused on the most violent scenarios, invoking the stereotype of the knife-wielding psychotic, and priming those on community watch to bring this anxiety with them throughout their encounters in the park. While the violence and sexual harassment in the park were unfortunately very real, some of the efforts to prevent these behaviors may have exacerbated them.

I witnessed that the providers of mental health services, with rare exceptions, found it incredibly difficult to listen to the recipients of their services. To ask and solicit opinions and stories, and incorporate their experience and judgment into the congress of their decision making.

I developed fresh insights into radical mental health through these encounters, that opened my eyes to much of what I had grown to take for granted. I learned that radical mental health has less to do with any particular dogmatic position — around hospitalization, medication, coercion, or diagnoses — and everything to do with authority and knowledge production. I learned that it is hard to find a proposition more radical than the disability rights mantra – Nothing about us without us!


Mindful Occupation: Part I

On September 17th 2011, sleeping giants stirred as the perception of social and and economic injustice in the US finally crossed a critical threshold. And the people spoke.

During the first week or two of the Occupation of Zuccotti park I was following along closely, but not yet fully engaged or plugged in.  The movement erupted at the beginning of the semester, just as a good friend and I were embarking on a study of digital activism and collective action in the 21st Century. #Occupy quickly became both a primary source and case study as we scrambled to track the tools and tactics that were rapidly deployed.

Within days the movement launched multiple web platforms, was taking online donations, was  broadcasting a 24-hour streaming video, and started publishing a broadsheet newspaper. Protesters were sharing and exchanging citizen-generated-multimedia-speech using services distributed across the internet, and organizing themselves and their expressions around shared tags. The mainstream media disgraced itself as one of the first (genuine) networked-grassroots movement redefined activism by breeding wikis and folksonomies, with  Blue Stockings and Indymedia.

Public Space: The Final Frontier

The protester’s literal occupation of space quickly went metaphorical, as everything from yoga to religion were soon “occupied.” At one point I came across a call to #occupypsychiatry, although no one seemed to know exactly what that meant. By that point many activist groups had descended on the park, and were tabling, distributing pamphlets, and competing to get their messages out while the media’s spotlight was shining brightly in their vicinity.

In the early days of the occupation, while the weather was still mild, Zuccotti was a cross between a party and a seminar. Epic discussions around substantive issues sprung from every flagstone, and the best of Zuccotti suggested what a university could and should be. The occupiers rediscovered public space, and honest-to-goodness publics were formed.

It occurred to me that,  far more important than any message that #occupy might broadcast were the internal dialogues and communications between and among activists. Especially in these early, fragile stages,  teach-ins and skill shares helped forge the alliances and friendships that would propel the movement through the winter and beyond.

One of the nights in the park I found myself in a conversation with someone from the sanitation working group, and was struck by the humility of someone focusing their energy on sustaining the community instead of clamoring to be heard by the rest of the world. Through some of the mad pride networks I am connected to, I    started hearing stories about protester burnout and emotional crisis at the occupations.

Frayed Edges

Given the exacerbating conditions – lack of sleep, poor nutrition, exposure to the elements, and don’t forget the police brutality – it is unsurprising there were many frayed edges amongst the protesters.  Although the movement had scorned resolving conflicts by turning to the criminal justice system, it had not formed an analogous consensus about resolving emotional crises by turning to the psychiatric system. Around the country reports of forced hospitalization (and  medication) emerged, and people kept reaching out for materials that offered alternative perspectives towards handling emotional trauma and navigating crises.

Over the summer I had been been working towards setting up on-demand  publishing solutions for some of The Icarus Project’s publications. I had spent months trying to track down original indesign files, fonts, and assets, in order to recreate these publications according to the specifications the ondemand publishers mandated.

In early October I attended the provocative Mobility Shifts conferences on digital learning, and attended a workshop on the Booki  software that explained the practice of book sprints. Booki is essentially a wiki platform that was designed to support collaborative book authoring.  The application supports chapters, tables of contents, and pagination, and pumps-out ebooks and print-ready pdfs. [In the course of this project I have learned a lot about digital publishing and the future of open zines, but I’ll save those thoughts for another post.]

Another good friend of mine was also in the midst of working on an #Occupy  pamphlet, The 99%’s Guide to the Current Clusterf#*k, and that night something clicked. I imagined working together with radical mental health activist to remix a zine (aka pamphlet) that would present alternative perspectives on activism and mental health.  I got really excited about a concrete way to contribute to the occupation. I bounced the idea off of some friends and we were all really jazzed about the project. That night, Mindful Occupation: Rising up Without Burning Out was conceived.

[to be continued]

The People’s Drones

In May ’06 I visited New York’s annual Fleet Week and personally met a few drones who were sleeping below the flight deck of a U.S. warship. In the 5 years since, “unmanned aerial vehicles” have reproduced explosively, and are rapidly changing the parameters of war and American foreign policy.

Glenn Greenwald describes the “Drone Mentality” that renders victims invisible and enables risk-free aggression and violence. Public anti-drone outcries are spreading, though media coverage of the effects of U.S. drone attacks is glaringly absent. My friend Madiha Tahir has been reporting and researching these attacks in Pakistan and the accounts she has gathered are quite horrifying.

But the U.S military isn’t the only outfit with access to these technologies. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (!) is using a drone to capture footage (and who knows what else), and Polish protesters in Warsaw used a drone to capture footage of riot police attacking them. Last year some hobbyists buzzed the Statue of Liberty with an unmanned aerial vehicle, and didn’t even get fined.

Drone technology is advancing very rapidly, though to the average observer the technology might not look that much different from 70’s-era remote control planes. Most of the advancements are happening in software, which is invisible to the casual observer, and also more difficult to prevent from proliferating.

If you haven’t seen any of the amazing footage of quadcopters in action, take a peek. These machines are much simpler to pilot and steer than a helicopter, and are quite inexpensive. There are quad-rotor open-source hardware/software projects, like the aeroquad (complete kits $1.5k), and the high-end is quite affordable (< $10k) for news companies and local police departments.

At the moment, the regulations around flying these drones is ambiguous. But the FAA is currently reviewing regulations, and a government agency predicts there will be over 15,000 civilian drones operating in U.S. airspace by 2018.

Drones are already in use patrolling the US/Mexican border, and the Department of Homeland Security is helping local law enforcement agencies obtain them. When I saw the video of the Polish protesters (via @MutualArising), I began wondering why local news companies were still flying manned traffic and news copters, and then I ran across the story (via @jonathanstray) about Murdoch’s drones.

From my limited research, I believe that non-commercial hobbyists are allowed to fly these vehicles below 400ft. I propose that Occupy Wall Street should fly drones at every protest, to counter Mayor Bloomberg’s egregious attempts to suppress journalistic coverage of the protests.

It seems clear that a robotic arms-race is underway, and my friend Peter Asaro, a robo-ethicist who serves on the international committee for robot arms control (icrac), worries about an arms race where everyone from drug cartels to the paparazzi all begin abusing drones. I remember Eben Moglen predicting that it won’t be long before every self-respecting dictator has full regiment of killer robots. Unlike human police, robots aren’t likely to hesitate when ordered to fire upon civilians.

The right to bear robots?

I am not convinced that drone-control is the best response to the asymmetrical power drones deliver (at least when it comes to surveillance drones, not armed drones).  I think they best way to counterbalance this power is with  open-source drones.  The people’s drones.

Update: As per @MutualArising‘s comment below,  OccupyDrones has taken off!

when networks eat themselves

Jaron Lanier’s latest provocation, the Local-Global flip, deserves a close watch/read.  His contention that the Internet is destroying the middle-class  sounds hyperbolic, but demands a response from devout free-culture evangelists.

On the surface, the Lanier piece sounds like the familiar alarmist “Robot Nation” tune about robots taking human jobs. But, Lanier raises the stakes by looking at how we have distributed the excess wealth generated by the efficiencies the information age. The global war on the middle class is largely incontestable. Will the future resemble the past, or can we honestly respond to the realities he identifies and design a socio-economy that supports and sustains a middle class?

Jaron’s interview is a bit diffuse, and he often talks as if he is the first to question Internet hype. He is certainly not alone in raising concerns about the darker side of the internet-as-salvation coin. Building on the social/cultural theory of the 19th and 20th centuries, these concerns are absolutely central to critical perspectives on information society. Critical scholarship on these issues abound, and bestselling books such as Code, The Wealth of Networks, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop ItCommunication Revolution, The Master Switch, Life, Inc, The Googlization of Everything, The Shallows, and The Net Delusion all take up these issues in one form or another. The 2009 conference on Internet as Playground and Factory conference is still one of the best compilations I am aware of that succinctly captures the exploitive dangers of new networked efficiencies.

Lanier’s focuses intently on the ways in which entrenched power is becoming even more entrenched and powerful using the very same tools that have inspired so much hope.

How Algorithms Literally Shape the World

If you want a vivid illustration of the ways in which the financial sector has begun to leverage networks, check out this jaw-dropping account of how networks and algorithms are literally shaping Wall Street and terraforming the planet. Did you know that brokers are building server farms in the mid-atlantic, equdistant from NY and London to leverage microsecond trading advantages?

No Place to Hide

This summer I also collected more stories of the dark sides of centralized social networking.  This is happening now as we become the products and tolerate corporations spying on us all the time. Even if we (think) we have nothing to hide:

  • Medication adherence FICO score — A company is collecting pharmacy data, calculating your likelyhood of compliance, and packaging this value into a number that could be used to compute insurance rates, APRs, and mortgage eligibility.
  • Social media background checks — Your public exploits are being dug up, analyzed and sold to whoever is curious (future employers, mates, enemies).
  • Flyzilla thwarted — With Facebook’s help, the Israeli’s blacklisted over 300 activists and prevented them from entering Israel to protest the occupation. It is not clear if FB cooperated directly, or if they even needed to.
  • Harvard’s privacy meltdown -Harvard Researchers Accused of Breaching Students’ Privacy. After breaching the anonymity of their research subjects, the researchers have learned that “the archive is more like plutonium than gold”.
  • Crowdsourcing the secret police The flashmob turned into an angry mob during the London riots, as vigilantes tracked down rioters with face recognition software.

The Selfless Flip?

I thought that one of the most interesting parts of Lanier’s interview was his analysis of the local-global flip. When a network becomes so large that it can no longer eject waste outside of itself, it can devour its own tail.  Like Walmart impoverishing their own customer base, or the global financial meltdown of ’08, partially caused by banks selling each other toxic assets.

This phase transition reminded me of a series recently published in New Scientist summarizing the latest thinking on the evolution of selfless behavior. Part of their “Instant Expert” series, the articles discuss the progression of evolutionary theory in explaining the pressures underlying the evolution of selfless behavior.

Today’s individuals are yesterday’s groups… For a major evolutionary transition to occur, there has to be a shift in the balance between within-group and between-group selection. A group can only turn into an individual when between-group selection is the primary evolutionary force, and this in turn can happen only when mechanisms evolve that suppress selection within groups. The rules of meiosis, for example, ensure that all genes on the chromosomes have an equal chance of being represented in the gametes. If genes can’t succeed at the expense of each other, then the only way to succeed is collectively as a group. *

Darwin’s problem is encountered at every scale of human society: from the smallest group to the global village, the behaviours that maximise relative advantage within a social unit tend to undermine the welfare of the unit as a whole. Establishing prosociality at a large scale requires a process of selection at that scale – whether a raw process of variation and selection or a more deliberative process of selecting practices by intentional planning. *

Contrary to colloquial shorthand, evolution doesn’t actively select anything. Evolution only guarantees that a particular trait hasn’t killed you yet. Are we witnessing the growing pains of this evolutionary transition?

If I forget you, O Palestine…

I just returned from the eduventure of a lifetime in Palestine and Israel.  I travelled to the Palestine Technical University of Kadoorie  to consult on a World Bank funded project to help enhance technology education. The details of this project are inspiring and provocative, but before discussing educational technology, media literacy, and capacity building I need to talk about my direct experience of The Occupation.

As I anticipated before the trip, my understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was transformed by my first-person experience of the occupation. Within an hour crossing the Kalandia checkpoint into Ramallah, I began to experience a harshness that is almost impossible to capture in a snapshot. Superficially, life in Palestine seems almost normal. Everyone we met was warm and friendly, and I did not encounter extreme third-world poverty. However, during my visit I learned how virtually every aspect of ordinary Palestinian life is occupied.  Electricity, fuel, mobility, connectivity, information, and water are all tightly rationed and controlled by Israel.

Before the trip I had heard about the checkpoints, but it is difficult to capture the feelings of intimidation and harassment until you are stuck in checkpoint-traffic watching a Palestinian adolescent being handcuffed and manhandled on the side of the road. I began to feel the harsh gaze of the guard towers, and the spit-in-the-face of the  Israeli flags, waving  arrogantly.

The most shocking reality I learned about is the Palestinian water situation. Many Palestinians only have running water a few days a week. One quick way to tell the Arab homes apart from the settler’s homes is that the Arab homes have big black water tanks on their roofs to capture water while it is running.  In contrast, the settlers homes have water 24×7, and many have swimming pools and lush lawns.

I kept thinking of this iconic image:

and its visually gripping corollaries:

Comparisons between the occupation and South African apartheid are common, but on this trip I began to relate the struggle to Jim Crow, the civil rights movement, and racial profiling and injustice that continue to oppress  US minorities.

I also learned about the regulation of information flows. On an Egged bus in Israel, I had a better connection over free wifi than anywhere in Palestine, including the universities. Palestinian telcom companies are currently forbidden from rolling out 3G networks, building new communication lines between cities is notoriously difficult, someone I met was not allowed to import routers, and Palestine cannot connect directly to the Mediterranean backbone.  [Incidentally, a local group of activists is trying to set up free wifi in Ramallah, but they are being thwarted by Palestinian telcoms!] Like their physical borders, all Internet traffic into and out of Palestine must cross through Israel first.

Serendipitously, Richard Stallman was visiting Palestine while I was there!  Unfortunately, I missed his lectures, but I met up with a few people who saw him speak, and they reported that his  message of freedom and liberation resonated strongly with his audience. I also connected with ma3bar.org – a society for Arab free and open source software, and ArabEyes — an Arabic-FLOSS translation project . I developed fresh insights into the role of free software in resistance and activism — especially as I appreciated the strength of the human networks that power free software, and the relative safety of engaging in this kind of organising (as opposed to being tagged by the authorities as an peace activist). More about this in future posts.

Scholarship such as Eyal Wiezman’s Hollow Land and Helga Souri’s work attempt to describe the Palestinian experience of the occupation, but the situation is so complex and hyper-mediated I recommend that anyone who wants to learn more should visit the West Bank themselves (special thanks to Dalia Otham for the conversations and introducing me to this work). Anyone with the smallest compassionate bone in their body will undoubtedly sympathize with with the Palestinian cause.

There is so much more to write. The specifics of our educational technology workshops, travelling and working with my advisor and a fabulous team from TC , the hospitality of our hosts at PTUK, the amazing sweet deserts, my tour of the graffiti on the Palestinian side of the wall,  the culture shock of leaving the West Bank and visiting my sister (and my four amazing nephews and brother-in-law) on a zionist kibbutz, the Israeli friends and family I connected with across the ideological spectrum, my visit to Sheva Chaya’s mystical glass blowing studio/gallery, diving an underwater museum in Caesarea, whitewater rafting down the Jordan with my nephews,  and Mushon’s personal guided tour (complete with analysis!) of the incredible housing protests erupting across Israel.

To be continued…

Crossing the line

This week I am heading to the West Bank for work (!?!): Enhancing Technology Education in Palestinian Universities (etep).

I will be spending a week at Palestinian Universities participating in capacity building workshops around educational technology. The University I am visiting is preparing to set up a group like CCNMTL and we are going to consult and share our experiences around these efforts.

I am anxious and excited about the trip. I have visited Israel numerous times in my life, but have never crossed the green line. My knowledge of the situation on the ground has been hyper-mediated, and witnessing the it in person will likely be transformative. I am doubtful that my first-person accounts will lend much more credibility or persuasiveness to future debates, but I anticipate that my own understanding and assurance will grow.

There are times and places for protests and flytillas, but I am hopeful that collaborating around shared objectives, working together on projects, and introducing radical pedagogical interventions will have a significant impact on promoting peace over the long-term.

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