Direct Action, Cafe Talk, and Hunter’s Point

Yesterday was one of those uniquely San Francisco days. I woke up and biked out to the bimonthly queer longhair brunch after which I delivered a check and contract to Roger on Online Policy Group business (we’re moving our servers from San Francisco to Fremont).

Next I went to a house on Church Street for a ritual and reception to celebrate the publication of “Direct Action,” a historical novel about San Francisco Bay Area activism in the early 1980s. The author, “Luke Hauser,” organized a wonderful ritual of envisioning what our future could be like, followed by lots of great conversation and food. I ran into Anthony from the faeries, as well as Luna, a witch I had seen previously at the Pagan Surprise action in Union Square, along with her daughter.

Rather than biking all the way home before the next event, I spent some time hanging out at Muddy Waters Cafe where I discussed politics with a few people. Overhearing discussion about how to organize for change in San Francisco, I handed them one of the Free State of San Francisco leaflets and much healthy debate ensued.

Finally, I biked over to the New College for Social Research where I saw a film called “Straight Outta Hunter’s Point” by director Kevin Epps, a Hunter’s Point resident whose best friend was shot and killed during filming. The film focuses on interviews of Hunter’s Point residents and a description of the music, gangs, politics, drugs, homicides, police abuses, naval shipyard and sewage treatment superfund site pollution of the local environment and its effects on the population, and community revitalization efforts in the area. It’s an excellent view of the community there that I would never otherwise be able to access. Donations given at the free showing of the film went to a youth center in Hunter’s Point.

Symphony and Film

Although last night’s performance of the San Francisco Symphony was generally poor, I did enjoy parts of Fauré’s “Suite from Pelléas and Mélisande.” The main problem was the guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier and his renditions of Britten’s “Les Illuminations” and Mozart’s “Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major” were very disappointing. It was fun to play with my new Sidekick PDA phone right in Symphony Hall though. I went with David and we had dinner at Ananda Fuara with his roommate Tommy beforehand. It was great to visit with them and I invited them by for tea at my place afterwards.

Today, after a grueling 4.5 hour Online Policy Group board meeting, I joined Steve and Olof for the film “Blind Spot” (“Im toten Winkel”), an interview of one of Hitler’s secretaries. It was oddly compelling and answered some of the questions that were lingering in my mind about the end of one of the most horrifying human personalities ever to have lived. It’s an excellent set of interviews of an interesting person who witnessed an odd part of history.

Catching Up on OPG

Since work at EFF has been a bit slow, I’ve had a chance to catch up on the backlog of tech support requests and donor thank-you letters at the Online Policy Group. Next, I have to make sure the bills get paid and prepare for the OPG Board meeting this Saturday.

The organization is growing slowly but surely and there are some transitions happening, some of them challenging. Good news is that Deborah has started helping with the tech support stuff and it looks like Constant will handle grant writing for awhile. But it looks like Biella will be cutting way back on her commitment due to her need to finish up her PhD program and take care of an ailing mother. She has contributed lots of effort and I really appreciate what she has done.

Cyberspace After Capitalism at the World Social Forum

Well, the trip has gone very quickly and I haven’t had any time to write blog entries.

I’m in Rio de Janeiro now, waiting to meet a new friend named Paul one more time, hopefully, before heading to the airport for the flight back to San Francisco via Miami.

So, flashback to Porto Alegre… the World Social Forum was amazing! About a hundred thousand people from all over the world all gathered to improve the world. Well, most people attended from Brazil. The newly elected Brazilian President Da Silva, affectionately known as “Lula,? spoke at the conference, as did Venezuelan President Chavez, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky (whose lectures I attended during university), and Arundhati Roy, representing Indian social movements. These were the stars. And how Chomsky managed to draw a standing room only, nearly rioting crowd filling the Gigantiniu Stadium is beyond me. The content of his speech was excellent, yet he droned in his delivery. That didn’t stop the crowd from singing their “Lula? song to the soccer tune of “Ole? when Chomsky happened to mention the President the people of Brazil are so fond of. I guess it’s understandable since he is a disabled man who rose from the ranks of manual labor in the PT (Socialist Party) in Brazil, running for many many years before his eventual election. Now, he faces the challenge of keeping his principles from his labor activist days in the face of IMF pressures on the Brazilian economy among myriad other problems. Yet, the people of Brazil are almost universally hopeful and supportive.

Besides the “stars,? many people participated on panels and spoke whether from the podium or the crowd. My panel presentation on Cyberspace After Capitalism went quite well, even after mixups by the World Social Forum organizers about room scheduling and publicizing of the Life After Capitalism series of events, organized by ZNet and particularly by Michael Albert. I’m very grateful for his efforts as well as to Peter Waterman for organizing and moderating the Cyberspace After Capitalism panel.

The Life After Capitalism events started with a welcome dinner the day I arrived in town and ended with a going-away dinner the last evening of the forum and evaluation meeting the day after the forum ended.

In between the events, there were many opportunities to meet interesting people from social movements all over the world. I met Marina (actually from the plane), Jeremy, and ? from the New York region, ? from England, Ezekiel, Paula, and Nikito from Argentina, Blicero from Italy, ? from Spain, and many, many others. Actually, I had already met Nikito and Blicero before through Indymedia and Tech Fed activities in the San Francisco Bay Area. And of course I ran into the omnipresent Indymedia maven Sheri Herndon, who is always a pleasure to chat with, even when she is frustrated with the latest Indymedia scandal.

Ezekiel’s accounts of the Assembleas, the piqueteros, and the occupied factories in and around Buenos Aires were fascinating. And his friend Paula’s project documenting the “disappeared? Argentinian film directors of the 1970’s inspired me.

Stories from an Intergalaktika workshop including representatives from Paraguayan, Uruguayan, Argentinian, and Spanish social movements, as well as the Zapatista movement in Mexico, were spellbinding. It was humbling to offer the free Internet services provided by the Online Policy Group to such an incredible variety of important activists.

That workshop took place at the “youth camp,? which was a “city within a city? housing 30,000 people in tents!

Even a workshop explaining the participatory budget process adopted for some time in Porto Alegre under the PT were fascinating. I’d like to try to bring some of that experience back to San Francisco.

I learned about many political theories and activists who I hadn’t heard of. Particularly pressing for me as a non-violent anarchist in favor of maximum decentralization of the decisionmaking process is to come up with viable mechanisms for handling decisionmaking for infrastructure such as telecommunications and mass transit. Interesting topics that people mentioned to me include:

– Eduardo Chaves discussion of self-education with computers in Brazil, available from (couldn’t find anything good on his site)
– Union for Radical Political Economics (which can perhaps help with an economic analysis of a Free State of San Francisco), provided by Julie Mattaei,
– Chilean anarchist Pedro Gonzales
– Chilean socialist Oscar Schanake
– ParEcon, the book by Michael Albert on participatory economics,
– Empire, by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri
– The Great Transformation, by Karl Polyani
– Nickle and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich
– ? anarchist recommended by Chilean guy on way back from Christo monument

In the Life After Capitalism evaluation session, as well as in an Intergalaktika evaluation session, the idea came up of not relying so heavily on the organizers of the World Social Forum for logistical support. Organizing some of the logistics independently might help to pull the events off with less aggravation… well, it’s a thought. The idea of renting a separate building nearby the event with space for Indymedia activities as well as Life After Capitalism and possibly Intergalaktika events also came up.

The food in Brazil is excellent, event for vegetarians, especially when one considers the fruit. I tried many new fruit juices that I have never tried before and got lots more experience with ones I didn’t know well. One of my favorites here is maracuja (passion fruit) as well as acai, which apparently has to be frozen immediately when found in the jungle so it can be transported and mixed with guarana to produce this dark brown very sweet thick juice. Banana and guava smoothies were great for a stomach that wasn’t always cooperating, hopefully not because I was eating and drinking so much fruit! Papayas and mangoes are everywhere here! I also tried things called caja, caju (which I think is the cashew plant’s fruit), fruta de caldo, and some others I don’t remember.

I was exhausted from waking up early each morning to take a shuttle from the hotel in a town outside Porto Alegre to the forum events for the day and not arriving back at the hotel until little sleep was possible each night. So, my plan on arriving in Rio de Janeiro was to relax, relax, relax!

Machine Troubles

The backlight on my work computer died, so I had to send it in to Hewlett Packard for repair, thus making it more difficult to follow my New Year’s resolution to write blog entries every day.

I finished Greg Egan’s “Permutation City” today. Read on the recommendation of science fiction writer and EFF colleague Cory Doctorow, it was a fascinating exploration of the possibilities of storing human consciousness inside computers and the possibility of transcendence of computer hardware and reality as we know it. I followed Egan’s point although I’m still unclear on how the universe actually separates from its hardware underpinnings by “gathering dust” or whatever. Anyone care to comment?

Praveen and I had a great discussion of the book, along with concepts such as nanotechnology, fabricators, quantum computing, and quantum cryptography. He lost his contracting job today, so plans to spend more time doing projects related to the Online Policy Group.

One of those projects is to design an online voting system that the Tech Fed and the California Coalition for Civil Rights could use for organizational decisionmaking, since both are coalitions that need a mechanism for tabulating votes on various issues, along with comments from each organization on why it voted the way it did. Long term, it would be even better to have a system that facilitated consensus process online, provided verification of voter identity, and permitted proportional voting schemes for elections of officers or whatever. The nonprofit world has yet to benefit from one of the most basic benefits that networked applications could provide.

Preparations for a trip to Brazil to attend “Living After Capitalism” in association with the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre are going well. I managed to get the air ticket using United frequent flyer miles and I’ve applied for a U.S. passport renewal. The passport was supposed to be ready yesterday since I paid a heft expedite fee, but it hasn’t arrived yet. Hotel reservations are theoretically complete, although not with a high confidence level. Once I have the passport, I should be able to get a Brazilian visa, which now costs $100 in retaliation for a price increase of U.S. visas for Brazilians. I’ve started learning a bit of Brazilian Portuguese as well.