Getting the message across revisited

Dave – the editor

The last time I set down my thoughts about what we’re trying to achieve with our propaganda at South Essex Radical Media, this is what I came up with: Getting the message across. A fair bit has changed since then and not for the good. The indications are that we’re slowly but inexorably heading towards a more censorious climate. When you take into consideration the difficulties posed by the lockdowns of 2020/2021, there’s a lot to think about. What follows are my thoughts on the challenges we face and how we’ll have to adapt in the face of them.

The lockdowns of 2020/2021 were a massive operational challenge for us. Events were scrapped, postponed or moved online. The opportunities for distributing printed propaganda and having face to face conversations pretty much disappeared. In the face of all this, we did our best to adapt and experiment with different ways of getting our message across. That meant working out ways of doing pretty much everything online.

One thing we and our comrades at D.i.Y.Culture experimented with was an online paper that with page bloat, was starting to morph into a journal. Basically, we ended up creating a monster that started off with good viewing figures but which eventually tailed off. It dawned upon us that all we were doing was re-packaging what could just have easily been blog posts into a format that required more effort to access. Suffice to say, the experiment with online only papers has been terminated and even if we end up back in lockdown, it will NOT be getting revived!

As we can’t afford large print runs, we do of course make downloadable PDFs of our ‘zines, papers and other publications available. We also publish the text and images from the ‘zines and papers in a blog post. Essentially, we’re using a hybrid method of releasing our propaganda which covers all bases.

With the easing of lockdown restrictions, events are being put on again and we’re attending them to hand out papers, ‘zines and leaflets. There’s no substitute for handing out printed material and having face to face conversations. How long we’ll be able to do this is subject to some doubt as the government keep shifting the goalposts. Whatever happens, we’ve no intention of returning to a point where we have to rely exclusively on the Net to get our message across.

The Net…its a blessing and a curse… This piece is published online. It’s aimed at activists scattered across the country and beyond that, across the globe. If it wasn’t for the Net, we’d never reach the audience we currently do. We’d be nothing more than a local outfit who would only be known by high street distributions, door to door distributions, postering and stickering and possibly, the occasional angry letter to the local paper. The Net gives us the reach we could only dream of having thirty years ago. It’s a fantastic tool for disseminating propaganda and reaching out to and linking up with other people.

What has to be remembered is that it is just a tool – one of many at our disposal. During the lockdowns we became over-reliant on it. That’s not just for pushing out the online only papers but also for interacting with comrades we couldn’t meet up with on social media because of restrictions on travel. You don’t need us to tell you that Facebook and Twitter, while they have their uses, are a piss poor substitute for face to face interaction. Even when that face to face interaction is mutually masked up, there’s still enough in the way of body signals and eye signals to convey nuances that can’t be conveyed online. Obviously without masks, you have the full range of facial signals when having a conversation.

With online interactions, it’s so easy to get the wrong end of the stick and for some bitter rows to ensue. Rows that would be less likely to happen with face to face communication and the understanding that comes with that. In the small crew we operate in, we don’t actually agree on everything. We do have differences of opinion but because we can articulate them face to face, we don’t fall out with each other. Face to face conversations allied with the bonds of trust that have been built through years of working together mean we can agree to differ on some issues but still remain friends and comrades. Disagree too much on (anti)social media and you find yourself un-friended/unfollowed/blocked. I’ll admit that I’ve been guilty of over-reacting on social media and doing the above when I’ve felt someone has pissed me off. If anyone I’ve done that to is reading this, please accept my apologies. If the conversation had been face to face, the outcome in a lot of cases would have been different.

The thing about the Net is that it’s not what it was twenty to twenty five years ago. Back then, it felt like it was a brave new, decentralised world full of seemingly endless promise and hope. Then the corporations moved in… The thing is, they didn’t all start off as corporations. They started out as ‘neat ideas’ that someone wanted to implement and did. It’s when those ‘neat ideas’ started to become money spinners that the humble start up started to morph into a corporation. Corporations that started to become bigger, more powerful and influential than a growing number of governments. Think Google and Facebook to name just two of many. Corporations that hand in hand with those governments who they work with, are increasingly dictating what we can and can’t say online.

The Net we have now is basically a corporate space. Our presence is tolerated for the moment but it’s naïve to think we’ll be allowed to stay on there without a furtherance of surveillance, censorship and ultimately, being being booted off. This is already happening to a growing number of anti-great reset activists. It’s already happened to a number of anarchist groups. It’s going to happen to more of us. Fortunately, a fair number of anarchists are wise to what’s going on and are doing what they can to stay a few steps ahead of the axis of the governments/corporations who want to shut us down. The same applies to a fair sized number of anti-great reset activists.

How we communicate with each other as activists is beyond the scope of this piece and there’s plenty of very useful material about this that already exists. What has to be considered is how we can continue to get our message across in the face of increasing censorship. We know that it’s only a matter of time before we end up getting booted off Facebook and Twitter. These two platforms have enabled us to reach a decent sized audience and also to promote our blogs. If we get bounced off them, there are alternatives such as Mastodon but they only have a fraction of the reach. We’ll have to be looking at other ways of promoting our blog posts and e-mail lists will definitely have to be one of them. Maybe an e-mail tree to amplify the spread? We can’t rule out having to go back to the telephone tree as a method to use.

If we get booted off WordPress, that’s a lot of work lost and our reach severely diminished. There are other platforms that may be secure but when push comes to shove, if the bastards want you off the Net, pretty much any platform can be hacked or subjected to other forms of cyber-attack. To be honest, if we reach the point where we have no access to social media or a blogging platform, that would be a signal that we’re not that far away from a situation where things will really blow up and maintaining an online presence would be a distraction from the job that actually has to be done.

At the end of the day, there’s always print. Papers, ‘zines, leaflets, posters and stickers. All we need is a printer we can trust implicitly and a secure way of getting the artworks to them. For the moment, that’s not an issue but at some point, it may well be, if our e-mails are subject to monitoring and any undue interference. Burning stuff onto a CD is not an option as the laptop this is getting typed out on does not have a CD drive! Not only that, one use CDs are not exactly an environmentally friendly option. It will be down to the humble and returnable by post memory stick to do the job. Obviously that slows things down so whatever we produce under those circumstances will have to be more generic than we’ve been used to. Ultimately, the solution may well have to be forking out on our own Riso printer.

Looking at screens doesn’t do much for the attention span. To be honest, when I look at an article on screen, I’m skim reading. When I look at something in print, I take more time and more goes in. This may just be a generational thing – even at this point, I’ve spent more of my life reading printed material than reading from a screen and am still more comfortable with reading print. Print doesn’t have to be massive slabs of grey text – it can easily be broken up with headers, quotes and images. This is what we endeavour to do with all of our papers, ‘zines and leaflets.

Then there’s the postering and the stickers…old school methods…We started the postering with some hyper-local ones about the ongoing debacle that’s the stalled redevelopment of the railway station at Stanford-le-Hope – suffice to say, they were very well received by the locals:) We’re now experimenting with posters making oblique references to the great reset – this is a work in progress. The stickers have ranged from slogans, through promotional to oblique references to the great reset. Stickers are visual and easy to get up without too much hassle and…they’re fun!

The more any of us get pushed offline, the more localised we end up becoming. That means we’ll have to rethink how we get our propaganda out. With Alternative Estuary and the Thurrock and Basildon Heckler, we already have two localised printed ‘zines/papers we can distribute. We also have the stickers and posters. We have the basis of a fall back should the absolute worst happen.

The point is that for those of us activists of a certain age, we can remember what political activity was like before the Net came along. Protests happened, leaflets, papers and journals got written, laid out, printed and distributed without a lot of the technology we take for granted nowadays. The Poll Tax was defeated by analogue means. The protests against the Gulf War in 1991 were built by street sales, street meetings, meetings in rooms above pubs, fly-posting, stickering, telephone trees and word of mouth. Political activity had to be carried out face to face because there was no other way of doing it.

Look, I don’t want to sound like the grumpy old anarchist sitting in the corner moaning about modern life, modern technology and the ‘state of the movement’. As stated earlier in this piece, I think the Net is as much of a blessing as it is a curse. It most definitely has its uses and advantages, so while we can still access it, let’s utilise it as best we can. However, what the lockdowns of 2020/2021 have done is make many of us, me included, too reliant on the Net to get a message across. We need to take a step back from that and revisit analogue ways of doing things such as handing out/selling printed material and having real life, face to face conversations.

The Net is a tool, it’s not life. While it’s a useful tool, in and of itself, the Net will not bring about political change. That will happen in our communities, workplaces, schools, colleges and out on the streets. This is what is going to inform how we do propaganda at South Essex Radical Media from this point onwards.

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