Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Rise of the Digital Zapatista

Electronic Civil Disobedience (ECD) involves powerful “symbolic gestures” that enhance protest and relay messages for equality, rights of the people, and other liberties. ECD was first proposed in 1994 by the Critical Art Ensemble (CAE), which some reformers used to transition to the Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT). The CAE gave the proposed practice of ECD its name aligning the concept of electronic civil disobedience with that of civil disobedience, in an effort to draw legitimacy from the legendary leaders such as Henry David Thoreau, author of “Civil Disobedience”. Civil disobedience involves trespassing and blockading as tactics for protest. ECD involves itself in these tactics by conforming them in a new setting and in a slightly different aspect. Hacktivism, virtual sit-ins, and the use of the software FloodNet are tactics used by the EDT in sending messages of ECD protest. I have spoken about these forms in my previous blog posts: The Zapatistas and Electronic Disturbance Theater and An Info-War, a Virtual Sit-In, and Hacktivists...United for a Cause.

ECD in Recent Times
As I have mentioned before, ECD first arose in assisting in the battle in Chiapas, Mexico and the Zapatistas fighting for equality and the sanctification for human rights. In recent news, there have been recent publicized forms of ECD within the school systems in California. Dr. Ricardo Dominguez, a professor of electronic civil disobedience at University of California-San Diego, as mentioned in earlier posts as a co-founder of EDT and assisting the battle in Chiapas, Mexico, posed a virtual sit-in with his students towards the president of the university. Dominguez and students on March 4 utilized both traditional forms of civil disobedience and ECD to demonstrate protest towards the increased college tuition fee at UCSD. Students, interviewed by the school’s newspaper, The Guardian, examined the relationship between physical and virtual protest. Holly Eskew, a student of Dominguez said, “On March 4, when about 400 of us and then some did the virtual sit-in, at the same time we had our real bodies protesting. We are reaching the time when we can compare our real bodies to our digital bodies and online environment.” The term "digital bodies" suggests different digital identities, evolving our physical bodies to the cyber world, something my colleagues Becca and Heather are interested in writing about. The body in relation to technology like bodies to machines, EDT has placed a notion of "embodiment" under question. They have sought to understand specific possibilities for establishing presence in the cyber world that is both politicized and collective.

The goal of EDT is to take known forms and then subvert their message in order provoke thought, discussion, and emotion. The utilizing of new media and art allows EDT to take on a more modern form of Thoreau’s more traditional “Civil Disobedience”. Dominguez and other EDT members contributed to the EZLN’s fight for the indigenous people of Mexico. Crafting themselves as Digital Zapatistas, they “attacked” websites of the Mexican government and US governments. These “attacks” were never effective…only affective—something Dominguez stresses in interviews. By digitalizing the message of the EZLN, harm was never physically seen even though the government posed threats against them. FloodNet and Virtual Sit-Ins such as the one executed against the UC system for which Dominguez is under investigation for are ways of protest that send forth messages. The key difference between a virtual sit-in and a sit-in is that a virtual sit-in must be open and transparent. My previous post has discussed this in relation to “Distrubed Denial of Service Attack” (DDoS) that Dominguez has been accused of launching.

UCSD hired Dominguez on the basis of his work in ECD in 2005. He teaches his students about ECD, having them regulate and utilize an online lab called b.a.n.g. lab, a place for numerous art projects and discussion among the UC system. He was granted tenure in 2009. Those threatening to take away his job are the same who granted him tenure. He was granted tenure for his usage of FloodNet and the usage of Virtual Sit-Ins. They hired Dr. Dominguez because of his familiarity with ECD and EDT and clearly found so much interest in his research and studies to have a class dedicated solely to ECD and a speacilist to teach it. They clearly knew what he was capable of--launching virtual "attacks", hacktivism, utilizing the internet for protest. So when these virtual sit-ins and software like FloodNet are being utilized by Dominguez and his students to send across an important message, the UCOP decides to shut down Dominguez's computer and internet connection, accuse him of a DDoS attack, and see if they can press criminal charges against him. These previous sit-ins were praised and yet what makes this one so different? This is a question that I asked The Guardian newspaper and have yet to receive a response from the author. A professor and students protesting an increase in college fees. When stated like that, it seems commendable, understandable. So why is it that protesting against the fee increase lands a professor under criminal watch? Dominguez asks the same question, “[It would be] an unwise choice for them to attempt to stop academic research and artistic research that I was awarded for in past years,” he said. “Why now? What is different and what does the administration want?” UCSD administrators say they honor academic freedom, but need to look into any potential criminal activity.

Questioning and Support
As Dominguez was attended a meeting on campus to be questioned, students and several other supporters gathered by the Silent Tree on library walk at the unviersity. Dominguez, void of legal representation, fielded questions and chose to postpone the meeting. Students and supporters wore white masks with X's on them to represent the university's attempt to silence academic freedom. Something UCSD administrators said they honored... Dominguez rejoined the supporters, giving them thanks and listened as they read letters that spanned the globe, which voiced solidarity, alliance, and outrage at the administration’s criminalization of his work.

The digital Zapatista rose again and along the way educated this generation's youth of the importance of ECD, letting voices be heard and teaching students artistic ways to politicize using new media. As Thoreau once said:
The law will never make men free. It is men who have got to make the law free.

...and that is exactly what Dominguez, the Zapatistas, EDT, students, and virtual sit-in activists are trying to do.

No comments:

Post a Comment