The Threat of Totalitarianism Today – Or Why Hannah Arendt Still Matters

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Philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), photographed in Paris, 1935.

THE THREAT OF TOTALITARIANISM TODAY

(OR: WHY ARENDT STILL MATTERS)

By Eduardo Carli de Moraes @ Awestruck Wanderer

It’s an obvious fact that the books of great philosophers survive the physical existence of the philosophers themselves: their thought is alive for decades or centuries after their deaths, ideas kept safe, like a treasure in a trunk, in the books they’ve written. Even tough they are no longer among the living, we are still under their influence, and our thought and judgement can be expanded and enriched by their legacy. A dead philosopher may have a long future after the brain that used to act inside his or her skull has vanished from the world. Looked in this perspective, it’s perfectly legitimate to ask, for example: “what would Arendt have to teach us about Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror? What would Arendt say, if she was alive today, about the danger of totalitarian horror happening again in the future? And nowadays, where would Arendt recognize a totalitarian regime in action, here and now? “

Similarly, one might ask: what would Nietzsche have to say about the III Reich and the Nazi’s “Final Solution”? What opinions would Spinoza nurture about the Enlightenment thinkers or the French Revolution? Would Plato agree with Jesus Christ if they had ever met? And what about Hannah Arendt, if she was living today, would she criticize some of our societies as totalitarian regimes? This sort of questions, in which one tries to figure out what some thinker would consider about historical events or people he or she didn’t live to witness, may seem to many of us some sort of absurd anachronism. Some may argue that this line of questioning may have its value only as an intellectual exercise, but can never achieve truthfulness because it relies too much on speculation and conjectures; it’s just philosophy acting in science-fiction-mode, right?

27388_hannah_arendt_olgemtlde_heidemarie_kull_copyrigt (1)Well, Hannah Arendt’s case is interesting to adress, in this context, because she seems to be one of the alivest of all dead philosophers. And scholars, researchers, political theorists and journalists keep invoking Hannah Arendt’s thought to explain recent stuff, such as the Abu Ghraib scandal, which brought to light the wide-spread use of torture as the U.S. Army’s “interrogation method” at the detention centers for suspects of terrorism. An excellent doc about it is Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure (2008)

In an article published by New Internationalist Magazine, for example, Sean Willcock evokes Arent’s très celèbre “the banality of evil” to explain Abu Ghraib’s mixture of terrible disrespect for basic human rights, combined with the banality of soldiers who took “selfies” with smiling faces, aparently stupidly unaware of the crushed dignity of those fellow humans they were humiliating, torturing and killing.


Also recommended: Standard Operating Procedure, a documentary by Errol Morris

Hannah_Arendt_Film_PosterIn our technologically connected “global village”, philosophers can also be brought back from their graves by other means than books, of course. Recently, Hannah Arednt was summoned from the tomb to appear as protagonist of Margaret Von Trotta’s bio-pic. Even tough it’s mainly an historical and biographical film, mostly about the Eichmman case, I feel there’s a lot to be found in the film to enlighten us nowadays (see, for example, this excellent article about the film @ “MantleThought.org).

I deeply agree with Celso Lafer when he argues: “Arendt is a classic in Bobbio’s meaning of the word: an author whose concepts, even tough developed in the past, still serve us to understand the world of the present.” There’s good fruits to be gained by trying to re-think and re-actualize Arendt’s thought, instead of treating it as fixed: wouldn’t it be better to deal with her works in a dynamic way, expanding it and adapting it to serve as tools for our understanding of new occurences? Of course this sort of thinking is based on what I’d call imaginative speculation, dangerously on peril of betraying a writer when transplanting him – or his ideas – to another era. But doesn’t the merit of a certain thinker lie also in what he has to say to posterity, what can be learned in his books by those who came afterwards?

In her book Why Arendt Matters, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl mobilizes Hannah Arendt concepts and theories in order to understand events that happened after Arendt’s death in 1975. What would Arendt have to teach us, for example, about suicide bombers on a jihad against “the West” and who hope to be rewarded in Afterlife by Allmighty Allah? And what would she teach us about the “War on Terror”, the military invasion of Afheganistan, Iraq and Pakistan, which were unleashed after the September 11th attacks in 2001?

Arendt’s inspiring intellectual courage, I think, lies in her ability to go beyond simple moral outrage. She tries to understand things that most people are so horrified of that they’d rather not even try to understand them. Instead of being paralysed in horror in front of such terrible realities – Hiroshimas and Auschwitzes, gulags and atom bombs… – Arednt confronts these realities and tries to judge them, understand them, put them in historical context, portray a web of relations inside which they occur. That’s why Arendt’s procedure, whether she analyses imperialism or anti-semitism or totalitarian societies, can be used by us today in order to enhance our understanding of our current geopolitical landscape.

9780300120448The Nazi concentration camps, those “factories of death”, made the most horrendous criminal acts into a day-to-day process. Trying to understand an era of genocide in industrial scale, Hannah Arendt never acts with simplistic demonization of the Nazis, for example. It would be narrow-minded and deranged to say that Hitler or Goebbels or Eichmann were “possessed by the Devil”, or have been born with innate evilness. Hannah Arendt tries to understand the emergence of “a new type of criminal, the consequence-blind bureaucrat, agent of a criminal state, so unconcerned for the world – or alienated from it – that he could help lay waste to it.” (YOUNG-BRUHEL: 5)

After carefully watching Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem, Arendt was surprised to discover not a devilish man, but rather a dumb fellow, blindly obedient to his superiors in the hierarchy. Eichmann’s triking characteristic was, in Arendt’s eyes, his “thoughtlessness”, his stupidity.

“Thoughtlessness – the headless recklessness or hopeless confusion or complacent repetition of ‘truths’ which have become trivial and empty – seems to me among the outstanding characteristics of our time.” (ARENDT, The Human Condition, Prologue).

 Dr. Martin Luther King reminds us, when he says “everything that the Nazis did was legal”, that Justice (as a value, as a virtue) is not necessarily the same as the Law. There are plenty of unjust laws – based on racist discrimination or ethnical cleansing, for example. Eichmann, inside Nazi society, was a lawful agent. In a land were genocide is not outlawed, a mass killer is also a law-abiding citizen. If we are really to understand how did the terribles tragedies of 20th century’s happened, includin the “World Wars”, with its Holocausts and Atom Bombs, we need to understand how much evil can arise from blind obedience, from lack of thought and atrophy of judgement. Hannah Arendt provides us a path to follow if we wish to understand how could this horrors happen. Arendt enlightens us by providing a way to understand our tragedies in which there’s no explanation of evil as a pact-with-the-devil or the result of innate-bad-genes. Stupidity can become criminal:

“After listening to Eichmann at his trial and reading the pretrial interviews with him, she concluded that he had no criminal motives but only motives – not criminal in themselves – related to his own advancement in the Nazi hierarchy. (…) He was a man who, conforming to the prevailing norms and his Führer’s will, failed altogether to grasp the meaning of what he was doing. He was not diabolical, he was thoughtless. The word “thoughtlessness” is used by Arendt for a mental condition reflecting remoteness from reality, inability to grasp a reality that stares you in the face – a failure of imagination and judgment. (…) No deep-rooted or radical evil was necessary to make the trains to Auschwitz run on time.” (YOUNG-BRUEL, p. 108)

It reminds me of that famous experiment by Stanley Milgram, in which he tested how far can people go in the art of inflicting pain unto others. Milgram came up with a test to check how people would act when asked to approve the use of electrical shocks of increasing voltage; he wanted to see how wicked could a human being act just because a certain authority ordered it. The 20th century teachs us that hierarchy (and blind obedience to it) has much more relation with tragedy of epic proportions than the principles and actions of anarchists.

 Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, it seems to me, is also a reflection upon the evils that follow from conformity to unquestioned authority. The Origins of Totalitarism, I believe, can and should be read and understood with the aid of classics of social psychology such as Erich Fromm’ Fear of Freedom or Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism. The shocking fact about the III Reich is that those crimes were commited by law-abbiding citizens, who were only following the orders and honouring the Führer’s will. One of the psychological factors that made it possible for so many Germans to participate in the mega-machine of mass-murder was the notion that Hitler assumed all responsability, and those who worked in the concentration camps, those who operated the trains to the death fields, those who released the poisonous and deadly Zyklon B, could all excuse themselves by saying: “I was merely following orders.” Which reminds me of Howard Zinn’s often quoted statement, somewhat inspired by Thoreau, that civil obedience is in fact a danger far greater than civil disobedience:

Howard Zin (1922-2010)

Howard Zin (1922-2010)

Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. And our problem is that scene in All Quiet on the Western Front where the schoolboys march off dutifully in a line to war. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem. We recognize this for Nazi Germany. We know that the problem there was obedience, that the people obeyed Hitler. People obeyed; that was wrong. They should have challenged, and they should have resisted; and if we were only there, we would have showed them. Even in Stalin’s Russia we can understand that; people are obedient, all these herdlike people… (ZINN, Howard. Here.)

 When Hannah Arendt writes about crimes against humanity, and relates them to an evil arising from thoughtlessness and lack of judgement, she seems to be praising the individual’s potential for autonomy. Blind obedience to leaders or to established laws, unthinking conformity to the status quo, can lead to disaster. According to Young-Bruehl, who also wrote one of the most comprehensive biographies about Hannah Arendt, “she had always written out of solidarity with the victims of such crimes, with the conviction that telling their story for the sake of the future was her life task.” (YOUNG-BRUEHL, op cit., p. 209). This, also, we can learn from Arendt: solidarity with those who are, nowadays, the victims of crimes against humanity – for example, the detainees in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay, or the pakistanis killed by drone attacks. The U.S.A.’s War on Terror, even tough it justifies itself as a crusade of Freedom against Terror, utilizes “totalitarian methods”, argues Young-Bruehl, and such methods can be traced back to the Cold War era:

One of the most threatening ways that adopting totalitarian methods to fight totalitarianism helped shape the current world order  was in the practise adopted by U.S. governments during the Cold War period of sponsoring Islamic fundamentalists as agents of opposition to Soviet communism. This began on a small scale during Eisenhower’s presidency with support for the Muslim Brotherhood led by the Egyptian Hassan al-Banna… In Washington it was originally hoped that the political Islamists would help prevent the Communist ideology from infecting Arab states, but the policy of support became progressively aimed more at promoting Arab supranationalism and funding middle-ground wars. U.S. support of Arab supranationalism (with its own ideology, Wahhabism) focused on the reactionary Saudi monarchy, which was encouraged to create a network of right-wing Arab states using the Muslim Brotherhood as its agent. The Saudis also built on the Brotherhood’s violent opposition to Egypt under Nasser, who was considered a revolutionary nationalist in Washington and posed a direct challenge to U.S. and British oil interests in the Gulf… The CIA, in the most portentous instance, supported the Afghan fighters  in their resistance to the Soviet Union’s imperialist invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. At that time, the CIA helped Osama bin Laden build a network of ‘Afghan Arabs’, the forerunner of Al-Qaeda…(YOUNG-BRUEHL, p. 57)

 It gets me wondering what Hannah Arendt would have to teach us about the 21st century. Abu Ghraibs and Guantanamo Bays would very likely seem to her as dangerously similar to nazi concentration camps or soviet gulags, places where people lose their basic human rights and become victims of dehumanizing humiliation and torture. What about State Surveillance, a current reality denounced by whistleblower Edward Snowden? Isn’t it a dangerously totalitarian method, George Orwell’s Big Brother finally realized in mass scale? I’m quite sure Orwell never meant 1984 to be an Instructions Manual! And what to say about a country whose nuclear arsenal is huge, and who goes to war against Iraq claiming that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction in his hands? As if the United States of Atom Bombs hadn’t weapons of mass destruction also! And what to say about the thousands of americans who, misled by demagogy, blinded by patriotism, bound to their “duty”, marched straight to war, dropped bombs, launched drones? Now, of course, the damage is done and the thousands of dead bodies pile up as yet another reminder of human folly and of the dangers of thoughtlessness and blind obedience.

In her thought-provoking article A Lying World Order – Political Deception and the Threat of Totalitarianism, Peg Birmingham investigates if totalitarianism is a threat today.  She answers with conviction – “yes it is!” – and argues with Hannah Arendt that the danger is co-related to the problem of political lies, of ideological deception. Historians can’t cease to be amazed by the re-occurence, in Human History, of mass credulity in ideologies and leaders. Humanity may seem ludicrous and ridiculous when we take a look back and discover the scale in which lies were massively believed in, with the outcome of radical evil of colossal proportions. How not to be flabbergasted with the fact that millions could believe Hitler’s racist lies about ethnical cleansing and the Jewish Plague, or believe W. Bush’s pious lies about Saddam’s nuclear bombs? It’s a scenario to make us bemoan the fate of this planet in a time, to remember Shakespeare’s King Lear, “when madmen lead the blind.” (SHAKESPEARE, King Lear, Act 4, Scene 1)

In her essay “The Seeds of a Fascist International” (1945), Hannah Arendt wrote: “It was always a too little noted hallmark of fascist propaganda that it was not satisfied with lying, but deliberately proposed to transform lies into reality. For such a fabrication of lying reality, no one was prepared. The essential characteristic of fascist propaganda was never its lies, for this is something more or less common to propaganda everywhere, and of every time. The essential thing was that they exploited the age-old occidental prejudice which confuses reality with truth, and made that true which until then could only be stated as a lie.” (ARENDT, 146-147) For example: if Mr. X makes a statement such as “my aunt is dead”, but then Mrs. Y contradicts him with “No, this ain’t true, I saw your aunt just a moment ago at the market”, all Mr. X needs to do to mutate his statement from a lie to a truth is “to go home and murder his aunt” (BIRMINGHAM, P. 74.) 

Winter Soldier

In Winter Soldier (1972), an excellent documentary about the Vietnam War, built upon statements from the soldiers who were there and witnessed it all, a man who fought with the U.S. Army gives us an example of the Political Lie in action: when civilians were killed (military leaders, then and now, call this “collateral damage”), the U.S. Army ordered that those people  were to be labeled as gooks, written down in the “official reports” as if they were vietcongs. Kill first, then label the murdered person a devil, a filthy gook, an unworthy-to-live commie. That’s the strategy. Every dead Vietnamese, even tough he might have been a pacifist, is suddenly turned into a dangerous and murderous communist terrorist.

We still live in such a world where the Terrorist Menace is constantly evoked, and in its name are justified colossal measures of war, emprisonment and mass surveillance. If there’s a threat of totalitarianism in the world today, it certainly lies in the way governments are dealing with the so-called Terrorist Menace. The established powers, the status quo, the ruling elites, label as terrorists those who oppose their crushing powers. In India, the “terrorists” are the maoists who oppose Hindu nationalism and Free Trade Capitalism (check Arundhati Roy’s brilliant report Walking With The Comrades); in Mexico, the “terrorists” are the Zapatistas of Chiapas’s jungles who defend the rights of indigenous people against the pillage of big business; in the U.S., the “terrorists” are Islamic jihadists threatening to re-enact September 11th; in Brazil, “terrorists” are those citizens who take to the streets to protest against banks and corporate power, and refusing pacifism in their Black Bloc techniques or Anarchistic tendencies. And so on and so on… The “terrorist danger” is what justifies massive investments in police, it’s what governenmets use to justify the use of repression and mass incarceration. Welcome to “Democracy”, the best one that money can buy.

The danger of totalitarianism lies entangled with the threat of mass-belief in political lies:

The problem of ideology is, for Hannah Arendt, the problem of political deception. Ideology is the mutation that establishes the lying world order, by replacing reality with an ironclad fiction. In other words, ideology is the ‘most devilish version of the lie'”; these are Hannah Arendt’s words, and we should hear her claim that the banality of evil is, at its very heart, ideology. With both its hellish fantasies and its clichés, the ‘banality of evil’ is characterized by a strident logicality – a logic through which the whole of reality is thoroughly and systematically organized, according to  a fiction with a view to total domination.” (BIRMINGHAM, P. 77.) 

I wonder if our totalitarian threat may reside, today, also in the Market, or in what many specialists call “The Economy”. Aren’t we endangered by the “Free Trade” totalitarian ideology? In which every means are acceptable in order to enforce the holy end of “Free Markets”? Including the drone-attacks against Pakistan, the war of aggression against Iraq, the pious crusade of genocidal proportions against Afeghanistan? Who is naive enough to believe it was all made for the sake of Freedom and Democracy, when it actually resulted in a massive pile of corpses?  Not to mention, in previous decades, how Free Trade capitalism, Yankee-style, forced its way all around the globe with the aid of the military dictartorships and coup d’états imposed by U.S. interest in South and Central America. We, Latin Americans, can never forget what happened in Chile in September 11th, 1973. Not to mention the military interventions in Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.), justified as Anti-Communist measures.

The political lie, the fascist twist of propaganda to be discerned here, I would argue, lies in the preposterous idea that “Free Trade = Freedom and Justice”. That’s a lying and deceiving equation: if we take a closer look at the ideology of Free Trade, of the theories so dominant in today’s capitalism and that call themselves “liberal” and “neo-liberal”,  we’ll discover that they have a tendency to increase mass incarceration and police repression, for example. The U.S. currently has 25% of all the world’s prisoners. When prison become a business, that can be run for profit (with the aid, of course, of strick laws of prohibition against illicit drugs), neoliberal capitalism shows its true face: that of nasty greediness, mounting inequality, resulting in a dystopic society in which millions and millions of its citizens are behind bars, while an elite hides away, locked inside comfortable bunkers, with obscene accumulations of capital in protected by Hi-Tech Security.

To enforce capitalism, the preachers of Free Trade, with their billions – which could be invested to end global hunger or treat curable diseases in all continents! – uy themselves an immense apparatus of military repression and aggression. Remember Seattle, 1999. Remember Québec City, 2001. Remember Genoa, 2008. Remember Toronto, 2010. Remember Brazil’s World Cup, in 2014, in which neo-liberal interests where defended with military police and national Army, throughout the streets, programmed to silence and crush all dissidence and protest to FIFA’s money-making machine…

As Arundhati Roy reminds us, everytime that the world’s Capitalist Elites try to join for their summits, their G8 meetings, their WTOs and Free Trade congresses, they are only able to do it spending millions in what they call Security – another political lie, ideological fiction, that masks the fact that “Security” is based on agression, repression, and incarceration of political prisoners (it’s been done for centuries: put in prison your oponents, then justify yourself calling them “terrorists”). The so-called Liberal Democracy in the U.S. spends so much in War and Prisons that it shows to the world its true face, behind the masks and the fake twinklings of ideological propaganda. Look at Detroit, once America’s pearl, one of the wealthiest metropolis on Earth, now reduced to a wasteland; Detroit, who could be photographed nowadays in order to illustrate Mike Davis’s book Planet of Slums. Remember New Orleans when Katrina hit: the same country who spends billions with its Wars and who lets profits run wild with “free trades” such as that of Guns and Ammunitions, leaves its own citizens in abandonment while they face one of the worst climate disasters of American History…

Why, if a mandatory evacuation was issued, ordering that everybody should leave New Orleans before Katrina hit, the U.S. government didn’t provide the means for this evacuation to happen? Money, you always tell me, is not a problem in the U.S., The Land of Profit. When the poorest of people in New Orleans, who couldn’t afford a bus or plane ticket to a safe area, who couldn’t afford renting a hotel room in a Hurricane-free town, the least you’d expect from a sensible government is help. Perhaps they were too busy doing war in the Middle East, or spying on people’s private lifes in search of potencial terrorists, or torturing political prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, to ready be able to listen as New Orleans’ cried for help while drowning out in one of the crudest of the ecological turmoil’s of our “anthropocene” era. Rapper Kanye West, witnessing this, couldn’t do nothing but to speak on National TV: “George W. Bush doesn’t care for black people”. Neither he does care for Muslims. While the U.S. Army was bombing and torturing Muslims, in New Orleans it left off, unatended to, abandoned to their luck, those American Citizens who were still in town when the Hurricane came. As Naomi Klein shows in her The Shock Doctrine, after the disaster the authorities in charge of defending Free Trade capitalism took an interest in New Orleans: they saw that in Disaster there was Opportunity. What used to be Public service, in New Orleans, could now be refashioned to attend Private Interests. This is another reason why Arendt still matters: because Free Trade ideology wants to erase the notions of Public Space and of Common Good, in order to enforce its society of private interests and individualistic consumerism, protected by military force and crowded prisons.

In 1972, in a conference at the Toronto Society for the Study of Social and Political Thought (York University), Hannah Arendt said (and it remains for me inspirational stuff): “If we really believe – and I think we share this belief – that plurality rules the earth, then I think one has got to modify this notion of the unity of theory and practice to such an extent that it will be unrecognizable for those who tried their hand at it before. I really believe that you can only act in concert and I really believe that you can only think by yourself.” (pg. 305) Arendt matters because she can teach us a lot about thinking for ourselves (instead of accepting fixed truths that rain from above in the hierarchy…) and because she can teach us how to act in concert to criticize, dismantle and fight the threats of totalitarism today. 

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REFERENCES

ARENDT, Hannah. “The Seeds of a Fascist International”. Pgs. 146-147.

———————-. The Human Condition, Prologue.

BIRMINGHAM, Peg. “A Lying World Order – Political Deception and the Threat of Totalitarianism”In: Thinking in Dark Times, New York: Fordham University press.

YOUNG-BRUEHL, Elisabeth . Why Arendt Matters. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2006.

SHAKESPEARE, William. King Lear. Act 4, Scene 1.

ZINN, Howard. Zinn Reader. Seven Stories Press, 1970.

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SOME VIDEOS:

hannah08

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)

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10 Great Episodes Of Al Jazeera’s “Fault Lines” (With Avi Lewis)

Naomi Klein & Avi Lewis

Naomi Klein & Avi Lewis

Cheers, fellow wanderers! I’ve made a selection of some of my favorite videos, from one of my favorite journalists, Avi Lewis; see below 10 full episodes of Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines, which I enthusiastically consider one of the masterpieces of contemporary non-fiction television.

These several hours of great investigation about our world’s present situation take us on a ride around the world: there are reports on Detroit’s auto-industry collapse; about Haiti’s attempts at reconstruction after devastating earthquakes; about Canada’s ongoing alliance with Israel, despite Zionism’s genocidal practices against the civil population of Gaza and the West Bank; about Bolivia’s fight against the climate crisis, in an epoch when, for the first tim in its history, the country has an indigenous leader as its president (Evo Morales); and so on and so forth…

Great in-depth interviews – with Arundhati Roy and Cornel West, for example – and detailed reports about the U.S.A. in the Obama Years are also to be found in these highly informative and contextualized pieces of authentic investigative journalism.

Without further praising, i’ll leave you to watch them!

 A quick intro about Avi Lewis and his career also follows, sliced from Wikipédia and Al Jazeera:

“Avram David “Avi” Lewis (born 1968) is a Canadian documentary filmmaker, former host of the Al Jazeera English show Fault Lines, and former host of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) current-affairs program On the Map. (…) In 2004, Lewis and his wife Naomi Klein collaborated on The Take — a documentary that detailed the “recovered factory” movement in Argentina. (…) Lewis began hosting CBC Newsworld’s The Big Picture with Avi Lewis in the autumn of 2006 and On the Map in 2007. He became host of Frontline USA for Al Jazeera television in 2008.” (via Wikipédia)

“In the late 1990s, as the host and producer of counterSpin on CBC Newsworld, Lewis presided over more than 500 nationally televised debates in three years. In the early 1990s, he hosted City TV’s landmark music journalism show The New Music, interviewing hundreds of musicians, from David Bowie and Leonard Cohen to The Rolling Stones and The Spice Girls. At the same time, he was Much Music’s political specialist, pioneering political “uncoverage” for a youth audience and winning a Gemini Award for Best Special Event Coverage…” (via Al Jazeera)

Enjoy!

THE UPSURGE OF NINJA MEDIA: in 2014, the Brazilian collective of independent media and networked activism aims to go GLOBAL

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NINJA MEDIA RELEASES NEW WEBSITE AND EMERGES
AS ONE OF LATIN AMERICA’S STRONGEST ALTERNATIVE MEDIA EXPERIMENTS
www.midianinja.org

By Eduardo Carli de Moraes @ Awestruck Wanderer

To rage against the corporate control of mass media is one thing; another, quite different and much harder to accomplish, is to really invent, build and sustain an alternative. Punk-rock screamer and political provocateur Jello Biafra – former lead singer for The Dead Kennedys – used to say: “Don’t hate the media… become the media!” This message, as I hear it, can be translated something like this: we can’t sit still on the denouncing-and-hating position, we need to struggle to be really constructive in co-building a truly free press.

In Brazil, Ninja Media has followed Jello Biafra’s advice, and in the last couple of years it emerged as a brand-new force in the country’s media landscape. N.I.N.J.A. stands for “Independent Narratives, Journalism & Action” (in Portuguese: Narrativas INdependentes, Jornalismo & Ação). During the whole extremely eventful month of June, in 2013, when hundreds of thousands of Brazilian citizens took to streets to protest a 20 cents increase in public transport fares, Ninja suddenly became hype.

The streets of Rio de Janeiro in  Junho 17th, of 2013, when aprox. 500.000 "cariocas" demonstrated against public transport fare increases and police brutality (Photo by NINJA)

The streets of Rio de Janeiro in Junho 17th, of 2013, when aprox. 500.000 “cariocas” demonstrated against public transport fare increases and police brutality (Photo by NINJA)

These mass demonstrations were colossal in size and scope; and they inaugurated a new era of mass communication, emerging in Latin America, in which civil society becomes increasingly more capable of organizing simultaneous events, aided by networking technologies and widespread use of social media. Journalism was evolving into new, mutated, cyber-communal incarnations. This new force was already acting in June 2013, as police forces and protesting citizens clashed on the streets, with huge clouds of tear gas enveloping the urban landscape in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, and several other Brazilian capitals.

We suddently discovered that Journalism was beggining to mutate and evolve into radically new, and much more democratic, forms. It’s an ongoing experience, with a vast future ahead of it, open for explorers and adventures in the art of re-creation of mass comunnication. But even mass, corporate media couldn’t ignore the power of this Ninja experiment, suddenly becoming a relevant force in the public sphere as a form of radically new Citizen Journalism: thousands of us were becoming increasingly aware that we don’t need to hate the media, we can become it; we can reclaim the airwaves (they belong to the people); we could make ourselves stronger by mirroring and reverberating our deeds and discourses through the World Wide Web, broadcasting live from the streets, with cellphones and digital cameras who were there both witnessing and acting on the political scene in unprecedented ways.

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One of the most memorable scenes from the June 2013 mass demonstrations in Brazil: the roof of the National Congress in Brasília is occupied.

In this context of popular demonstrations and uprisings, Ninja emerged in Latin America’s media landscape. International sociologists and communications theorists, such as Manuel Castells, as well as foreign newspapers and TV networks, took an interest in this new phenomenon. The volunteer citizen journalists’ collective Ninja  “used the recent demonstrations in Brazil’s major cities as a stage for their guerrilla approach to journalism, using smartphones and social media platforms to reach their audience” – reported Rafael Spuldar on indexoncensorship.org.

Ninja’s upsurging popularity shook the traditional media out of its elitist slumber – to the point that “even Globo, Brazil’s media colossus, has started to run ninja footage and follow stories that started with Ninja coverage”, wrote Jonathan Watts on The Guardian, which is by the way one of most renowned English newspapers and who wrote several articles about this “band of volunteer citizen journalists”, the Ninjas of Brazil’s revolution-in-media:

Ninja no Guardian

See also:

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Back when the outburst of protest happened in June 2013, while the mass media was paralysed in perplexity with the popular uprisings (who were also against them, the corporate media and its machinery of deceit, indoctrination and lies!), Ninja was doing something quite different: it was there, at the eye of the hurricane, at the pulsating heart of the masses on the streets, broadcasting live on the Internet. Ninja unmasked contradictions and struggles as they were unfolding, in all its urgency, intensity and un-predictability. Documenting Brazil’s turmoil in amazing photographs and thrilling written articles, it soon skyrocketed in popularity and reached more than 300.000 followers on Facebook.

Ninja transmitted live from the protests and marches – including the Marijuana Marches and the Slut Walks, the demonstrations by the Landless Movement (MST) and the Homeless Movement (MTST), not to mention the resistance of indigenous populations against the advancement of ecocidal and genocidal agrobusiness and big dams such as Belo Monte… And it broadcasted images with no make-up, ideological dressing, nor censorship from advertisers and share holders.

The fact that Ninja reporters were there as witnesses also quickly transformed the political scenario completely: Ninja emerged also as a power, in Brazilian society, defending basic human rights, including freedom of expression and demonstrations, from abuses by the repressive apparatus.  Since Ninja became a new player in Brazil’s power scene, the abuses and fascist practises of the Brazilian Military Police were brought to light and attention. Our police force is mainly an inheritance of the U.S.-backed Military Dictartorship, which ruled our country from 1964 until 1985. Police brutality, its murderous practices (before Ferguson had their martyr in Michael Brown, Rio de Janeiro had its own with Amarildo, murdered by Brazilian police in 2013), this practises of deadly Fascist Police State Measures were no longer easily kept concealed from public knowledge. Police violence against demonstrators, a phenomenon so common in reality as it is uncommon in the Big Media’s TV shows and mainstream magazines, was now being massively revealed.

In São Paulo, in June 2013, when the police went trigger-happy on their rubber bullets, hitting photographer’s eyes and severely hurting journalists (and kick-starting Black Bloc retaliation campaigns against banks and ATMS…), the Police’s abuses couldn’t be concealed. Citizens around the scene had emerged spontaneously as journalists, documentarists, photographers, eye-witnesses. The practise of mass incarceration during protests, for instance, was brought to ridicule: Ninja’s cameras, together with other alternative media and individual smart-phone broadcasters, showed how ridiculous were the cops excuses for emprisonment; many people were being arrested, for instance, because of possession of vinegar!

Our military police has already been declared by the United Nations and by Amnesty International as an institution stained by frequent Human Rights violations – it kills thousands of poor Brazilians each year in our cities slums and favelas, frequently justifying itself behind the pious crusade of The War on Drugs; one of the main issues of our protests are exacly the police force – usually an instituion which acts in highly racist ways, filled with corruption  and bribery, with a tendency to constitute militias and mafias for vampiristic greedy profit (just watch Elite Squad, the two awesome films by José Padilha, for a handful of examples of such a fascist behavior…) – this Police Force is also what’s being protested against.

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Rio de Janeiro, January 25, 2014. The avant-garde black-flag reads: “No Rights? No World Cup!”

Ninja emerged to give voice to the voiceless, to denounce abuse of power against the powerless, to be an eye-witness to some occurrences in Brazilian History whose newness really demand a new media, capable of making sense of it. Ninja emerges as a collective endeavour at building not only an alternative media, but also an alternative social reality: if you’re looking for authenticity, boldness and a will-to-truthfulness, Ninja is one the Brazilian media’s tenets to be tuned on to.

As the 2014 FIFA’s World Cup began, and the world’s attention turned massively to Brazil – and not only to the soccer arenas, but also to the turmoils and struggles of Brazilian society – Ninja Media released its new website (hosted at Oximity) and now aims to go global. A team of translators – myself included – are already working very eagerly in order to translate Ninja’s articles to English, Spanish, French, German and an ever-growing number of other languages. Please share the news, if you want to help consolidate this emerging project of independent media: Ninja is alive and kicking @ www.midianinja.org and a lot of material is already available for reading in foreign languages. What follows is but a small sample of the multi-language content already published there:

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Some members of the Ninja Team in Brazil

Some members of Fora do Eixo / Brazil

ONE STEP FURTHER – MORE ABOUT NINJA @ OXIMITYNinja was born from a history of more than 15 years of free media production in Brazil, from experiences that go from small magazines to independent blogs of Fora do Eixo. Fora do Eixo is a network based in more than 200 cities in Brazil that develops technologies for culture, communication and content publication. Today NINJA is a decentralized network of people that use new mechanisms of production and distribution of information. It has thousands of members who are using collaboration as a way of life and as a tool to transform society.

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Brasília, May 2014.

Brasília, May 2014.

TEAR GAS BOMBS ARE FIRED AT INDIGENOUS IN DEMONSTRATION AGAINST FIFA WOLD CUP (Translated by Marianna Olinger)

Brazil’s capital Brasilia had a ‘warm up’ session of what can happen during FIFA World Cup games in the city this wednesday, May 28th, 2014. According to the ‘Lei Geral da Copa’ (the special legislation passed by Brazilian congress to comply with FIFA requirements during the event), the “enemies of order” – technically any citizens who live up to their right to protest and express their opinions – are prohibited to approach places pre-determined by FIFA, like stadiums and FIFA Fun Fest gatherings. Today around 3000 protesters were repressed with violence by the Brazilian State, acting to protect the FIFA standards in the preparation for the tournament. People in the surroundings described this wednesday’s event as a “spectacle of bombs and military hostility”.

The act “Copa pra quem?” (World Cup for whom?), organized by World Cup Popular Committee, the Homeless Workers’ Movement, and the Indigenous Population Organization (APIB) took over the main bus terminal in Brasilia during the rush hour. The movement promoted a staged trial where FIFA, the Brazilian Government and World Cup sponsors were judged by crimes committed in their quest for guaranteeing FIFA World Cup standards. The staged trial attracted hundreds of passengers and people on their way to work, in addition to indigenous groups from over 100 different ethnic groups from all over the country. Indigenous groups are in vigil in the Capital fighting against the advancement of agribusiness over indigenous land.

“Instead of the Government standing for the Federal Constitution and concluding demarcation of indigenous lands, it is investing billions in an event that lasts for a month, prioritizing big businesses over ancestral peoples’ Rights. For whom does the government works, ultimately?” – questions Lindomar Terena, member of APIB’s coordination.

The crowd marched to the stadium hosting FIFA World Cup in Brasilia, where the tournament trophy was being presented, in a peaceful demonstration. Children, elderly people and pregnant women were among the protesters received by the military police cavalry with tear gas bombs and rubber bullets. There was no space for dialog or negotiation as the police was determined to prevent protesters to go near the stadium.

Earlier this month Amnesty International launched a global campaign “No foul play, Brazil” urging Brazilian authorities to ensure security forces to “play by the rules” and respect everybody’s Rights to freedom of expression during demonstrations expected to take place ahead and during the tournament.

“We are not vandals, as they like to say, we are being ripped off of our land and cannot get near to this coliseum”, indigenous leaders and homeless workers complained referring to the newly built stadium. After the demonstration groups got together at the bus terminal to wrap up activities in the form of an assembly. “Tomorrow is going to be bigger”, chanted the protesters following the violent police reaction.

See also: https://www.oximity.​com/article/brazil-g​ive-a-yellow-card-to​-restricti-2

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La vague orange. Noirs et habitants des favelas, les éboueurs s’unissent pendant le carnaval contre leur syndicat, la mairie, l’entreprise de nettoyage et la Globo (principal réseau de télévision privée). Photo: Midia NINJA.

 DE JUIN À JUIN (Traduction au français pour )

Un an qui en paraît dix. Dix années intenses et vives. Les réseaux et la rue ont prouvé leurs liens, en créant un accélérateur de particules qui catalyse rêves et utopies en réalités. Si les luttes ont toujours existé, les conquêtes et les volontés ont gagné de nouvelles configurations. La population brésilienne fait des sauts quantiques de conscience et revient à la politique avec le goût de la participation et de l’interférence directe.

Des millions de Brésiliens sont sortis dans les rues pour les Journées de Juin, il y a un an. Ce fut un début qui ne surgissait pas de nulle part : le processus historique s’est condensé dans la pratique. Les insurrections ont germé ; ont fleuri, se sont accouplé. Le Mondial est alors arrivée. Avec lui, des événements non annoncés ou non autorisés. Pendant que le Brésil regardait vers l’intérieur, le monde observait le pays comme un horizon d’inventions. De la créativité à la volonté, nous avons montré que nous sommes capables de provoquer.

Un cycle se ferme, tant d’autres s’ouvrent. De la victoire carnavalesque des éboueurs (« garis ») aux Indiens venus s’inviter à la capitale. Le conflit ne vit pas seulement de réalités, mais aussi d’imaginaires! Et de mondes qui s’effondrent. Cette année de luttes et de renforcement des mouvements sociaux, initiée en juin 2013 et qui s’achève avec la Coupe du monde, est seulement la fin du début. Un cadre d’urgence politique s’est instauré, indépendant des choix et des processus qui vont suivre. La vague de protestations, à nouveau, fait bouillir dans les rues les principaux thèmes et débats du pays.

Tout cela est en partie le réflexe de 40 millions de personnes sortis de la ligne de l’extrême pauvreté. Mais c’est aussi le résultat de l’épuisement d’une politique institutionnelle qui a prouvé son échec : la crise de représentativité fait paraître moins fou à l’Etat de poursuivre l’extermination de la banlieue, l’isolement politique des Indiens, l’avancement de l’exploitation minière, l’inexistance de politiques de communication, le manque de sensibilité pour les enjeux culturels, la négation de la diversité, la vague conservatrice.

Mais le récit de la résistance doit gagner, une fois de plus. Pour chaque pas en arrière, deux en avant. Pour chaque Juin, de nombreuses victoires. En avant!

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Victoire du MTST. Plus de vingt mille Travailleurs Sans Toit immobilisent Sao Paulo quelques jours avant le Mondial, en lutte pour un logement. Toutes leurs revendications furent acceptées. Photo: Midia NINJA.

http://www.midianinja.org

Desmond Tutu & Gaza Crisis Appeal

RNS TUTU QANDA

MY PLEA TO THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL: LIBERATE YOURSELVES BY LIBERATING PALESTINE
BY DESMOND TUTU

In an exclusive article for Haaretz.com [http://www.haaretz.com/], Desmond Tutu calls for a global boycott of Israel and urges Israelis and Palestinians to look beyond their leaders for a sustainable solution to the crisis in the Holy Land.

The past weeks have witnessed unprecedented action by members of civil society across the world against the injustice of Israel’s disproportionately brutal response to the firing of missiles from Palestine.

If you add together all the people who gathered over the past weekend to demand justice in Israel and Palestine – in Cape Town, Washington, D.C., New York, New Delhi, London, Dublin and Sydney, and all the other cities – this was arguably the largest active outcry by citizens around a single cause ever in the history of the world.

Cape Town - Marchers on their way to Parliament as they protest against Israel's attack on Gaza. July 16, 2014.

Cape Town – Marchers on their way to Parliament as they protest against Israel’s attack on Gaza. July 16, 2014.

A quarter of a century ago, I participated in some well-attended demonstrations against apartheid. I never imagined we’d see demonstrations of that size again, but last Saturday’s turnout in Cape Town [http://bit.ly/1r5DGTq] was as big if not bigger. Participants included young and old, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, blacks, whites, reds and greens… as one would expect from a vibrant, tolerant, multicultural nation.

I asked the crowd to chant with me: “We are opposed to the injustice of the illegal occupation of Palestine. We are opposed to the indiscriminate killing in Gaza. We are opposed to the indignity meted out to Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks. We are opposed to violence perpetrated by all parties. But we are not opposed to Jews.”

Earlier in the week, I called for the suspension of Israel from the International Union of Architects, which was meeting in South Africa.

I appealed to Israeli sisters and brothers present at the conference to actively disassociate themselves and their profession from the design and construction of infrastructure related to perpetuating injustice, including the separation barrier, the security terminals and checkpoints, and the settlements built on occupied Palestinian land.

“I implore you to take this message home: Please turn the tide against violence and hatred by joining the nonviolent movement for justice for all people of the region,” I said.

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Over the past few weeks, more than 1.6 million people across the world have signed onto this movement by joining an Avaaz campaign calling on corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation and/or implicated in the abuse and repression of Palestinians to pull out. The campaign specifically targets Dutch pension fund ABP; Barclays Bank; security systems supplier G4S; French transport company Veolia; computer company Hewlett-Packard; and bulldozer supplier Caterpillar.

Last month, 17 EU governments urged their citizens to avoid doing business in or investing in illegal Israeli settlements.

We have also recently witnessed the withdrawal by Dutch pension fund PGGM of tens of millions of euros from Israeli banks; the divestment from G4S by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and the U.S. Presbyterian Church divested an estimated $21 million from HP, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar.

It is a movement that is gathering pace.

Gaza Bloodbath

Violence begets violence and hatred, that only begets more violence and hatred.

We South Africans know about violence and hatred. We understand the pain of being the polecat of the world; when it seems nobody understands or is even willing to listen to our perspective. It is where we come from.

We also know the benefits that dialogue between our leaders eventually brought us; when organizations labeled “terrorist” were unbanned and their leaders, including Nelson Mandela, were released from imprisonment, banishment and exile.

We know that when our leaders began to speak to each other, the rationale for the violence that had wracked our society dissipated and disappeared. Acts of terrorism perpetrated after the talks began – such as attacks on a church and a pub – were almost universally condemned, and the party held responsible snubbed at the ballot box.

The exhilaration that followed our voting together for the first time was not the preserve of black South Africans alone. The real triumph of our peaceful settlement was that all felt included. And later, when we unveiled a constitution so tolerant, compassionate and inclusive that it would make God proud, we all felt liberated.

Of course, it helped that we had a cadre of extraordinary leaders.

But what ultimately forced these leaders together around the negotiating table was the cocktail of persuasive, nonviolent tools that had been developed to isolate South Africa, economically, academically, culturally and psychologically.

At a certain point – the tipping point – the then-government realized that the cost of attempting to preserve apartheid outweighed the benefits.

The withdrawal of trade with South Africa by multinational corporations with a conscience in the 1980s was ultimately one of the key levers that brought the apartheid state – bloodlessly – to its knees. Those corporations understood that by contributing to South Africa’s economy, they were contributing to the retention of an unjust status quo.

chomsky 2
Those who continue to do business with Israel, who contribute to a sense of “normalcy” in Israeli society, are doing the people of Israel and Palestine a disservice. They are contributing to the perpetuation of a profoundly unjust status quo.

Those who contribute to Israel’s temporary isolation are saying that Israelis and Palestinians are equally entitled to dignity and peace.

Ultimately, events in Gaza over the past month or so are going to test who believes in the worth of human beings.

It is becoming more and more clear that politicians and diplomats are failing to come up with answers, and that responsibility for brokering a sustainable solution to the crisis in the Holy Land rests with civil society and the people of Israel and Palestine themselves.

Besides the recent devastation of Gaza, decent human beings everywhere – including many in Israel – are profoundly disturbed by the daily violations of human dignity and freedom of movement Palestinians are subjected to at checkpoints and roadblocks. And Israel’s policies of illegal occupation and the construction of buffer-zone settlements on occupied land compound the difficulty of achieving an agreementsettlement in the future that is acceptable for all.

The State of Israel is behaving as if there is no tomorrow. Its people will not live the peaceful and secure lives they crave – and are entitled to – as long as their leaders perpetuate conditions that sustain the conflict.

I have condemned those in Palestine responsible for firing missiles and rockets at Israel. They are fanning the flames of hatred. I am opposed to all manifestations of violence.

But we must be very clear that the people of Palestine have every right to struggle for their dignity and freedom. It is a struggle that has the support of many around the world.

No human-made problems are intractable when humans put their heads together with the earnest desire to overcome them. No peace is impossible when people are determined to achieve it.

Peace requires the people of Israel and Palestine to recognize the human being in themselves and each other; to understand their interdependence.

Angela
Missiles, bombs and crude invective are not part of the solution. There is no military solution.

The solution is more likely to come from that nonviolent toolbox we developed in South Africa in the 1980s, to persuade the government of the necessity of altering its policies.

The reason these tools – boycott, sanctions and divestment – ultimately proved effective was because they had a critical mass of support, both inside and outside the country. The kind of support we have witnessed across the world in recent weeks, in respect of Palestine.

My plea to the people of Israel is to see beyond the moment, to see beyond the anger at feeling perpetually under siege, to see a world in which Israel and Palestine can coexist – a world in which mutual dignity and respect reign.

It requires a mind-set shift. A mind-set shift that recognizes that attempting to perpetuate the current status quo is to damn future generations to violence and insecurity. A mind-set shift that stops regarding legitimate criticism of a state’s policies as an attack on Judaism. A mind-set shift that begins at home and ripples out across communities and nations and regions – to the Diaspora scattered across the world we share. The only world we share.

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People united in pursuit of a righteous cause are unstoppable. God does not interfere in the affairs of people, hoping we will grow and learn through resolving our difficulties and differences ourselves. But God is not asleep. The Jewish scriptures tell us that God is biased on the side of the weak, the dispossessed, the widow, the orphan, the alien who set slaves free on an exodus to a Promised Land. It was the prophet Amos who said we should let righteousness flow like a river.

Goodness prevails in the end. The pursuit of freedom for the people of Palestine from humiliation and persecution by the policies of Israel is a righteous cause. It is a cause that the people of Israel should support.

Nelson Mandela famously said that South Africans would not feel free until Palestinians were free.

He might have added that the liberation of Palestine will liberate Israel, too.

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Desmond Tutu
Haaretz.com [http://bit.ly/1w6Hg4x]
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GazaUnderAttack_18Aug
BBC HARDTALK WITH DOCTOR & ACTIVIST MADS GILBERT

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Read also:

Gaza Crisis Appeal

United Nations – “Gaza Crisis Appeal” – August 2014
Download the full document: http://bit.ly/1spNBD7 (PDF)

“Guerilla Open Access Manifesto”, by Aaron Swartz (1986-2013)

Captura de tela 2014-07-17 23.30.18 Captura de tela 2014-07-17 22.22.28
Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the most famous results of the sciences? You’ll need to send enormous amounts to publishers like Reed Elsevier.

There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only apply to things published in the future. Everything up until now will have been lost.

That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable.

“I agree,” many say, “but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it’s perfectly legal — there’s nothing we can do to stop them.” But there is something we can, something that’s already being done: we can fight back.

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Aaron Swartz (1986-2013)

Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, cientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world. And you have: trading passwords with colleagues, filling download requests for friends.

Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.

But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to let a friend make a copy.

Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they operate require it — their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the exclusive power to decide who can make copies.

There is no justice in following unjust laws. It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture.

We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access.

With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge — we’ll make it a thing of the past. Will you join us?

Aaron Swartz
July 2008, Eremo, Italy

https://archive.org/stream/GuerillaOpenAccessManifesto/Goamjuly2008_djvu.txt

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The Internet’s Own Boy – The Story of Aaron Swartz

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