The Republican National Convention set new standards for conventions and for protests. Not only was it the largest operation for both the RNC and protestors alike, but it was the largest instance of police infiltration and pre-emptive raids in America’s recent memory. Eight organizers of the “welcoming committee” (protest coordinators) are facing serious charges. As the Friends of the RNC 8 website states, they were originally charged with conspiracy to riot in the 2nd degree in furtherance of terrorism, a felony which is the first ever use of Minnesota’s PATRIOT Act.
One of the stories to be overshadowed by the crackdown was the ingenious use of cell phones and social networking to coordinate the mobilizations. A small collective of tech groups and individuals gathered before the convention to organize the Tin Can Collective. Among their communications efforts is a program called Tapatio. Tapatio is a collaboratively-developed, open source computer program described as a communications resource for the radical anti-authoritarian community that was made for the RNC.
Participating in the Tin Can Collective was Hackbloc, one of many hacktivist groups that use their technological expertise for social or environmental justice. Hackbloc states their mission is “to research, create and disseminate information, tools, and tactics, empowering people to use technology in a way that is liberating, and facilitate building of affinity groups that will support and strengthen their local communities through education and action.” Among their points of unity are autonomous organizing, security culture, and internet neutrality.
I spoke with eVoltec, a member of Hackbloc, about their efforts during the RNC and the role technology can play in autonomous organizing.
As their website states, eVoltec described that their hope with Tapatio was to…
Create a system that can be used in mass direct action scenarios to gather tactical information, categorize that information based on type and urgency, rate the information for reliability, and then dispatch reliable information to individuals in the streets based on the criteria they request.
In other words, with Tapatio, protestors with cell phones were able to receive text message updates on the status of the areas they were mobilizing in. For example, a post on the Minneapolis / St. Paul Indymedia stated that cell phone users could subscribe to a general update group by texting “Follow RNC08″ and send it to 40404. All this was made possible through the popular social networking application, Twitter.
Not only could protestors receive these updates but they could send them as well, in true autonomous fashion. With update groups on everything from medial need to food distribution, people on the streets could spend less time figuring out what was going on and more time protesting.
But as their description of Tapatio suggests, the program was able to allow moderation of these updates so Tin Can Collective members could ensure they were useful and reliable. eVoltec recounts the whole operation being very effective.
That is, until their base of operations was raided by the police.
The space housing members of the collective was one of many locations to receive a search warrant in the pre-emptive raids during the convention. Once the raid was over, police had left with their much of their equipment.
Yet Tapatio kept running. And it was able to do so for much of the rest of the protests (yet in a degraded state, admits eVoltec). This is largely due to the fact that Tapatio is web-based program that operates and exists on the internet (or more specifically, on a server that can be located pretty much anywhere). And this is where eVoltec realizes the colletive’s mistake in trying to moderate such an autonomous system in such a physically centralized location. Were it to happen again, he sees no reason why Tapatio moderators couldn’t be widely dispersed – so in even the most repressive police state protests will have an seemingly indestructable communications system.
Hackbloc wants to hear from you if you’re looking to implement Tapatio into your organizing.
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