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Activism 3.0

Protests are increasingly appearing on the internet in real time in a myriad of ways. Adam Waldron takes a look at the smartphone applications that every activist needs

December 2, 2010
6 min read

Karl Marx famously said that capitalism would produce its own gravedigger – and of course he meant the working class would overthrow the world order. But the arch-capitalists at Apple are rapidly arming students and trade unionists with the technology to agitate online, secretly organise direct actions and then publicise them worldwide in seconds.

Apptivism has the potential to transform the spontaneous outburst of demonstrations and renewed interest in the radical left into a coherent, highly organised and efficient movement. When protesters go ‘tooled up’ to demonstrations these days, they are grasping iPhones and Blackberrys bristling with the latest applications.

Micah White argued in The Guardian that ‘digital activists’ promoting ‘clicktivism’ are endangering the very ‘possibility of an emancipatory revolution in our lifetimes’. But as Red Pepper launches its clicktastic new website, here is a practical guide to Apptivism – because iPhone apps will be used to equip the uprising out in the streets, in real time, and make sure it is televised.

Apple’s own iBooks (free) gives you a free of Marx and Engel’s Communist Manifesto. Yes, every iPhone comes with a free copy of the Communist Manifesto ready to install. And classics like Trotsky’s An Appeal to the Toiling, Oppressed and Exhausted Peoples of Europe and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s System of Economical Contradictions; or, the Philosophy of Misery are available for sale from the Apple Store

Ustream Live Broadcaster (free). Your humble iPhone 4 becomes a HD television camera with live broadcaster. Film protests as they happen and stream them live to the world. Who needs Sky News with its multi-million cameras and satellite uplink vans – this is citizen broadcast journalism.

iMovie (£2.99) from Apple allows you to edit footage from town hall riots on your handset. You can add the Clash’s White Riot to the background, run subtitles to help those who are hard of hearing and include Channel 4 News style graphics – before uploading to YouTube. We now own the means of television production.

Those who still like to write and publish must have BlogPress (£1.79) or equivalent so they can post immediately to their blog or website live from the meeting. Double up with Apple’s new AirPrint and you can have a printed leaflet before the demo has even reached the rally.

Essential organisational tools include CalenGoo (£3.99) which allows you to sync and manage calendars off the web and shows you where you should be and when. Coalition of Resistance and the Right to Work Campaign could share a calendar so their public meetings do not clash. Members can sync so they are booked to attend in their private calendar automatically (this is known as revolutionary discipline).

Things (£5.99) is an expensive but extraordinarily useful to-do list which allows activists to manage their various tasks for the hundred and one protest groups they are taking part in. You can add an item direct on the phone during an organising meeting. Coders promise the ability to assign tasks to cadre members (other people) very soon.

ProCamera (£1.79) is the best Apps for stills photography, with sharp 5 megapixel images of student graffiti on police vans and riot officers overreacting immediately afterwards. These are good enough for national newspapers and leftwing websites. For those of an artistic temperament, the Album and Studio suite allows you to touch up the images before using Flickr (free) to upload to the web.

For photographers who like to use a digital SLR but want to upload before everyone else can buy a £39 lump of plastic, an app called ZoomIt (free) takes files from your memory card and transfers them to the iPhone, before posting online. The Eye-Fi App (free) will also upload – and if you invest in a SD card with Wifi you can get images live to the web from the riot zone. Your world changing photographs will already be online when you get arrested.

TweetDeck (free) is universally acknowledged as the best app for tweeting 160 word microblogs – and can handle multiple accounts so you can post for your party and your party front at the same time. Twitter (free) is losing its edge as a propaganda tool but should be used to cascade information secretly through organisations. Climate Camp could tell thousands of activists to meet at Bishopsgate using a single tweet quicker than front line police could get a decision from Gold Command.

Private mass communications are now possible with Groups 2 (£2.39), which can send up to 100 texts at a time and mass emails. It allows the user to create multiple subscriber lists for each of the campaigns you are helping publicise. You can have separate lists for the steering group and the membership, the local anti-cuts campaign and the local Palestine solidarity group.

Reeder (£1.79) is the best way to access RSS feeds from your favourite left magazine, blogs and campaign sites so you can keep up to date with dozens of anti-cuts groups around the country (even if you are offline) while Google’s Reader is a free (online only) alternative.

Geolocation apps like HeyWAY Pro (59p) and Friends Around Me (free) should already be used by organisations to help leaflet distributors, stewards and activists best work together on marches and big events. You can make sure you have paper sellers everywhere. AroundMe (free) will help hungry activists find food (and banks, petrol stations, cash points) during long demonstrations.

For the cultural, Alarm Clock Pro (59p) will wake you with a rousing version of the Internationale while Grindr (free) and its women orientated and heterosexual equivalents allow a social life away from comrades for those with too little time for friends.

Cool extras include Mobile Mouse (free) for those PowerPoint displays to liven up local meetings; JotNot Scanner Pro (59p) allows you to scan documents and email them so you can take a picture of a leaflet and then hand it straight back; RedLaser (free) used to scan barcodes of goods so you can check if the latest edition of Das Capital is in fact cheaper over the internet and Tube Map (free) so you can get around London to picket-lines even when the roads are blocked by riots.

Apple has not yet produced an app that shows the working conditions at its Foxconn cityfactory in China, allows you to send messages of support to those on the shop floor contemplating suicide or to donate money to any state-banned union. They could call it iPicketApple (free the workers). But in the meantime, we’re going to have to find a way to do this ourselves.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
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