ricardo dominguez on Fri, 5 Jun 1998 19:10:55 +0200 (MET DST)

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Below is an article on Electronic Civil Disobedience by San Francisco
journalist Jeanne Carstensen, entertainment editor for The Gate, the SF
Chronicle and Examiner's web site.  The article, with good links, is
found at http://www.sfgate.com/technology/beat/

**Remember that Wednesday, JUNE 10, is Act Two of The Electronic
  Disturbance Theater. For updates as JUNE 10 approaches click here**


The Electronic Disturbance Theater proprosal for SWARM has been accepted
as one of the featured projects for the Ars Electronica 98 Festival (a
group based in Linz, Austria). An Ars Electronica web page already links to
the JUNE 10 action. http://web.aec.at/infowar/index.html

"Ars Electronica - a Festival for Art,Technology and Society - was
initiated in 1979 and focuses on electronic art and media theory. This
year's theme of the Festival is "INFOWAR". The Festival '98 takes place
from the 7th - 12th of September." http://web.aec.at/fest/feste.html

Opening these connections in Europe is a clear sign that The Electronic
Disturbance Theater is acting on the global stage. We are making inroads
into the computer/arts communities across international borders. People
skilled in computers and the arts are becoming more aware of the
Zapatistas, Chiapas, and the Mexican government's counter insurgency
war. While at the same time computerized activists within the world wide
pro-Zapatista movement are becoming more aware of uses for the Net
beyond merely a communication device for transmitting email. The Net is
becoming a site for non-violent direct action. We are only witnessing its 
early forms.

Ideally, hopefully soon, maybe by this fall, The Electronic Disturbance
Theater will become one of many small "affinity groups" that periodically
(regularly) act in concert, at the same time, against the same site, but
maintain autonomy and independence as their own group. In this sense, we
again want to copy the earlier civil disobedience movements that relied
on an affinity group structure for carrying out mass nonviolent direct
action.  In effect, this is what is meant by SWARM.

As an analogy, think of us and our actions as those of a just a handful
of bees or wasps. Our stingers, are, so far, the FloodNet devices that send
out a little sting, or automated electronic pulse. As just a handful of
bees, with just a handful of stingers, stinging our opponents, we may be
a nuisance and a pest, but we clearly are a force that can be dealt with
or even ignored (perhaps so far). But if we become a SWARM of bees and
wasps that go after a site, or a series of related sites, all at the same
time, but from many different directions, using different types of stingers
with varying degrees of potency, then we become a more powerful force that
sends a surge of energy across the Net, as opposed to sending out a handful of

For those postmodernists in the crowd, consider Deleuze and Guattari's
"plateaus" or "assemblages" that occur when certain "lines of flight"
converge. (1) A SWARM is a massive convergence of a multiplicity of
lines of flight arising momentarily to send a powerful surge (i.e., message)
to then quickly disperse and disappear. Appearing and disappearing and
reappearing. Moving nomadically as need be.

So we need a thousand plateaus. We need an array of FloodNet devices.
We need the FloodNet electronic pulse device to be just one tool, one
machine, one computerized act within a spectrum of tools, machines, and acts.

Like the tinkerers who meddled with metal and formed the first swords
and shields, like the Mongols and other early nomadic warriors who wandered
and roamed, we need more electronic tinkerers to meddle with today's
electronic metal, to create new tools, new machines, that enable new acts for
today's nomadic warriors who wander on the Net.

Below is the article.

- Stefan Wray

Finally, the article. . .

                Hey, Ho, We Won't Go
                Civil Disobedience Comes to the Web
                Jeanne Carstensen

                When I think of civil disobedience I think of an
                environmentalist chained to a redwood or anti-war
                activists stretched out on the tracks in front of trains
                loaded with weapons headed for Central America.
                There are bodies on the line. And although most acts
                of civil disobedience are nonviolent, there is always
                the possibility that blood will be spilled.

                So when I read a message on a Bay Area events
                e-mail list I subscribe to announcing a "virtual sit-in"
                at the website of Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo
                on April 10 to protest repression against the
                Zapatistas in Chiapas, the idea sounded strange.
                Civil disobedience in cyberspace? Will it work
                without the breath and bulk of angry bodies?

                The concept "electronic civil disobedience" emerged
                from the sophisticated global internet activism of the
                Zapatistas and their supporters. Since their uprising
                in 1994, the Zapatistas have taken advantage of the
                web to circulate rapid-fire e-mail from the
                charismatic Commandante Marcos about conditions
                inside Chiapas. And Zapatista supporters have
                flooded web sites and discussion groups with human
                rights reports and articles that are updated on a daily

                The web has been so influential in the Zapatista
                struggle, that the conflict is often referred to as a
                kind of information war. "This is a war of public
                opinion, a war of declarations and political
                positions..." a top national security officer in Mexico
                said in a recent New York Times article ("Mexico
                Sees Both Carrot and Stick Fail in Chiapas,"

                And on the web, the Zapatistas are winning. Every
                day a community of savvy cyber-activists helps
                spread the message of the largely indigenous
                movement in southern Mexico to the entire world.

                Two of those activists, Stefan Wray and Ricardo
                Dominguez, are the main proponents of "electronic
                civil disobedience" and the organizers of the recent
                "virtual sit-ins" supporting the Zapatista cause. Wray
                hosts a web site dedicated to the theory and practice
                of electronic civil disobedience and Dominguez is the
                editor of The Thing, a small ISP for an artists virtual

                Ricardo Dominguez, 39, is a former actor and
                long-time political activist. He talks about electronic
                civil disobedience in terms of "theater." In fact, the
                series of ECD actions Wray and Dominguez have
                planned are referred to as "Electronic Disturbance
                Theater." Like the Yippies, Greenpeace, Act Up and
                other activists who have used the media to draw
                attention to their causes, Dominguez appreciates the
                power of narrative to capture the public attention.

                "We began to notice that 80s activist tactics were
                getting less media attention," Dominguez explained.
                "Power had shifted from the streets to the
                information highway so we started thinking about
                how to create political gestures on the web
                equivalent to lying down in the street and refusing to

                The idea of conducting "virtual sit-ins" actually
                originated in Italy with the Autonomous Digital
                Coalition, which suggested that Zapatista supporters
                on the internet connect their browsers to a
                pre-selected site at a certain hour and manually hit
                the reload button over and over again as a form of
                protest. The intention was to temporarily overload
                the capacity of the server, thus disrupting service
                and effectively "blockading" the entrance to the
                targeted website.

                But Dominguez and some other activists decided to
                take the virtual sit-in process a step further by
                automating it. They created a website called Flood
                Net that uses a Java applet to automatically reload
                the web page of the targeted site every three
                seconds. When the first virtual sit-in was held on
                April 10 at Zedillo's web site, all the cyber-protesters
                had to do was connect their browsers to Flood Net
                at the appointed hour.

                Because a stats program is installed on the Flood
                Net site, Wray and Dominguez know that 8141
                surfers hit their site that day and participated in the
                sit-in. Some disruption in Zedillo's site was noted by
                the activists, and the New York Times Cyber Law
                Journal on May 1 quoted a Mexican Embassy
                official who acknowledged that there had been some
                disturbance to Zedillo's site on April 10.

                Another virtual sit-in was held on May 10, this time
                targeting the White House website. Wray and
                Dominguez didn't notice any significant disruption to
                the White House site, which Dominguez assumes
                "has a more robust infrastructure" than Zedillo's site.
                "This is experimental," Stefan Wray explained about
                the sit-in process. "We don't know what critical
                mass is for a site to be blocked."

                The interesting thing about the virtual sit-in tactic is
                that it makes use of a public function available to any
                internet user. Reloading a page again and again,
                while capable of causing disruption, isn't hacking into
                the system. "We're interested in creating public
                gestures in the public sphere of the internet,"
                Dominguez emphasized.

                Civil disobedience is defined in Robert Seeley's
                Handbook of Non-Violence as "the refusal on
                principle to obey an unjust law." One of its main
                goals "is to influence public opinion to change an
                unjust law or abolish unjust policy."

                Mike Godwin, staff counsel to the Electronic
                Frontier Foundation, said that a virtual sit-in is "no
                more or less illegal than tying up the White House
                switchboard." The law makes a distinction between
                harrassing content and actions. "It's legal when
                calling in to voice a complaint and illegal when you're
                purposefully trying to jam the switchboard."

                In the May 1 New York Times Cyber Law Journal
                article, however, internet consultant Mark D. Rasch
                said that "participants in electronic sit-ins run a risk
                of violating a federal law... [that] makes it a crime to
                intentionally distribute a program...with the intent to
                cause damage to another's web site."

                "Is it illegal to refresh a web site over and over?"
                Wray answered when I asked him about the legality
                of virtual sit-ins. "I don't see any clear directive that
                says this is illegal. We're walking into territory that
                hasn't been clearly regulated or controlled so it's
                hard for us or the government to know where we

                Although the Electronic Disturbance Theater sit-ins
                are designed to pressure the Mexican government to
                respect the human rights of the indigenous
                communities in Chiapas that the Zapatistas
                represent, some people see risks in restricting free
                speech on the web to achieve that goal: "Why do
                you need to shut out anyone from speaking out on
                the web when you can use the same medium to
                express your own views?" Mike Godwin said.

                Maureen Mason, program director of the Institute
                for Global Communications (IGC), an ISP for
                progressive organizations and individuals based in
                San Francisco, drew distinctions between different
                kinds of possible civil disobedience actions. Last
                July, IGC was the target of a "mail-bombing"
                campaign against one of the websites they host, the
                Basque Euskal Herria Journal. The huge volume of
                repetitive e-mail overwhelmed their server, and they
                were forced to suspend the Basque web site in order
                to continue to serve their other clients.

                IGC has issued a statement condemning
                mail-bombing, but Mason believes that political
                speech itself should be protected. "The expression of
                a political opinion should be allowed, but if
                technology is used to shut down a communication
                service all together, then it's like burning the
                bookstore to protest one book," she said.

                It's too early to predict how electronic civil
                disobedience will evolve on the web, and whether it
                will ever have the same impact as a group of
                anti-war activists smearing human blood on a missle,
                as they did last week at Andrews Air Force Base.
                There's something so powerful about people using
                their own bodies to protest injustice, and that will
                never happen on the net. But in our increasingly
                virtual world, electronic civil disobedience is a timely

                            Jeanne Carstensen is
                            Entertainment Editor of the Gate.
                            When not trying to escape to
                            Costa Rica, where she worked as
                            a shortwave radio producer for six
                            years, she likes to eat arroz con
                            pollo, read Jeanette Winterson,
                            and occasionally live out her
                            fantasy of being a nurse.
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