Same Route?

Yesterday, March 24, hundreds of thousands of activists participated in “March For Our Lives” events across the United States.    The march was more follow-up from the Parkland students.

I, alas, was unable to attend Harrisburg’s march.   The snowstorms in the middle of the week created a small backlog of product that we needed to move along.   I made an attempt to be there in spirit though.   My profile pic was a re-mixed picture from a response to a prior shooting:

 

My cover picture was a quote from Martin Luther King:

I also posted a video, of somewhat recent vintage:

What I realized was how much of this was old content.  Seems like a great analogy for a march that seems to have been going on for decades.  Each mass shooting seems to bring the hope that people in Congress will say, “enough”.  Alas the gun manufacturers lobby and their rural reactionaries are louder, and little or nothing changes.  The shooting drops off the media radar, until the next one.

But maybe this is different, the Parkland students are playing in a new landscape, and maybe by the rules of social media.  I’d like to think that maybe this march ends here, that Congress will finally pass reasonable reforms, or perhaps a change in Congress may be in order.

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The Kids Are Fighting–Back!

Wednesday, March 14, was the one-month anniversary of the Parkland school shooting.  As tragic as this event was, it looked like it would fade into the news cycle like mass shootings before.

Looks were deceptive though, as the students have effectively used the power of social media to organize and mobilize youth and other concerned citizens.  The anniversary was observed by student walkouts and other events.  My local area even participated, though my alma mater, in a community which has seen its share of gun violence, seems to have stayed out.

My Twitter account devoted to gun issues reported students who walked out facing all forms of discipline, including corporal punishment.  The students accepted their fates and in some cases turned punishment into protest:

I can’t help but think these young people have taken cues from other social media-driven movements.  They saw their favorite actress, singer, or YouTube personality using #MeToo, etc and decided that they had something they could rally around.

They seem to be right, but now the hard part begins.  The students and their allies have more to do to make this moment into a movement.

The first thing is keep the events of Parkland in the news and in the social media stream.  The gun manufacturers lobby and its rural reactionaries are counting on Parkland fading.  What I have seen so far would indicate that the students show no signs of going silent.

The next task is to put energy into electing people who will listen in office.  This is a midterm election year and a “Blue Wave” seems to be building, even in states like Alabama.  A few seats in the Senate and House could go a long way.  The students may not be old enough to vote, but they can canvass and phone bank.  They could even make a event of it, a sort of political ‘house party.’

Of course, these activists also need to realize that there is potential for setbacks.  They are up against a well-funded opposition with millions of rural reactionaries at their command.  I have seen tragedy cause activism to fire up, only to fade.  Maybe this time is different.

 

Votes of Privilege?

On March 9, 2017, Sean Kitchen, a member of Raging Chicken Press made the following two posts across at least two social media platforms:

The responses from Stein supporters, and those who stayed home in 2016, were to be expected; “I voted my conscience”, “I wanted to send a message”, etc.

What I wonder if many of these folks realize is that they could vote the way they did as they were not going to be directly affected. How many of them are at risk of being deported? How many of their children will be harassed by the police? If their daughter were to become pregnant unexpectedly, they could likely get an abortion or they would have the resources to care for the child.

What I am saying is that many of the people who could vote Stein or simply stay home may not have realized the privilege they had. This privilege may be keeping many of them from directly confronting Trump and the Alt-Right. They may want to stand and shut down a fascist rally, but the folks at church, etc may not approve. Now they could make donations to groups like; Make The Road PA, It’s Going Down, or One Peoples Project that are taking the fight to the streets.

But there are other ways they can put the privilege they have to use. They could urge their businesses to be “Sanctuary Employers”, to not allow raids without warrants. They could support businesses that serve all people, regardless of religion, etc.

Now one can argue that folks who claim to care about minorities in effect stabbed them in the back. But there are still ways they can undo some of the damage they have inflicted on the folks they claim to support.

In The Crossfire

On February 14, we received word of another mass shooting.  This one at a high school in Florida.  The story dominated the news for a few days and looked like it was going to go away.

The affected students had other plans though.  Using the power of social media, they built a movement that has already made some concrete results.  Several businesses have dropped support for the National Rifle Association, and Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it will stop selling modern sporting rifles, commonly called assault rifles.  My hope is that these students keep it up going into the election, but realize that they are in for quite a slog, as groups like Mom’s Demand Action and CeaseFirePA can attest.

This shooting and it’s aftermath have me doing some thinking of my own.  Much of it from the responses I have seen on social media.  Many responses from my classmates have me wondering how I was able to avoid the authoritarian “WhiteLash” that may have helped to elect Trump.  I have some ideas on that, and I plan to explore those on this blog.  The posts from non-alumni that have adopted authoritarian thinking are to be expected, and dismissed.

What concerns me is that many of my fellow activists seem to be rejecting what seem to me to be common sense reforms.  I do not see myself as “anti-gun”, the absolutists that seem to make up the NRA base may disagree with me, but I see no issue with a person having a gun for sport, hunting or personal protection.

But I also don’t see why a domestic abuser, which to me would also include child abuse, a felon, or a person with a mental illness should be able to possess a gun.  I also see little utility in weapons like an AR-15.

I think some of this may have to do with the fact that since Trump’s election, I have gotten a bit more involved with some folks who may be farther to the left than I.  I am in contact with Democratic Socialists, anti-authoritarians and anarchists, Maoists and various other radicals.  These folks may see armed rebellion as not only necessary, but inevitable.

Many believe any reforms will affect communities of color the most.  This makes sense as a logical consequence of the criminalization of  poverty and of color.  I have to say that enough people of color purchasing and licensing firearms would likely prompt Trump, with the backing of the NRA–again, to pass some sort of modern “Mulford Act”.  Find some way to limit the ability of people of color to possess and use firearms.

There’s also the argument to disarm the police as well.  This makes a bit of sense, a sort of “mutual disarmament”.  But what of the vigilante like the Oath Keeper or “Proud Boy”?  This is where even I would that the ability to fight fire with fire may be a good idea.  Why couldn’t a few activists, likely from the “black bloc”, be trained in firearms.  I would decline as I don’t think I have the temperament for such a duty.

One final thing is that I may need to realize that I am looking at this issue, like many issues, through a lens of privilege.  Figuring out how to see past that lens is a task I may not be able to do on my own.

 

 

Investing In Resistance

By now, we’re seeing a little more in the paycheck courtesy of Trump.  What to do with that extra money is a question we’re asking.  I hope to use some of mine to get started in Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency and perhaps start saving for a trip to Latin America; right now Costa Rica is the leading candidate.

But perhaps some of the money Trump is giving us should go towards the resistance.

The January 15-22 issue of The Nation, included the annual list of groups that could use a hand.   As is typical of this list, there is a strong focus on women’s issues, especially reproductive issues.

I’m not going to second guess those suggestions, but I have a few groups I think are worth a few dollars of support.

Two groups that I see on the front lines of the resistance to Trump and his authoritarian supporters are always in need of support; the One People’s Project and It’s Going Down.

My trip to DC to oppose the ACA repeal put me in contact with three groups that could all use support to continue to organize actions.  Housing Works is a New York City based group working to end the issues of homelessness and HIV/AIDS.  The Center for Popular Democracy is a multi-issue group whose partners in Pennsylvania include CASA and Make the Road PA.

If there is one lasting image of the resistance to Trump and his agenda, it may be of protesters in wheelchairs being carried out of the Senate.  Many of those protesters were allied with the national group ADAPT.  This group has been compared to the HIV/AIDS activist group ACT-UP, and I was impressed by the spirit and courage these individuals who have overcome so much brought to the halls of Congress.

One other group that may need a hand is your local hacker community or maker space; with Net Neutrality repealed, communities may need to look to alternatives to stay connected.   According to Vice.com, over 750 have.

 

 

 

 

The End Of The Net as We Know It. . .

Unless something the scale of what happened yesterday, December 12, in Alabama happens tomorrow, December 14, the Internet as we know it will be gone.  The Federal Communications Commission is supposed to vote to end “Net Neutrality”.

Many of you have seen tweets, posts on Facebook or even received e-mails on this issue.  But what exactly is “Net Neutrality”.  It would be easy to go back to the old “information superhighway” that was used in the early days of the net.  But a better analogy may be an amusement park.  Many parks have “priority lanes” for some rides where users who pay for an armband or other pass can skip the lines.  With “Net Neutrality” there were no such lanes, all traffic passed with no special priority.

What looks likely to happen tomorrow is that providers will be able to give content the ability to “jump the line”.  This could be based on a fee a customer pays, a fee a site or service pays or even the whims of the provider.  A provider could also throttle or slow down a particular page; Comcast could give content from NBC priority and throttle content for ABC.  Verizon, my current provider, could make me use Yahoo.  The information security podcast Greynoise gave an excellent list of examples of what a post-neutrality net may look like; It’s not a pretty picture.

A better question may be, why?  There are a few obvious answers; Trump’s desire to undo everything Obama has done, the pro-corporate mentality of Trump, etc.  There may be something more sinister at play here though.

Trump knows how well “The Resistance” has used the internet.  It started almost as soon as he was elected; Disrupt J20 and the Women’s March, the actions around the ACA, and the Alabama Senate election all utilized the net to organize and mobilize.  Thousands of progressive podcasts, blogs and social media feeds bring information that the corporate media refuses to cover to an audience it could not have reached in decades past.  Who’s to say Verizon couldn’t be asked to throttle “Democracy Now”, or CenturyLink to give the NRA priority over “The Trace” (in the interest of disclosure, I was employed by CenturyLink from 2011-2015).

This would be nothing new.  Governments have always found ways to stifle, silence or stop dissenters.  The dissidents have found ways to persist in their resistance.  There are methods that could be used to get around artificial blocks to information, that is for another post though.

 

Philly With a Side of B-Sides

Over the weekend, I got my second taste of B-Sides.  This time Drexel University in Philadelphia played host to the 2nd annual B-Sides Philly.

Much like the event in April, I got a good cross-section of technical and non-technical information to ponder.  The event began with the keynote, given by a speaker I had heard in Rochester.  Ernest Wong, from the US Military Academy, gave a talk on “Innovating for 21st Century Warfare”.  Though the examples he used for innovation were the original “Mission Impossible” and the movie “Top Gun”.   The speech that bored me in Rochester, was downright interesting.

The next talk was on Russian Information Operations and how much of it is social engineering.  I couldn’t help see a lot of similarities between the tactics Russia is using and the tactics Trump, Fox News, etc are using on the minions in the mobile estates, etc.   This was interesting enough that I actually streamed it for a fellow activist:

Now it was time to get logged into the system a bit, with a talk on the Unix, etc command line called “Out With The Old–In With the GNU.”  A look at how people often use commands that they have learned or are familiar with, without looking for alternatives.  This can lead to ‘fingerprints’ that can be used to track and trace a user, and the talk was on how to avoid leaving such a trail.

The next topic I explored is something I could see my fellow activists being interested in, “Disinformation and Hiding Personal Information”.  Trump will eventually tighten the grip on “The Resistance”, and being able to go incognito may be something that needs to be explored.  Oddly enough the “Dark Web” was not brought up either in the talk or the questions.

I broke for lunch and then explored the vendors room, where I got some business cards that I plan to follow up on once I get my Security+ Certification.

The afternoon session brought a talk on ransomware that was interrupted by a fire alarm and a very quick introduction to a web security dojo.

I managed to save the best for last, with a talk on how there’s common ground between improv comedy and social engineering that  has me looking at reaching out to a local improv theater troupe and finally a talk on the mind of a hacker that was a bit chilling.

The closing remarks brought a surprise for me.  I am now the proud owner of a Bitcoin wallet; it’s really more like a personal vault, and there’s the matter of me learning how to get some cryptocurrency into it.

I hope to return for 2018, but may leave the driving to Amtrak.