Hacktivism: Digital tools for a physical campaign

As you will probably know if you’ve been following our work for a while, from 7th – 8th June 2014 we hosted ‘Hacktivism: The Unlocking Ideas Hackathon’. At this Hackathon we asked attendees to create the next generation of protest tools, using or inspired by the collections of the People’s History Museum and Working Class Movement Library.

Each hack created was different but did share a common theme. This common theme is that while the tool being created was digital but its purpose was to enhance the physical campaigning.

This blog takes a closer look at these digital tools for a physical campaign through the words of their creators.  (If you want to find out more about the event itself, visit our post Hacktivism: The Unlocking Ideas Hackathon in Pictures.


Hands up!



A network to enable people to link with others in their community who share their concern for a particular cause, with a focus on combating ‘clicktivism’ – where people support campaigns only online – by creating small, active groups in which each person has a clear role.









From Fragmentation to Organisation

Designed by @thomasswann1 @leasavvides
The purpose of this draft pamphlet is to outline the functionality needed by an activist social media platform. What should such a platform support and what should it reject? Activist technology should facilitate ‘real world’ organisation and this is what the pamphlet aims at. Among the various features that an activist social media platform should embody are the ability to make decisions as well as having discussions and the space for users to procrastinate and have fun as well as organising. It is crucial that an alternative platform like this avoid replicating the worst aspects of mainstream platforms, such as an architecture based on individualism and the economic exploitation of users and the data they produce.

From Fragmentation to Organisation page 1 (2)

From Fragmentation to Organisation page 2

From Fragmentation to Organisation page 3 (1)

An Organisational Cybernetics Approach to Activist Social

Organisational Cybernetics is the study of how systems and organisations use communication to self-manage and self-regulate their affairs. Based on the British cybernetician Stafford Beer’s Viable Systems Model, this sketch highlights the various lines of communication between different sections of an activist social media platform. The different levels of the platform are not organised hierarchically but focus on different aspects of decision making and political action. While the ‘bottom’ of the model is concerned with tactical and immediate action and the ‘top’ with strategic discussion and decision-making, the same groups and individuals are involved at both levels. This is broadly modelled on the organisational structure of the Occupy camps, with working groups involved in tactical, day-to-day action and general assemblies used for strategic discussions. The Viable Systems Model is a way of understanding the importance of autonomy in stable forms of organisation.

From Fragmentation to Organisation page 4 (1)



Political Unconscious Theatre

Designed by The Exhibition Centre for the Life and Use of Books @ECLUB_

Website http://www.lifeanduseofbooks.org/theatre.html

Background and Research: Our ‘hack’ is directly inspired by agitprop and the posters and pamphlets of leftist theatre groups in the People’s History Museum and Working Class Movement Library archives, including the concept of ‘Living Newspapers’.  Agitprop is a form of theatre whereby political ideas are played out, often using crude oversized props, with a specific message to be gleaned by the audience, and ‘Living Newspapers’ are a development of this, using relevant news stories of the day to urge social action through theatre. the term ‘agitprop’ was coined in Russia in the 1920s and the form spread in Worker’s Theatre groups through Europe, with ‘The Red Megaphones’ forming in Manchester and Salford in the 1930s. We have also drawn from the work of ‘Magician for Socialism’ Ian Saville, who explains and expounds socialist theory through storytelling and magic, with scripts and diagrams published online for anyone to use, as well as Noah Wardrip-Frain’s work around the value of storytelling in games, and how ideas can be expressed through play.


Opening of a new workers theatre programme, 1937, People’s History Museum


We reflected on the ways that the mainstream media fails to accurately and fairly report on politics and protest, and the ways that online ‘clicktivism’ fails to fully engage people with, or give them an understanding of the struggles that they are trying to support or lend solidarity to. However, that’s not to suppose that the general public are uninterested or don’t have opinions, even when voter turn-out is drastically low, and traditional forms of protest, like marches, are ignored.


Programme, Waiting for Lefty, People’s History Museum


One method of everyday engagement with politics and social problems that many people take part in is ‘commenting’, whether at the end of articles or on forums, offering a gargantuan archive of responses to current events. We have focussed on this rather than eg.twitter because these comments can be longer and are often considered and impassioned, as well as being specific to where they are made, and are also often anonymous – or at least not attached to a profile or identity the way twitter and facebook comments would be. This anonymity also means that the ‘comments’ which are found ‘below the line’ on Magazines’ and Newspapers’ websites are often taken as an opportunity to ‘say the unsayable’, that is, to put across extreme or ‘unacceptable’ views that are actually held by many, but remain unacknowledged and therefore unchallenged.


We also wanted to question our, and wider society’s conception of ‘making sense’, which it has been argued amounts to infantilisation, in that advertisers and city planners appeal to our most fearful and backward-looking impulses in order to convince us to buy things, or to behave desirably in public, all wrapped up as ‘common sense’ and the right kind of lifestyle. In order to break free of this kind of sense, and to delve ‘below the line’ into the chaotic and often unpleasant sea of online comment, we have used surrealist games and techniques originally designed to draw out unconscious desires and the uncanny, basing our ‘hack’ on the game ‘Exquisite Corpse’, whereby an absurd, funny and usually ugly picture is created collaboratively and anonymously. In line with this, we were also inspired by Herman Hesse’s ‘Steppenwolf’, a book in which the main character struggles to reconcile his desire for freedom, with his inability to detach himself from bourgeois comforts, eventually arriving at a ‘Magic Theatre’ where he discovers a treatise that seems to be about himself, and explains his difficulties.


Song sheet, c.1930, People’s History Museum

How it works: Political Unconscious Theatre scans through the comments on articles, picking out one-sentence-long phrases depending on filters that the user can input, generating infinite short political play scripts on any topic which can then be edited and performed. For this example the comments have been selected based on the use of ubiquitous punctuation such as exclamation marks, questions marks and three full stops, as these are used regardless of the writer’s spelling or grammar ability. If desired a scene can also be set using descriptions taken from either gardening or urban exploration forums. The resulting play works to draw out an underlying political unconscious, historicizing the now and countering the notion of post-politics and post-history, by forcing the viewer and performer to inhabit and reflect upon voices from the mass of opinion to be found online. We chose to use an article about fracking law, and one from a regular beauty column as our source material, juxtaposing environmental anxiety and cynical eye-rolling with advice on long-term birth control and choosing wedding makeup, which may at first seem pointless, but in the performing construes ideas around identity, environment and the uncertainty in our futures.




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