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Ruckus Society September 2004
Summary This document is a review of activities that occurred during the Republican National Convention, held in New York City, in late August of 2004. Specifically, this is a narrative account of a mobile phone text messaging service provided by a team of activists organized through the Ruckus Society. Text messaging was a new tool in the existing established model of a communications center, and piggybacked on the use of Nextel phones, walkie talkies, and media monitoring. The team’s goal was to both play a useful role in supporting demonstrations occurring during the week and to perform a trial of text messaging’s usefulness within an activist context. Throughout the week the text messaging service was utilized in a number of different ways. These can be analyzed to be the following: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Broadcasting news and media alerts Creation of Adhoc, mobile communication teams Enable viral subscriber growth Instant send of strategic field alerts “Flash mobbing” Media on-air awareness Demonstration/Event Reminders
This document walks through a log of the messages sent and points out when and how the seven applications of text messaging were utilized. THIS IS A BETA DRAFT. PLEASE SEND ANY COMMENTS TO TEXTALERT@RUCKUS.ORG
The First Message Aug 25 8:04PM here we go...RNC 2004 Text Alerts!
And so began the exploratory efforts of the Ruckus Society in facilitating the free flow of information to assist citizens exercising their rights during the 2004 Republic National Convention in New York City. The message above was sent out to a group of about one hundred users who had immediately signed up for the RNC 2004 Text Alert Service (TAS) after we announced its availability. The coming days would see the service’s enrollment grow more than six-fold. Through coordination with the TXTMob service, in particular the NYC Comms and Indymedia Dispatch team, nearly five thousand people in New York, and some around the country, received timely and strategic information to the personal, mobile computing device in their pocket or purse called a “cellphone”. This document will review what was learned from that week through commentary and analysis on the log of messages sent out to the subscribed users. Only the messages from the Ruckus organized UPOC-based service will be included. A more complete analysis would include messages from the various groups served through the TXTMob service, and a cross-referencing off these messages to articles published through Indymedia. Launch and Service Details Ruckus’ decision to utilize a text messaging service as a supplement to their planned comms-facilitation activities came late in the game- a mere two weeks before the RNC. While we had some knowledge of the service offering by TxtMob, it was decided that an alternate, redundant, and complentary system wouldn’t be a bad idea. The excellent TxtMob service is a custom developed, privately hosted system, initially targeting activists at the DNC and RNC. Ruckus chose to use UPOC, a well established commercial texting system, with thoughts that it would be harder to be shutdown or interfered with by authorities seeking to disrupt the free flow of information. The TxtMob service uses the SMTP/email interface for sending messages, while the UPOC system uses a lower-level of integration into the mobile phone operators’ network. This allows, for instance, UPOC to support the subscribing or joining of a text messaging service simply by sending a short message “JOIN RNC” to a phone number short code “8762”. However, the issues with a commercial system are there- no ability to modify features, little control of user management, and ultimate mercy to the interests of a corporation. During the week of the RNC, some mobile phone operators (T-Mobile, Sprint) may have blocked TxtMob messages, while the Ruckus UPOC service had no apparent problems. The Texting Begins The first use of texting during the week was to send out a news alert for the amazing action at the Plaza hotel.
Aug 26 8:06PM Successful banner hang this morning at Plaza Hotel. See http://questionauthority.org/nycplazaaction/
This first use of texting provides inspiration through communicating successes of demonstrations and actions throughout the week. This was used later to alert protestors on the street that someone had successful made it inside Madison Square Garden:
Sep 02 10:46PM dragged out. Mobile Comms
Protestor just shouted at Bush inside MSG!! Immdtly
The second use of texting came on Friday night, before the supporting communications team and radio network were in place. Through a combination of personal observation, text alerts from the NYC Comms team, and an informal network of “texters” (friends who text), some coverage of the Critical Mass ride was possible. Aug 27 6:51 PM - Critical Mass - Union Sqre: 1000 bikes there already, 31 police scooters on the Eastern face of the park. Aug 27 7:30PM huge number of Critical Mass riders peacefully headed down Broadway! Many more cheering them on. Aug 27 9:19PM critical mass safe stop and after party at St. Marks Church. 12th and 2nd Ave East Vill. sporadic arrests reported. Aug 27 9:40PM huge crowd at St Marks Church. Riot cops arresting and clearing intersection. 2nd ave shutdown btwn 9th and 13th. Essentially, an adhoc, improvised street communications team was created, with the central base simply being a primary person whose mobile phone was received, filtered, and sent back out information and critical alerts. As a side note, texting while riding a bicycle in the streets of Manhattan is not recommended or condoned! The Big March After a quiet Saturday getting the communications base in order, and organizing a team of Nextel-wielding mobile observers, the time for the first big test came. Not only would be the first day with a large number of alerts, it would also be a test of how much we could grow our user base. This would be a third type of use of the texting system- viral growth. Stickers and fliers were created stating “Want RNC updates on your phone? Just text ‘JOIN RNC’ to 8762”. There were also thoughts of creating large banners to carry during the march, and to have a team of trained people walking around to assist new users. Unfortunately, much of this didn’t happen due to lack of resources and prep time. However, the user base did jump nearly three hundred percent by the end of the March. Aug 29 10:07AM Huge UFPJ march today 10am. Start at 14th st & 7th Ave. Stay hydrated! Tell ppl to text "Join RNC" to 8762 Aug 29 11:53AM 11:45am - UFPJ march bgn. Front x-ing 24th st. Media, feeder marches joining frm dfrnt drctns. Aug 29 11:57AM Large pink slip on bldng "Bush Lies, Fire Him" @ 27th and 7th ave across from FIT. Aug 29 12:37PM UFPJ is requesting people enter the Assembly area from 5Ave or 9Ave as the area is very crowded
Aug 29 1:22PM Mrch mving slw. 200k est. Frnt has reached Un Sq. Plc bus+mtrcycls amassing 17th/6th. Aug 29 1:51PM Mrch rte, bgng to end is full. Assmbly area full, vry cngstd. Ppl stl entrng@9th/5th aves Most of the march was uneventful, with our greatest value being coordinating where marchers could enter the route, or determining where the head of the march was. During the day, we also received inbound news updates from previously unknown subscribers who provided valuable information. This information would be verified through secondary trusted sources, and then shared with the legal, medic, or media teams as necessary. Such was the case with the infamous “Green Dragon” fire. Information came in quick through multiple sources, was verified, and then sent back out through the text message system. This included some reports of provocateurs.
Aug 29 3:01PM Large fire in street at 33-34th/7th ave. May be Dragon float. Aug 29 3:03PM Fire has been put out. Aug 29 3:06PM Multpl reprts fire set by maskd cops dressd in black
Times Square Texting After the large UFPJ march, there were two potential events that were critical to cover. First was whether people would be denied access to Central Park. This proved to be a non-event, except that it was a beautiful, peaceful day in the park. The activities of autonomous groups at the various Broadway theaters around Times Square ending up being a significant happening. This fourth use, strategic field alerts, proved quite valuable on this day, and throughout the week. There were even reports of subscriber/protesters who avoided arrest thanks to timely updates on their phone. Aug 29 4:54PM Mouse Bloc in Theater dstrct. Blnrs for Bush in Tms Sq. Snake March mvng up 7th Ave twrds Bway. RNC dlgts gng to shows Aug 29 5:01PM Bike ban rprtd 34st-57st, west of 6ave. Peddle elsewhere! 200-300 protestrs in Tms Sqr theatr dstrct. Aug 29 5:30PM Times Sq arrests in progress, 50-70. Riot & mntd cops. Pens and webbing. 45th@8th-ave. Aug 29 6:10PM Psbly ~150 ppl arrested @ Tms Sq. Orange mesh pens in use. Aug 29 6:40PM Protstng arnd Tms Sq. RNC delegates heading to studios 44th/bway for tv intervws. arrsts 47th/7th. 10k in park.
Fun with Flashing When CODEPINK decided to hold what initially seemed to be a risky aerial photo shoot in the Great Lawn of Central Park, text messaging seemed like the best way to recruit the
most number of volunteers in the shortest amount of time. The term “Flash Mob” has been used to describe spontaneous gatherings of people in public places for the goal of anything ranging from performance art to civil disobedience. While the service didn’t ever have enough subscribers to spontaneously pull a thousand people out of thin air, it was able to harass people for three hours to participate. There was no time at the event, unfortunately, to survey the participants to determine who had been brought there due to a text message. A “dance-mob” group who utilized Ruckus’ local loop service successfully coordinated thirty people throughout the week who would join together at various locations throughout the city to break into dancing when the “word” was given. Coordinating instant “flash mobs” is a fifth use of text messaging.
Aug 30 12:06PM TODAY@2pm! CODEPINK Aerial Phto-72nd@CntrlPrkWest. NEED 1000 PPL-WOMN ESPCLY! Wear pink/lght clrs. fun and peaceful! Aug 30 1:52PM REMINDER: 2pm (NOW!) Codepink Strawberry Fields, 72nd&CentralParkWest. People needed for Aerial Photo! Aug 30 3:03PM HELP! Need more people Codepink Aerial Photo now in Sheep's Meadow Central Park! Enter 72nd/West side head south Unplanned Events As the week continued, the types of protest began moving towards unpermitted marches and gatherings. The “March for Our Lives” was one such event, that begin with a gathering near the United Nations, and then marched to Madison Square Garden. The status and location of the march was constantly in flux, and they were always in need of more marchers, and legal, media, and medic support. This was especially true when undercover police on scooters provoked a scuffle near the end of the march, outside of MSG. Aug 30 4:11PM The March for Our Lives is bgnng to gather at 47 St and 1 Ave near UN. Aug 30 4:44PM March4OurLives (now!): New Route From UN down 2 Av; West on 23rd, Nrth on 8av to MSG. Aug 30 5:46PM March4OurLives: Slowly starting from UN. Route unclear. Aug 30 6:02PM March4OurLives: Headed down 2nd Ave at 40th w/o permit. Peaceful, no problems for now. Headed towards MSG. Aug 30 7:32PM March4OurLives: Headed to end rally at 30th/8th Av. Given 30 minutes speech time. Still peaceful, some arrests. Aug 30 7:54PM March4OurLives: ABC news was cutting live btwn RNC and the MARCH outside!! Aug 30 8:03PM M4OL: Scuffling, Ppr Spray, Tear gas @ 30th/8th. ABCNewsNow showing live. Aug 30 8:12PM M4OL: PPl being allowed to leave in 2s and 3s. No lrg groups. Aug 30 8:22PM Police are slwly allowing the crowd 2 lve twrd 7 ave on 29, 28, 27 sts in sml grps only
Aug 30 9:27PM M4OL situation @ 29th and 8th is very calm 100-200 ppl still in pen, people are allowed to exit.
While the use of text messaging to alert people to locations and status of unplanned or non-permitted events could fall under the fourth use of text messaging, strategic field updates, the log below also demonstrates a sixth use- media awareness. After the striking lack of coverage by major networks of Sunday’s march, ABC news decided to show the protestor-police scuffling outside of MSG live, to contrast with the first night of coverage of the RNC inside. While this march was unable to utilize that, a more tightly coordinated event could deftly coordinate street theater or other media-oriented protest efforts based on instant knowledge of when they were “on air”. Protestor’s Personal Assistant With all the events that were occurring that week, and all the changes, modifications, and more, it was hard to keep up with where and when to go, and for what. Even with all the excellent websites and “People’s Guide” papers, willing protestors often found themselves wondering “where to”? By providing brief, compressed updates both in the morning and throughout the day, as necessary, we could be assured that users of the text messaging system had enough information to hit the streets. Users could also reply to these updates if they had specific questions on an event or needed more information, and we would reply as best as possible. Some people even referred to these messages as being like a protestor’s personal assistant, constantly reminding them amid their busy week. These event or resource reminders are a seventh use of text messaging.
Aug 29 7:08PM Strt Medic Hlth/Wellness Cntrs open until thur at 12th/2nd ave & 410 40th. All wk 10am-11pm.Aug 31 12:24AM CounterConvention.org : A31 day of NV direct Action: 11:30 Stop Detentions @ Baxter & Bayard; 4pm Infocenter at Union Sq Aug 31 12:24AM CounterConvention.org/More A31: 4pm Fox News Shut-UpAthon 1211 6Av&47th; 4pm Johnny Cash Bloc @ York Ave&71st Aug 31 12:30AM CounterConvention.org/More A31: 6pm info center at Broadway&23rd & at 5Av&42nd; get info for Street Party & more actions Aug 31 11:18AM Billionaries for Bush - fun all day long. Call 216.803.0990 for info and join up! Aug 31 1:19PM Listen live to ANOISE indymedia radio and other impt info on your phone: 212.400.7458 Aug 31 2:38PM 3pm: War Resisters League - anti-war vigil, march, die-in. Gather @ Church St/Cortland (near 'R' Subway stop)
Days of Action Tuesday at the RNC had been called for as a day of autonomous, distributed civil disobedience to “shutdown the city”. While many of the days attempts were instantly
squashed by the massive police presence, the protest at Herald Square proved to have some legs, effectively shutting down the area. Text messaging was again useful on this day utilizing many of previously mentioned uses- strategic field alerts, flash mobbing, and adhoc communications teams. The last use, adhoc communications teams, proved to be very useful, as we began to receive many messages from previously unknown users in the field, who would contribute to our information stream, as well as help verify it. A number of protestors were unable to avoid unwanted arrest and police violence due to the information provided. Aug 31 3:59PM Please report any A31 news/status today by replying to this message! Aug 31 5:59PM mounting police presence at public library action: 3 arrested so far, potentially more. protesters are clearing. Aug 31 6:41PM Everyone in streets at 34th st and 6th ave being arrested Aug 31 7:02PM large police presence entering herald square from south Aug 31 7:21PM police planning on penning in all protesters at herald square and arresting: only exits through the south and subway Aug 31 7:26PM 16th betw irving and union sq people being beaten by police Aug 31 7:31PM 28th and bwy herald sq union sq madison sq pk all ocnfrontation and police activity at all locations Aug 31 7:32PM 16th and 34th people being beaten while in handcuffs Aug 31 8:48PM area hot from 27th and park to 28th and bwy arrests et al Aug 31 9:02PM multiple reports of provocateurs setting trash fires in midtown STAY ALERT 29 AND PARK 29 AND MAD Thursday, the final night of the RNC, when Bush spoke, proved to be a similar to Tuesday. However, in this case, non-permitted marches were allowed to happen, with very few arrests. Near the end of the evening, provocateurs were identified in the crowd, but were successfully ignored and defused by the majority of people who wanted a peaceful gathering. Sep 02 7:53PM Un Sq still chill - 1500ppl. Bike cops around, pens on southside. ANSWER MSG rally is lively, spirited- few hundred ppl. Sep 02 7:58PM 50 pro-bush protestors rprtd in vicinity of MSG possibly headed to ANSWER rally Sep 02 8:24PM Great presence by Iraq War Vets at Un Sq. Thousands at both Un Sq and MSG now. Pro-bush protestors in pen at MSG. Sep 02 8:45PM MSG ANSWER - main entr 23rd/8th; or try front of rally by wlkng outside pen west side of 8th to 29th Sep 02 9:15PM ANSWER MSG - crowd frustrated due to pens @ 29th/8th. police may pull sound system due to rally spkr criticism. Sep 02 9:29PM ANSWER MSG - Advise caution: lrg num riot cops headed to 29th/8th. Sep 02 9:33PM Bush arriving at MSG momentarily. All areas around frozen. BE *PEACEFUL* AND *NON-VIOLENT* Sep 02 9:43PM ANSWER MSG - Pens allowed to join at rally. Crowd happy. Only exit from rally to west, barricades to east.
Sep 02 10:03PM Un Sq: Apprx 150 person die-in just happened on south steps. Sep 02 10:24PM Un Sq: 300+ ppl attempting to march west on 15th. No permit. "Let us march!" Sep 02 10:31PM Un Sq: provocatuer potnly led march out of sq, as it dispersed crowd/die-in. crowd strngth dwn 50%. Cops lie in wait Sep 02 10:38PM Un Sq: 300+ march headed out of sq west on 15th. front at 6th av. Sep 02 11:22PM ALERT: Confrmd from UFPJ lead orgnzr that march being led by masked provocatuers. BE *CAREFUL* AND *NON-VIOLENT* Sep 02 11:43PM CORRECTION: march *not* led by provocatuers - maybe in march. most now dispersing back twrds un sq.
Supporting with Solidarity One of the unfortunate downsides of massive protests in this day of suppression are massive arrests. This was especially true at the RNC, with the majority of arrests being pre-emptive and unjustified. Text messaging helped play a critical role in reminding people that many good people were in a very unpleasant place and needed their support. It also communicated breaking news directly from Indymedia reporters and other observers inside the city’s courtrooms. Sep 01 10:01AM (Good Mrng!) 10am: Jail Solidarity for 1000 arrestees @ Pier 57, “Guantanamo on the Hudson" WestSideHway/15th St Sep 01 3:39PM Anyone with eyewitness accounts of arrest/police misconduct please reply. Reporters interested. Sep 01 11:07PM firstname.lastname@example.org /Legal support update: Court ruled that those held for <24 hours must be released by 1AM tonig Sep 01 11:10PM email@example.com /Correction: Those held for greater then 24 hours must be released by 1am tonight. 100 Center Sep 01 11:39PM firstname.lastname@example.org /Legal update: previous court order to release arrestees stayed: unclear if ppl will be let ou Sep 02 12:50AM email@example.com /100+ people doing support at 100 Center St, court will be going all night. Sep 02 8:38AM URGENT: Come to 60 Centre @ 9:00am, courtrm #130 judge will rule on habeas corpus writ-Sep 02 1:16PM Angry parents, Andre 3000 at 100 Central St; lots of media- get to the court house ASAP! Take 6->Canal, R->City Hall Sep 02 4:57PM Judge has ruled 470 people to be released from Cntrl Bkng immdtly. crowd: "470, let them go!" Sep 02 5:53PM No change at 100 centre st, or lrg releases frm cntrl bkng. Sep 02 6:08PM NYC/PD found in contempt of court; fine $1k/person not released per 1pm court order. Rprt from 100 Centre St. Sep 02 6:57PM Sml nums rlsd @ 100 Centre St.
Editing the Flow While the flow of information from the communications team feed to the text messaging world was, though highly compressed, mostly unfiltered. However, when it came to sending specific information about location of high visibility government officials, it was decided to not focus on this. It was important that the public flow of text messaging not be seen as a digital stalker or somehow involved in a potential conspiracy. Any message that was deemed as sensitive or potential misinterpreted as appended with “BE PEACEFUL AND NON-VIOLENT”. NON- VIOLENT Sep 01 5:47PM Bush in Qns 8pm: Italian Soc'l Club 83-20 Queens Blvd Sbwy-G,R,V to Elmhurst or Grand. BE *PEACEFUL* AND *NON-VIOLENT*. Sep 02 11:46AM Bush 41 & 43, Giuliani at 38th/Park. Groups of protestors & supporters. REM: BE *PEACEFUL* AND *NON-VIOLENT* Signing Off After a long, exhausting week, Friday morning came and it was time to stop the flow. Sep 03 12:39AM MSG winding down. Un sq chill. We are signing off for now....Headed to party. Write if u want to come! The service proved a success, with many personal responses from friends and strangers about how valuable it was to them. All of the text messaging services garnered media attention with articles (included at the end of this document) by the Associated Press (picked up by CNN, CBS, and others), Seattle Times, and the NY Times. In summary, throughout the week the text messaging service was utilized in a number of different ways. In retrospect, these can be analyzed to be the following: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. News and media alerts Adhoc, mobile communication teams Viral subscriber growth Strategic field alerts Flash mobbing Media on-air awareness Event Reminders
The value of these uses should be studied and utilized for future events that could benefit from this emerging new tool.
RNC 2004 Mobile Alerts
Get Connected Guide from firstname.lastname@example.org This service sends short text messages to your mobile phone on breaking news and logistical updates from the streets of New York City during the Republic National Convention 2004. The information is provided through an experienced communications team who are in touch with the leaders and coordinators of events and actions, as well as police liaisons. This is the source of critical strategic truth for you and your friends or affinity groups. Three Ways To Get Mobile Alerts Method 1: Join directly from your phone by sending a text message "JOIN RNC" to the phone number “8762”. Method 2: If you cannot send text messages from your phone, but have a mobile web browser, then go to “upoc.com” on your WAP browser to join. The group name to join is “RNC”. Method 3: Otherwise on your computer, go to: http://upoc.com/group.jsp?group=rnc or just http://upoc.com. The group name to join is “RNC”. To Create a Mobile Chat Group or “Loops” Along with the major broadcast of information, you may want or need to create an open, chat group for you, and your friends or affinity groups. While you are welcome to visit http://upoc.com to manually set this up, we will be facilitating on-the-go creation of these “loops”. 1) Join the group “RNCLOOPS” by sending a text message to 8762 with the text “JOIN RNCLOOPS”. 2) Once you are confirmed, send “RNCLOOPS: CREATE [your loop name]”. For instance, to great a group named “PeaceMakers”, you would send “RNCLOOPS: CREATE PeaceMakers”. 3) You will then receive a message in reply confirming the creation of your new loop. This request is handled manually, so this will not happen instantly. 4) You and your friends or affinity group can now join into an open chat loop by sending the text “JOIN [your loop name]” to 8762. 5) Once you are joined, you can send messages up to about 150 characters to your loop by texting “[your loop name]: [your message here]” to 8762. For instance, if there was a loop named “PeaceMakers”, you would text “PeaceMakers: meet now at 32nd and 6th”. If you would like to send an email to get a loop created, you can simply send a message to email@example.com with the name of the loop you would like, and your phone number, as well as the phone numbers of all the people you would like in the loop.
1) All commands or group names are NOT case sensitive. “JOIN RNC”, “Join Rnc”, or “join rnc” are all valid. 2) You can quit a group or loop by sending “quit” and then the group name to 8762. For instance, to quit the main mobile alerts group you would send “quit rnc”. 3) You can always log-in to http://upoc.com on your phone or a normal web browser to manage your mobile settings.
Questions or need for assistance can be directed to: firstname.lastname@example.org For alternative RNC mobile solution, visit: http://comms.interactivist.net/ or http://www.moport.org/
Text Messages Connect Protestors NEW YORK, Sept. 8, 2004 Texting "tells you where the hot zones are, where people are getting arrested." Greg Altman, RNC demonstrator (AP) "Multiple reports of provocateurs setting trash fires in midtown," read one text message sent to 400-plus mobile phones this week through a service called Ruckus RNC 2004 Text Alerts. For protesters navigating Manhattan during the Republican National Convention, textmessage broadcasting services like this, sent to their cell phones, provided an up-to-theminute guide to the action on the streets. Texting "tells you where the hot zones are, where people are getting arrested," said Greg Altman, 31, of New York City. "It tells you which stuff to avoid." When he got a message last Tuesday that protesters were being beaten near Manhattan's Union Square, he stayed away. Protesters weren't just employing the message services to look for trouble and stay out of it. Frances Anderson, 33, who divides her time between New York and Los Angeles, picked the protests she would attend each day using text messaging. "It's like a personal assistant," she said. The text messages have ranged from an offer of a sewing machine for a women's anti-war group called Code Pink, to an alert that protesters in row boats on a lake in Central Park might be arrested, to an update that protesters were allegedly beaten while handcuffed. Text messages have called activists to spontaneous protests, including a Wednesday rally by the downtown pier where arrested protesters were being held and a rally against oil interests in Central Park. "Teleflip your friends," the message on the latter protest urged. "I came here this morning after getting a text message," Gael Murphy, the 50-year-old co-founder of Code Pink said at the rally near the pier. Text messaging is not as prevalent in the United States as it is in Europe and Asia and a number of protesters Tuesday said they had trouble sending messages. Text messages have become an important organizing tool for spontaneous protests. Texting alerted thousands of people to anti-government protests in Spain following the Madrid bombings that killed 191 people in March. Massive protests in the Philippines in 2001, coordinated by text messaging, were credited with ousting President Joseph
Estrada. Ruckus RNC 2004 was among the text-messaging groups available on the commercial UPOC.com service, which is best known for text alerts of celebrity sightings. More popular with protesters was the TxtMob.com site, developed expressly for activists by techies with the Institute for Applied Autonomy. Users register their mobile phone number and e-mail address with the site and can join many of the 200 groups (some are private), some of which have hundreds of users. Messages sent by users are "broadcast" through the TxtMob server. TxtMob has 4,400 registered users, the site's administrator, who goes by the pseudonym John Henry, said in a phone interview. Users with several cell phone companies reported trouble receiving messages Tuesday and Wednesday. Henry wouldn't say what he thought caused the problem. Reporters covering the protests were among TxtMob's more avid users, and Henry said he assumed police were also keeping up with its missives. Tanya Mayo, 36, the national organizer of anti-war group Not in Our Name, said, "We've made some real advances in technology; so have the police. We have to assume that anything we have technologically is all accessible by the police." The New York Police Department "is utilizing a variety of tools to monitor the activity of demonstrators in New York City," officer Chris Filippazzo said, reading from a department statement. "We are not releasing details of our tactics at this time." Text messaging was far from the only technology protesters relied on during the convention. Activists from Code Pink got nighttime voice mail alerts telling them where to go the next day. The women also used two-way radios to summon extra leaders when a rally at Fox News they had expected would attract 200 people attracted more than 1,000. Ben Meyers, 34, of New York, said he watched the indymedia.org Web site Tuesday for minute-by-minute updates on what was happening where. The organization also offered a broadcast of marchers' mobile phone updates in conjunction with micro-radio station 103.9 in Brooklyn. Protesters with cable TV service could also watch a public access channel that was running nightly video of protests. But texting was the demonstrations' most prevalent technology, and some protesters who lacked it felt uncool. "I have to figure out that thing for the next protest, so I can do it," said Misha Rappaport, 56, of San Francisco, squinting at her cell phone across the West Side Highway from the pier where arrested protesters were being held.
By Ellen Simon ©MMIV, The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Techies use convention to try out protest network By David Postman Seattle Times chief political reporter NEW YORK — In a Chinatown loft a group of left-wing activists is manning a high-tech communications center to help coordinate and monitor protests against the Republican National Convention, talking with other organizers through encrypted chat rooms and sending text messages to thousands of cellphones to keep marchers apprised of where the police are. It's designed, say the young technology whizzes behind the effort, to keep protesters safe. But it's also a test drive for what veteran protest organizers say is their next target: Election Day. They want to monitor the polls Nov. 2, then quickly mobilize tens of thousands of people for street protests in case of a disputed election along the lines of 2000's presidential ballot count. "How fast can we mobilize 50,000 really angry people and let them know that something bad has happened?" said John Sellers, director of the Ruckus Society, a California-based group that trains protesters and helps coordinate some of the country's largest demonstrations. "How do you polarize it as soon as possible?" Sellers and others in the borrowed upscale loft said the Democratic Party and Vice President Al Gore's campaign didn't do enough to protest disputed election counts in Florida that eventually led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision on a narrow victory for President Bush. "What would have happened in Florida if there were 100,000 people in the streets the next day?" said David Taylor, who developed some of the Web technology used in the communications center. Seattle WTO connection Several of the people in the loft yesterday are veterans of Seattle's 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization, an event that helped push Sellers and the Ruckus Society to prominence. Taylor was active there, too, as a student at The Evergreen State College and an organizer with the Direct Action Network.
Nathan Freitas, a programming wunderkind who wrote the first e-mail program for the Palm Pilot, is in charge of a text-messaging system that broadcasts to protesters' cellphones. More than 10,000 people have signed up to receive the bulletins. Sellers thinks the systems used to monitor and coordinate this week's protests against the Republican convention can work for an unprecedented level of poll-watching in November. Four years ago, there were complaints about alleged intimidation and voters improperly purged from registration rolls. Sellers wants to have a network of observers who can watch polling places and call in legal or other help if necessary. The effort would focus on Florida and other states that experienced ballot controversies in close counts in 2000. Sellers said he has been talking to labor organizations about coordinating efforts on Election Day. He hopes to within weeks have a summit of antiBush groups that could help organize the effort. "Hopefully we're more a disincentive to even try something," Sellers said. But if the election leads to a counting dispute, Sellers said, the protesters' technology could be used to mobilize street demonstrations anywhere in the country on short notice. Activists could be directed to car pools from their state to the target state, and text messages to their cellphones could tell them precisely where to gather. Behind the scenes In Chinatown, there's no outward sign of what is happening two flights above in the loft. The apartment is part dormitory and part command central. It's a place to eat, sleep and soak feet weary from marching. There were people monitoring cellphones, radios and computers. This week Freitas has been sending about 10 to 15 messages a day. He gets information from others in the loft and from people in the streets. Messages sent include warnings of "large police presence heading into herald square" and requests to verify reports of clashes with police.
Using the encrypted chat room — watching a screen projected on a wall — the Ruckus organizers communicate with protesters' legal, medical and media teams elsewhere in the city. "What we're doing is giving people enough information so they can stay in the streets and stay safe from state oppression," Taylor said. David Postman: 360-943-9882 or email@example.com
Protests Powered by Cellphone By PATRICK DI JUSTO Published: September 9, 2004 AS thousands of protesters marched through Manhattan during the Republican National Convention last week, some were equipped with a wireless tactical communications device connected to a distributed information service that provided detailed and nearly instantaneous updates about route changes, street closures and police actions. The communications device was a common cellphone. The information service, a collection of open-source, Web-based programming scripts running on a Linux server in someone's closet, is called TXTMob. TXTMob works like an Internet mailing list for cellphones and is the brainchild of a young man who goes by the pseudonym John Henry. He is a member of the Institute for Applied Autonomy, a group of artists, programmers and others who say their mission is to develop technologies that serve the social and human need for selfdetermination. (The group was behind iSee, a Web site that has maps of surveillance cameras in Lower Manhattan and calculates routes for those seeking to avoid them.) He conceals his identity as part of an agreement with other members of the group and out of concern that he might become the target of an effort to force disclosure of TXTMob members' phone numbers, which are kept in a database he maintains. TXTMob allows people to quickly and easily send text messages from one cellphone to a group of other cellphones. This in itself is nothing new: other mobile networking systems like dodgeball.com and bedno.com already exist. To sign up for TXTMob, users enter their cellphone numbers into the TXTMob Web site, www.txtmob .com. To thwart spammers, the system uses opt-in registration: a machine-generated authorization code is sent to each registered number and must be re-entered into the Web site to activate the registration. TXTMob is designed to carefully maintain members' privacy, not surprising given why most are using TXTMob. The software was not intended for everyday mobile socializing. It was created as a tool political activists could use to organize their work, from staff meetings to street protests. Most of the people using it are on the left: of the 142 public groups listed on the TXTMob site, the largest are
dedicated to protesting the Bush administration, the Republican Party or the state of the world in general. When a preliminary version of TXTMob was tested at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July, about 200 people used it to organize protesters into spontaneous rallies, to warn them about the location of police crackdowns and to direct volunteer medics where they were needed, all in real time. Based on user feedback afterward, some changes were made - primarily beefing up the system to handle a heavier volume of messages - to increase its usefulness for what were expected to be much larger protests during the Republican National Convention. TXTMob had its first major New York workout on the evening of Aug. 27, during the Critical Mass, a loosely organized bicycle ride through Manhattan by anti-Republican protesters. From the start of the ride, participants in a TXTMob group called comms_dispatch sent a slew of messages alerting one another to route changes and warning of traffic snarls. As the ride neared its end, comms_dispatch buzzed with reports of arrests from Second Avenue to 10th Avenue, and around St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery. On Aug. 29, two days after she took part in the Critical Mass ride, a woman from San Francisco who identified herself only as Josie sat outside St. Mark's and read text messages on her cellphone. Describing herself as a "voracious" TXTMob reader, she credited the service with helping keep her safe during the ride. "It told me where the cops were and where I could rest," she said as she thumbed through the TXTMob messages from that day's United for Peace and Justice march that were arriving on her cellphone at the rate of about one per minute. "It brought me here." As reports of clashes between the police and protesters appeared on her cellphone screen, it became possible to build a mental picture of the march: a burning papier mâché dragon outside Madison Square Garden, barricades on 34th Street, police officers zipping around on scooters, a rally so large that the first marchers had finished before the last marchers had started. That, to Josie, was TXTMob's most important function. "When I can't be at a protest, like now," she said, waving her phone, "it's like I can be there, because I can know what's going on directly from the people who are there in the streets."
What might have been TXTMob's greatest moment, the planned flash mob at Union Square on Aug. 31, did not work out as planned. That afternoon, TXTMob subscribers with cellular service from Sprint or TMobile stopped receiving messages for nearly four hours, leaving them unaware of the first meeting location. When those who did meet started marching, the police quickly set up a barricade across 16th Street and began arresting the marchers. All told, it took about an hour for the event, loosely organized by the A31 Action Coalition, to go from promise to debacle: 18:15:50 Tue., Aug 31: A31 party mtg at SE corner of Union Sq. 18:37:56 Tue., Aug 31: A31 party look for festive signs. 19:02:51 Tue., Aug 31: A31 party on B-way at 15th headed north. Doing fine. 19:07:02 Tue., Aug 31: A31 party penned in b/w Irving and 16th. More in next message. 19:15:23 Tue., Aug 31: A31 party disperse immediately. What happens to TXTMob after Election Day? The events of last week left the Institute for Applied Autonomy convinced that it has a future, not just as an activist organizing tool but also as a general mobile networking system. The Internet Business Chronicle, an online publication, is using TXTMob to deliver news updates to readers, and the number of party groups is quickly catching up to the number of protest groups. The pseudonymous John Henry said he was looking at keeping the system going and might even expand it to work with cellphones in Europe and Asia. After that, it's anyone's guess. "People keep finding their own uses for this thing, and they're developing it on the fly," he said. "That's what's really exciting."
From BoingBoing.net: Sunday, August 29, 2004 General Barlow's dancin' platoons planning to boogie at the RNC General John Perry Barlow continues to plan his mad protest of the RNC in which hundreds of secret agents dressed like civilians will converge on a public, off-limits-to-protestors space, turn on a boom box, and DANCE LIKE HELL: 2. TEXT MESSAGE COORDINATION I have created a text-message "loop" for us on the Ruckus site. It's called "dancemob." This will enable all of us to receive cell phone text messages from one another, noting current platoon location, likely eruption zones, police movements and temperament, etc. In order to participate, you will need to do the following: -- Send the text "join dancemob" to 8762. -- Once you are joined, you can send messages up to about 150 characters to your loop by texting dancemob: [your message here]" to 8762. For instance, if there were a loop named "PeaceMakers", you would text "PeaceMakers: meet now at 32nd and 6th". In addition, I recommend that at least some of you in each platoon register your phone to receive bulletins from Ruckus with breaking news and logistical updates from the streets of New York City during the RNC.
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