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Messaging Through Distortion

“Texting” at the RNC


Ruckus Society
September 2004

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. Broadcasting news and media alerts
2. Creation of Adhoc, mobile communication teams
3. Enable viral subscriber growth
4. Instant send of strategic field alerts
5. “Flash mobbing”
6. Media on-air awareness
7. 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.

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

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

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 Protestor just shouted at Bush inside MSG!! Immdtly
dragged out.

Mobile Comms

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
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

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
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.
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

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
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 : A31 day of NV direct Action: 11:30 Stop
Detentions @ Baxter & Bayard; 4pm Infocenter at Union Sq
Aug 31 12:24AM A31: 4pm Fox News Shut-Up-
Athon 1211 6Av&47th; 4pm Johnny Cash Bloc @ York Ave&71st
Aug 31 12:30AM 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
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
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
Sep 01 11:07PM /Legal
support update: Court ruled that those held for <24
hours must be released by 1AM tonig
Sep 01 11:10PM
/Correction: Those held for greater then 24 hours
must be released by 1am tonight. 100 Center
Sep 01 11:39PM /Legal
update: previous court order to release arrestees
stayed: unclear if ppl will be let ou
Sep 02 12:50AM /100+ people doing
support at 100 Center St, court will be going all
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
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

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. News and media alerts
2. Adhoc, mobile communication teams
3. Viral subscriber growth
4. Strategic field alerts
5. Flash mobbing
6. Media on-air awareness
7. 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

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

Method 2: If you cannot send text messages from your phone, but have a mobile web browser, then
go to “” on your WAP browser to join. The group name to join is “RNC”.

Method 3: Otherwise on your computer, go to: or just 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 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
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 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.

Quick Tips
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 on your phone or a normal web browser to manage
your mobile settings.
Questions or need for assistance can be directed to:
For alternative RNC mobile solution, visit: or
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, text-
message broadcasting services like this, sent to their cell phones, provided an up-to-the-
minute 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

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

Ruckus RNC 2004 was among the text-messaging groups available on the commercial service, which is best known for text alerts of celebrity sightings. More
popular with protesters was the 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

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 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 anti-
Bush 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
Protests Powered by Cellphone

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 self-
determination. (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 and
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 T-
Mobile 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

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

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."

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:


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

-- 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.