The people in this photograph are participants from the Tunisian revolution in 2010, the Spanish 15M movement and the New Zealand Occupy movement in 2011, the 2014 Sunflower Movement from Taiwan, and Nuit Debout, the horizontal protest movement currently underway in France.
The recording is 3 hours long, so I've loosely transcribed it and cut it down into a couple of chapters:
- Nuit Debout: the French incarnation of the movement of movements
- Revolutionary technology from Spain to Burkina Faso to France to Taiwan
- How Taiwan solved the Uber problem
- What happens once the protestors go home?
For more of this, check out another conversation I transcribed with a Nuit Debout activist.
Nuit Debout: the French incarnation of the movement of movements
Baki: we are a fucking frustrated generation.
First time I voted, extreme right wing guy almost won power. Since that day his ideas are taking power in France.
Many of us work in the digital field, but the progressive parties and unions, are not in the digital world. They are dead against digital, it's too transparent, too this, too that.
We are working in this field. I built a platform called WeSign.It, a citizen mobilization platform, petitioning, campaigning, crowdfunding. Now we are building new tools. About 1 month before the 31st of March [when Nuit Debout started] we decided that the next struggle must be digital. We decided that non-democratically, we just made a statement. We decided to build a media centre, 20 days before this struggle started. Why? For two reasons:
- Internal frustration. Digital is not used by progressives, only by conservatives.
- We want to tell a real narrative of what is happening in the struggle. Not waiting for the mass media to tell their narrative, which in general is like, 2 guys broke into a car, the police arrested them, and so on. We wanted to build our own narrative of the movement.
We told all the unions that we're meeting, told them we're building a media centre. They said 'ok' but they weren't interested.
So we built it. We tested all the communications tools before the day of the march, Telegram, Signal, Loomio. We tested everything. We even had Firechat, so we could communicate even if they shut the internet down. We were ready. Our phones were hot!
The day of the struggle, we decided to establish a stable media centre somewhere, and another mobile one.
Here is media centre group in Telegram. 173 people in there. People send us what is happening in the streets. We use that material to create tweets.
We thought this was just for 1 day, March 31st.
At the start of the day, 500 people following our Twitter account @NuitDebout [English language tweets on @GlobalDebout]. In the morning the mass media were sharing stories of guys breaking cars. They were saying "it's in the streets near where the march is going to start", but sharing it as if it was part of the march. These were the only images. So we said, let us start sharing the real images of the march. We started sharing these images: people marching, walking, doing things, all happy.
By 2pm we have like 5000 Twitter followers. We were surprised. There was a movie that was to be screened at night. We used two hashtags, #nuitdebout and one that meant 'on the 31st of March I'm not going home'. People stayed, they camped at Place de République. The march ended at Nation, which is about 3km away, but they carried on to watch the movie and to stay. We didn't think that people would really do it but they stayed.
All the media were talking about the struggle over the labor law. At 5am, April 1st, a journalist from Le Monde called me, and said 'we know you're working with Nuit Debout, how do you see this movement?' I said, 'I don't know!'
This is the first article about Nuit Debout, and it is a Storify [an editorial collection of tweets]. The journalist just picked up all the tweets that we made through the day, and the videos, and that was the story. This is the very first article in the media. So at 5am, we say, we won. Our narrative is the reality!
From then, we created a Facebook page, which rapidly became the most popular page in France. 150,000 people.
So now in France we are changing the calendar. Instead of April 1st, we say March 32nd. Why March 32? In the middle of the night we saw the extreme right was making an attack. They were saying, "once again, the lefties are making an April Fools joke," and we saw that the hashtag April1st was trending. I was about to go home, then we heard about this April1st attack. We said, this is not a joke, so tomorrow is not the 1st of April, it's the 32nd of March. So we created the March32nd hashtag, and then that became a trending topic.
We bought the domain name nuitdebout.fr, we created the Numérique Commission, all kinds of developers and hackers came along eager to contribute. Next thing we have a website and 64 developers.
The main challenge we have is that the extreme left in France is not like it is in Spain. In Spain they are very poor. In France they are very rich. They have MPs, they have money, they have people working for them. The big fight we're having right now in the square, is digital or not digital. Digital or physical.
I come from the digital field and I cannot do anything without digital today. If you are not physically there, you can't be condemned for not being there. Digital is there to help. We need tools to make people write the text together, discuss on the text, vote on the text, and share it.
First tool: Loomio. A few people, a small number of noisy people, from the classical left, the pure ones, those who say they are more left than you. They tell us no, Loomio is a marketing tool. We say, oh it's free, these people develop it. They say, someone can manipulate the data. We say, yes, someone can manipulate the ballot too, so what's the problem?
With the Numérique Commission we decided to use Loomio for every discussion we had concerning the website. It works. When there is a text to discuss, we put it in Loomio, and we discuss it. Then it works. People see that it is not taking power in politics. Their main problem is: 'is this going to take power in politics?'
The developers in the Numérique Commission, they are very good smart people, they decide to not be opponents to the classical leftists. They say, we have to build the tools, the tools must be neutral, you guys in the street, maybe the tools can help you, maybe not.
Now people are using these tools, but they cannot say they are using them! They have to say they don't like them, even though they are using them.
My challenge was to explain how we created Nuit Debout and to show how progressive they've been. They've come so far! Now we have a big problem in France today. Classical politicians want to take this movement.
[...] Since Podemos in Spain, in all of Europe now, the political parties think a social movement is going to take them to power. We're saying, 'guys, no! It's not going to take you to power unless you do the job to get to power.'
I have a small company to do communication for NGOs. So they say 'Oh this guy has a private company, so he's a capitalist!' I say, 'ok, what's the problem'. They say 'you cannot control the communication.' I say, 'I'm not controlling the communication, I'm trying to distribute the communication.' They say, 'but you have the codes!' I say, 'you can have the codes too.'
We are building all these tools together, people from my generation, the so-called digital natives. We have this frustration. For example, people always tell us, 'you guys are too democratic, it is impossible to take everyone to parliament to decide.' But today my tools can make that possible! You could tell me this 30 years ago, but today you can't tell me this. I have too many tools that can make everyone participate.
For example. We go from a simple petition, to a direct action. Looking at our petition platform WeSign.It. Looking at this petition about the stop-and-search laws: 21,000 people sign this petition. You can call that clicktivism, ok. People criticise and say it is not real engagement, pure engagement is in the street. So ok, people can give money. They say, oh money is just a credit card, we need real engagement. Now we go to the next level. Everyone from the 21,000 people can say where they live, and we generate a tweet to their senator. They click one button to send a message to the senator saying "I'm against stop-and-search, what about you?"
When we launched this, we saw 5000 tweets a day for every senator. They went crazy! People accept this. Sometimes the senator reply to the tweet, saying 'yes I'm going to vote against it' or 'no I support the law'. People say, 'is she answering me!?' yes, she is really answering you. Tweets are public, she can't avoid seeing them. She can't block me. Well she can block me but she can't block Audrey. And if she blocks Audrey she can't block the next person. The tweets are coming from everyone, there's no central account to block. 5000 tweets from 5000 individual people. So she can't go to court to say 'they're harassing me', because one person only sent you one tweet, it's not enough for harassment. Who are you going to prosecute in court?
People accept this. Our main concern now is to have deliberative platforms. We can sign petitions, give money, make direct actions, and deliberate. Why? When we built WeSign.It, we thought our challenge was to make people ask government to do something, or to be against something. Now we notice people are using it more and more to count their crowd, to do things themselves.
Another petition example is this one about a farmer. His land in Lyon has been in his family for 400 years. The Mayor of Lyon decided to build a stadium for the European soccer cup. They bought all the farms around him, but this guy said 'no I can't sell my farm, this is the only inheritance I have from 400 years of family'. So they decided to divide his farm in two by making a highway going from Lyon to the new stadium. He told them, I will give you the borders of my farm so your road can go around the edge. They decided to go between his house and where the animals live. Now his farm is cut in two.
This petition was not to tell the Mayor of Lyon to change his mind, but it is to say 'we support the farmer.' We are not asking the Mayor or the government anything, we just support the guy. 163,000 people say they support him, but they're not asking anything of the government.
So we say 'OMG what are we going to do? These people are not classical, we're not going to print this petition and give it to an MP. What is the next level? Let them give money.' The people that signed the petition say we need to build a bridge to connect the two halves of the farm. We were looking for 15,000 Euros to help him, we collected 25,000 in one week. This petition turned into that action.
These type of people don't want us to challenge the MP, they don't trust the MP enough to even ask him something. Not just because they want to do it themselves, but also because they want to count themselves, how many of us don't want to ask the government anything.
This for us is the main point of the petition.
After this step, they asked us how can we act? It was impossible for us, because we don't have a space to deliberate, to plan. This is the next level. We say, we're not going to build tools that exist, so let's see what exists. And then comes Loomio. We started to see how it works. Then comes Nuit Debout and we say OK! Nuit Debout is the training ground.
I can show you how the Numérique Commission in Nuit Debout is using Loomio. We have many discussions in there. For the movement this is not decision-taking, but work in progress.
People are very critical about all these tools. In general people who are critical, are critical about control. The old left want to control everything. If they can't control it, that means someone else is controlling, in their minds. They want to know how it works. We tell them the code is open, but they say 'no, there must be someone controlling.' What we learnt from working with the Spanish people: these people are used to using control all throughout their activist life, so they think that when we're using tools, someone must be controlling it. They always look for who is the man behind the code?
On the other hand, some of us say we don't care. For example, in a general assembly I was asked to explain what I do with the data of the 150,000 people who liked our Facebook page. I said 'guys, 150,000 people on the Facebook page of Nuit Debout are already on Facebook, so why are you asking me? Are you asking me to ask Zuckerberg to hand over the data? 100% of them were already on Facebook. 70% of the people who sign our petition have a Gmail account, 99% of them have a Facebook, so what are you saying? You want to discuss data?'
Things are moving but very slowly.
We need more tools to link. The problem we had with Loomio: we built a petition, then we tell people to come to Loomio. But it is not inside the petition site. People obey when it is inside the site, but they are not willing to go to another place. We say, you've signed the petition, now we need you to go to Loomio to discuss and decide, they say 'who is Loomio?' But if we link the tools and they can sign the petition, then discuss and decide in one place, that's natural.
Whenever you change the place of the action, they feel there is a manipulation somewhere. This is few people, maybe less than 10% of the people. But they are very noisy, very tough. They'll send 100 messages to ask who is behind the tool? That's why I'm happy to meet you today so I can say, I met him, he's a New Zealand guy, he has a beard...
If we can make people participate online, people who want to use old methods of activism, Stalinism, Leninism, all those people have to use physical pressure to make their point. Loomio don't let them put physical pressure. If we succeed in doing this, it means they definitely have to change their ways of doing politics. This is not easy for people that think they are pure, always right. Audrey interjects: 'Always left!'
This is a disease of the French left, they are more pure than you. Are you anticapitalist? Have you been in 100 demonstrations against capitalism? Then you're not really serious. They have the truth. The light, the bible. If they lose control of where the decisions are taken, they lose the truth and purity. This makes them crazy.
For some of us, this is the fight. Why? Not only to fight against the classical left, it's also fight for the new ways. My personal belief. Audrey is a conservative anarchist. I'm an anarcho-syndicalist. This is my hypothesis: if Karl Marx were living today, he'd have a Twitter account.
When they created the anarcho-syndicalist movement, they were talking directly with people in factories. They weren't gathering in squares, it was in the workplace. They write books. There's a French anarchist we call the Christ, he wrote one book and died at 33 years old. He said workers should have a place where they can save their own money, get their own healthcare etc. He wrote a newspaper, developed with the workers. Why? to touch people where they are.
Today, if we want people to come to Place de République everyday -- The first day of Nuit Debout. I have a friend, a very good activist. He has a child. He couldn't leave his child because his wife was not there. So he couldn't come to Nuit Debout, he had to stay home. He says 'how can I follow this?' We say, we're all over twitter and video streams, you can participate there. I was thinking, if I keep doing things the way the old left wants us to, this guy is excluded from the group. He can't participate. His ideas are genius but he can't participate in the Place. So if people can't participate because they're looking after children, or they have to work, or they are sick, if we exclude those people, that's no longer progressive. For me it is ideological: people have to participate, whatever problems they have.
Rich: I want to share something my friend Ahi wrote:
"...the most radical thing is building relationships, being gracious, and being strategic.
Don't burn bridges over imperfect politics but don't let people get away with oppressive dynamics, talk like friends, meet people where they're at, listen more. If your movement isn't accessible to kids, disabled people, poor people, elderly people, and other minority groups; it's not a movement it's just a scene.
Accessibility is everything."
Pablo Soto on stage with Julian Assange at the Democratic Cities conference in Madrid. Photo credit
Revolutionary technology from Spain to Burkina Faso to France to Taiwan
Pablo: During 15M, we didn't have Telegram. Now, we're the new government of activists and anarchists and so on, and we're using Telegram all the time. To the point that the day that Telegram is offline for a short time, we are in big trouble. Also pads, we use TitanPad, when it goes down we are in trouble. The pads we started using in 15M, but not so massive as it is now. Not they're fundamental tools. Like years ago it would have been like having a lawyer or an advertising company, that fundamental. So I'm always thinking what we could have done if we had Telegram and Loomio during 15M.
Baki: We come from your experience. You have the problem of the ancients. You were there before: sorry for you. Really, I'm serious. These tools, some of them existed at that time but they were not efficient. Now they are very efficient. We didn't put all our eggs in the same basket, we used Telegram and Signal at the same time. We used Discourse and Loomio at the beginning. Then Loomio became the thing we use, thanks to the Numérique Commission which made crash-tests. Then Loomio existed more than Discourse. We used TitanPad, wiki, sometimes Word, we're in France so sometimes we use paper!
You should not have done the revolution in 2011, you should have done it in 2016!
I was in France at the time, what you did in Spain was so advanced, we were obliged to do at least as well as you! I think the next generation in Europe that are doing things - I work with Africtivistes, a network of African web activists. We had a conference in Paris that was planned well before, but it happened during Nuit Debout, we brought 80 activists from 40 countries into the middle of Nuit Debout. It was so inspiring! The people who made the revolution in Burkina Faso, they removed a guy who was a paramilitary commander, they removed him by using WhatsApp! At that time it wasn't even encoded, it was public, but they used it to make Blaise Compaoré go away!
Pablo: It's not one technology. It's not that we can use Twitter or Facebook or Loomio, it's that we have a critical mass of different technologies. Probably the smartphone is the key, portable connected devices. The software is not about one platform. We have such a huge catalog of tools, people can rewrite, transform, recombine...
Baki: This is the only decision we took in the communication commission in France, is that all the tools we use have to be free software. Say for internal communication we don't have a Facebook group for the Numérique Commission, we have one public Facebook for Nuit Debout, but for our internal coordinating, we use free tools. We know that the code can be rewritten, we can check the security. Very early we were joined by the two main groups of free software advocates in France. I asked them to join us from the beginning.
Pablo: That's very interesting, because the first night in Madrid, in Puerta del Sol, like 25% of the people who slept that night were hackers and free software activists.
Baki: In France it's also the same. This made it easier to use the tools. I know zero lines of code, I don't even try.
Audrey: demonstrating logbot, one of the g0v internal coordination tools
If you see an S it came from Slack. If you see a T it came from Telegram. Otherwise it comes from Freenode. There are many other API points too. The logbot is replicated in three different containers. The idea is redundancy. We are not against using Slack, which is non-free. It is useful because it is very accessible. For instance they have existing live translator bots, so you can type in Chinese and read in English. This is very useful for our international friends. But we don't trust Slack because it isn't open source software. So we also have the two-way robots that synchronise with Telegram and Freenode, so it is impossible for all the three systems to go down together. We always have redundancy.
We do the same with Hackpad also, which is replicated to Github and into one of our in-house built systems. There's always 3 or more storage, and the canonical storage is controlled by us. It's not very featureful but we own it. Normally we use the featureful ones, but the archive is with us. If they go down, we can go back to Freenode.
Pablo: Does the average user understand the architecture? Or do they just use it without realising how smart it is.
Audrey: I think we make the architecture pretty transparent. You can see the S and the T, we could avoid that but we choose to represent the channels that the messages come from.
Pablo: It's a political statement.
Audrey: It is a political statement. We understand not everybody cares so much about free software, or people are attached to Slack. But at least we make it democratic and transparent.
Pablo: At 15M we tried to move away from Facebook and use N-1 and it was a big crash. It destroyed the user base. You try to explain why it is important to use free software but it's too late.
Rich: This is the problem with democracy right, you have your ideals, and then you have pragmatics, and you have to negotiate between them. If people are on Facebook, just because you 'should' be somewhere else, doesn't mean it is going to work.
Audrey: Actually we pay Facebook, in the form of ads to take people out of Facebook. It used to be Loomio, not it's Pol.is. We pay for people to see ads telling them to get off Facebook and into Pol.is. We tell them the binding decision is happening outside of Facebook, and no matter how many sentences you type there, it won't be binding. That's the only thing we pay Facebook for. It's basically feudalism.
Pablo: We do the same. In the government of Madrid we created the decide.madrid.es platform. We buy ads on Facebook to entice people over. You can discuss on Facebook, but you decide over here.
Audrey: Even Richard Stallman says it's ethical to use some non-free software, if your goal is to replace it.
Rich: In these conversations the subtlety often gets lost. There's a difference between the arrival of technology and the shift in attitudes that happen. The technology doesn't cause something to happen. It changes what's possible, and changes people's sensibilities and their desires. People think, if I can edit Wikipedia how come I can't edit the Constitution. It changes possibilities, but it is an interaction between culture and technology. Building technology is really easy, but building culture is 900 times harder.
Baki: The non-decision we took in the Media Centre in Paris, in the beginning we didn't want a Facebook page. We had Twitter. Our challenge was to disrupt the mass media, to oblige them to use a new narrative to tell what is happening. If they tell nonsense, people will say 'but we saw these pages on Twitter.'
The first night, one of the representatives for Anne Hidalgo (Mayor of Paris) said, 'we will not let people privatise Place de République, it's for all Parisians'. This an error of communication. These guys have been in media training. I made a tweet, one minute later, in English, 'we don't occupy, we don't privatise, we share'. Anne Hidalgo retweeted it! It wasn't Anne, it was Clémence who works for her.
Pablo: She had hackers in the house!
Baki: This is very symbolic. When we tweeted this, to say we're not going to occupy this place, we are going to share it as Parisians, and every Parisian can discuss, we'll show a movie or make a film or create a commission. There's the anti-speciesist commission for animal rights. Every day commissions are created. We share the space.
We use Facebook and Twitter to share this information into mass media. The non-decision is that we use tools, only as if we were making a press release. Everything we publish are not strategic, they are just communication. Then for our internal communication we use tools that we test all the time.
For example: we make non-violent actions. We wanted to block the parliament. There's a bridge between parliament and Place de la Concorde. There's a story about Place de la Concorde. When they took la Bastille, they occupied this bridge, and obliged the parliament to give. We wanted to symbolically occupy it. You know the stones of Place de la Concorde are built with the stones of the Bastille prison.
In general, no one can capture that place, but we wanted to. We used Telegram to decide the action. After the decision, we built groups in Telegram. We sent a message telling people which group you're in. When you're in the group, we use physical papers for 3 days up until the occupation. You're in a group of 5 people, you can call them and say 'where are you'.
We decided this because we thought French police would enter the movement. French police are very good at infiltrating the unions and all that. So maybe they are in one of those groups. So every group has their own location. Only ten people know what we are going to do. We knew each other for many years. We give appointments to different places around Place de la Concorde. From that place we can occupy de l'Élysées, Champs-Élysées, Matignon and all these strategic points around the city/
Paris map showing Matignon, Madeleine, Concorde at the top, and Montparnasse far to the south
So we thought we had a policeman in one of our groups. We called them the sacrifice group. We sent them to Montparnasse (5km to the south). There were many policemen at Montparnasse at that time!
We made a decision with the taxi drivers, who were on strike against Uber, we gave them an appointment at Madeleine. We didn't know if we could trust them. We said we're going to make a big action, they said they would support us. We took them to Nuit Debout, they made a very good speech, so we supported their struggle. So they said they would support us. They came with 15 taxis at Madeleine. They thought they were going to take us somewhere far, but it's like 200 meters!
When the action began, the taxis came, we blocked the bridge, and it was finished. The police came 30 minutes later. To do that, we had to circulate the decision at the last minute.
The next action is prepared now, we've been planning it for 3 weeks. For the moment, even I don't know all the details. There is a small group that knows all the details, and they will communicate at the last moment. Telegram is good for the moment.
We blocked the bridge, then we moved. The police removed us, we took the metro, then we occupied outside the National Assembly. There were zero police. We could have entered the National Assembly.
We blocked everything. No one was arrested, we were already going by the time the police arrived.
We had so many Spanish people helping us directly. People with the experience from 15M.
How Taiwan solved the Uber problem
We mobilised the taxi fleets and carpoolers and other people. Engaged thousands of people in an online deliberation. Used pol.is to generate a coherent set of recommendations, then parliament ratified the new law this week.
I see Uber as an epidemic of the mind. You don't negotiate with a virus. All you can do is inoculate people: by deliberation, thinking deeply together to develop your immunity to their PR agenda. When you think about something very deeply together you're immune.
Pol.is is a machine intelligence moderator that never gets tired or angry. It can welcome thousands of people, all proposing a different sentiment. The sentiment is represented on a 2-dimensional view, and you can see where you fit in relation to the other participants.
So before the deliberation, we could see four groups: the Uber drivers, taxi drivers, Uber passengers, and other passengers. You can see what statements they agree on, and also what the other groups think about their statements.
We said we'd only add to the agenda any statement that had at least 80% agreement from everyone. It's not enough to just convince your own side. Eventually the four groups merged to two groups, and then they had to convince each other.
We have a formula: if it is a 60-40 split for example, the threshold is 80%: all of the majority plus half the minority. Meaning that it is practically everybody. After setting this rule, people compete to find moderate eclectic statements that everyone agree on. That took 4 weeks, which generated 7 recommendations which are very coherent.
Then we sit down with the taxi drivers, fleets, academics, scholars, and Uber themselves. We sat down for 2 hours together, I was the facilitator. Here are the 7 recommendations, they look reasonable to me, do you agree? If not, why?
So we extracted promises out of them. Then all the ministry has to do is to ratify it. Which happened this morning.
Baki: When are you coming back to France!?
Audrey: On the 180th of March!
Jaya: So what was Uber's reaction? Who represented them?
Audrey: Their lawyer was there, and their PR person from Asia, and the local CEOs: all the important people. We used them to set an example. The next time, when we did AirBnB, the cofounder flew in!
Jaya: What's the resulting legislation?
Audrey: It's very balanced: taxis no longer need to be painted yellow. They can display medallions in different ways, like a sticker on the windshield, not literal medallions. Now for app-based taxi fleets, people can register a taxi fleet and say we're app-based. Those fleet cars cannot pick up passengers from the street randomly, they must be dispatched from the app. These people may not charge less than the standard taxi fare: there's no undercutting.
There's a restriction on the app itself, it must be subject to public audit to ensure it displays the correct driver and car identification, how the fare is being calculated, including surge pricing, and most importantly, it must display all the ratings, and the average rating from all customers. Basically what Uber did, and then we made that part of the law. To be eligible as an app-dispatch taxi system you must do that, and the government will help the young entrepreneurs do that. Civil society car pooling.
Finally, the revenue is being taxed on a per-ride fashion, not on a special permit. It's taxed per ride, which means the Minister of Finance gets to audit the distance and locale to make sure they're not undercutting. They get the GPS points of the start and finish so they can independently audit. When they do that, the other important thing, the insurance company have hard data to work with.
This kind of legislation. Basically the Uber people caved in on each of them expect for the last one. If they commit to being a taxable entity in Taiwan, then the drivers become their employees, and they are fighting a very important legal battle in California. So if they agree to this last point in Taiwan, the Californian judge will use it against them.
If they lose the Californian appeal, then they can come back to Taiwan and join as a legal app-dispatch taxi company. UberX is illegal. Uber Black conforms to the new law by dispatching to local limousine companies, as taxable entities. UberX and UberPOP are illegal, but only because they are fighting the Californian battle.
Jaya: How long did this process take?
Audrey: Two years in total. The public-facing process took two weeks to set the agenda, contact all the stakeholders, agree on a time to launch the engagement process with a secret URL that everyone can share at once to reach their constituents. From the time of the first constituents logging on to the system, til we got the set of 7 consensus positions, took 4 weeks. The recommendation that the dispatch system must have a 2-way rating system achieved 95% consensus. Everybody can agree on that. That makes it very easy to host the face-to-face deliberation. It was live-streamed, stenographed, live transcribed, with questions from the chatroom so people really feel like participating.
After that, half the Uber Black cars I took, the drivers were like, 'Oh you're the facilitator!'
After the engagement on pol.is, it is impossible for people to say divisive things. We already have the consensus. So all that remains is for the Minister of Transport to ratify it. There was a delay of a few months as we transitioned to a new Minister. When the new Minister arrived in office, the first thing he did was to ratify it.
Baki: Audrey, do AirBnB next! And Apple! Microsoft! Google!
Audrey: AirBnB is done. The cofounder flew in and agreed with everything. AirBnB sent an email to all their Taiwan members saying, go on pol.is and represent our side of the argument. What they didn't expect was that only about one third of their members are happy with them.
Jaya: It's really vicious, the way AirBnB tries to discipline people who are listing their apartments.
Audrey: Exactly. The tenants don't get the same insurance protection as the landlords, so there's a clear power imbalance. In Taiwan we have people with 15 homes on AirBnB, gaming the system. That's a large problem but we solved that too.
Audrey is pulled away to an interview
Rich: I was going to ask you Baki, in this story, with Uber and that, can you not hear the role of the state in that negotiation. Do you hate the state because you've only ever seen it do stupid things? Or because fundamentally you can't tolerate it?
Baki: Fundamentally I think this situation can only work if local people are ready, and if the local people can make pressure on the government.
Rich: But didn't the state play a role in that story that no-one else could have?
Baki: I'm not really comfortable with the state. I use them for incremental steps. But I don't believe in borders so I don't believe in states.
Rich: The Uber situation in Taiwan has sorted the issue in Taiwan, but it's putting leverage on the global Uber situation.
Baki: The solution they found in Taiwan, we need to use that locally.
Rich: Uber has no option but to respect the legislation of any government. They can get very creative in the way they negotiate with government, but when you have people like Audrey helping the government to be more creative than any corporation can be, you can see the role that they can play.
Baki: Yeah, with two conditions. Which are two too many for my small brain. First, the government has to accept that people like Audrey help. The French government can't accept that yet.
Rich: So why do they accept Audrey? Because Audrey has the respect of the 500,000 people that were in the streets of Taipei in May 2014.
Baki: It's a different culture of ruling.
Rich: There's culture, and then there's the threat of mobilisation.
Baki: In France when you mobilise 5000 people in front of the city council in a small city, the man can say 'I don't care.' We don't have sufficient tools to make him feel uncomfortable to say that.
For example, with Nuit Debout, Place de République is supposed to be the place of the European Cup. It starts next week. The Mayor of Paris decided to leave the Place for Nuit Debout because there was sufficient pressure. If there is sufficient pressure, I can ask them to do things. They are managers. They don't want problems in their company. The company is Paris. If they tell the police to move us, they know that every day we'll come and disturb the organisation of the European Cup. And we'll do it in every stadium. Now that they're leaving the Place to us, I won't say that we won't make perturbations, but we're going to be pretty peaceful. They are managers.
Rich: 'Perturbation' is a very PR word for what might happen! The football was perturbed today... That car is perturbed by the fire coming out of it...
Baki: Yes, some perturbations. But if they removed us from the square, she knew what would happen. We even told her: there'll be no Cup in Paris.
For that, I agree with Audrey. With pressure, the decision can be imposed on the government. In that case, I accept.
If you want to negotiate with the French government about Uber, let me tell you, the American companies when they come to France, they do exactly what French capitalists do. You know French capitalism is the best in the world. Really. Who is the owner of the European debt? Societe Generale and BNP Paribas. Two French banks. Who owns the malls in Europe? Carrefour or Auchan or one of three French families.
French social welfare is capitalist brainwashing. We pay so much. We're supposed to know the welfare state helps French people, but we pay for everything. We pay it. I never go to hospital, thanks God, but every month I pay half my salary for this. There is no free health, the only free healthcare is if you are a foreigner who came to France and you get ill. That's free for you, but for me it is not. When you are born, they tell you the government is helping.
The French army is a private army. The weapons, helicopters, everything is made by 4 families that keep the police and military armed.
So we have the very best world class capitalists.They don't even need to be violent, they're cool. The guys can smoke weed with you, and say they listen to hiphop. Why is this?
We have two systems of education. There's a high level, like a caste. People in the high level work for government. The best brains work for government. Since the 70s, they've been captured by companies. They're created in the same school. This school has a strong alumni which means that people who go to this school eat together, have sex together, network together, for their whole lives.
When the Americans come to France, they hire people from these schools. This means the head of Uber is a friend of President Hollande. Do you think I can get in front of Hollande, me Baki the hacktivist asshole, what power do I have? No power. But that guy from Uber knows the words to use in front of Hollande.
I don't believe in the pro-active actions of the state.
Jaya: I don't think any of us here necessarily do. I think the discussion of the state is more about the fact that once you build that kind of pressure, once you get to the point where there is a process that you've mobilised around, that needs to be inscribed and protected somehow. So if you develop some kind of legislation around Uber, limiting their capacity within a country, how are you going to continuously enforce that unless it is inscribed in legislation? Of course we're not going to expect the government to just go ahead and do that because they're so kind and nice or they care about the Uber workers.
Rich: If the threats that we're worried about are international threats, then if we could somehow enlist the national governments as allies, then we'll have a better shot at taking down the international threat. The Taiwanese government, right now I'm okay with that government existing. They're currently behaving in a way that seems pretty futuristic.
Jaya: The other thing, when people talk about the state, there are so many different sides to the state. There's the legal system, the police force, immigration, schools... There are so many different aspects of what the state does, even in academia no one can define what the state is properly.
Our friends in Spain right now are realising when you enter into government you're dealing with the fact that you're in government but you're absolutely not the state. The way the state has been put together, the way the civil servants operate, the way the beauracratic machine operates was created by someone who is in government before you.
Rich: It's a complex organism that is the result of a history of behaviours. It's not an animated thing with its own agency.
Jaya: It would be great if we could find ways of inscribing these kinds of decisions and agreements and enforcing them ourselves without nationalism, fascism, securitised state mechanisms, for sure.
Baki: The problem I have is that the economic security state, to make it work they need to prove that they have a role in society. I don't want to give them the privilege. I don't think they ever do things without being forced to. For the moment.
Our next action is about rent. In France you can drive people from their houses. So we're preparing this action to force the government to change. Yesterday the Minister of Social Affairs, who was an activist and is now the most dangerous person, she sent a tweet saying Nuit Debout is invited to her office to discuss about this. We discussed this on Telegram, what should we do? I said I don't even want to give an ounce of credibility to these people, I will never get in front of them to discuss about this.
Rich: You told me for Nuit Debout, you do communications not strategy! This is what I want to examine. At Occupy Wellington I was playing your role, I was writing press releases with the media team. You can't divorce strategy from communications. You just described a strategic response.
Baki: This was personal. I said personally, I won't give an ounce of credibility to her. For me, personally.
There's a meeting for Podemos France which was just created. It's the Spanish idea: if you want to be in power, just take the movement, take the occupation, then you are in power. People think this. Political scientists study this.
Podemos France invite Nuit Debout to a meeting. My answer is simple. I'm not against people doing politics, to be elected to change things. I'm not against that. But at the moment I think this movement is not yet there. This is my point.
Jaya: Definitely, it would be a disaster! It would kill it.
Baki: It's not yet there. We have to deliberate ourselves. We have not even agreed to the way of deliberating yet. The tools we're going to use. We cannot go as a movement to challenge a system that is built centuries ago.
Rich: How much patience is there for that conversation? For the deliberation to choose how we're going to deliberate? Is that conversation going to undermine the enthusiasm?
Baki: We're not taking decisions. We have non-decisions. We are deliberating to figure out how the movement works, in the squares. In Paris and all the Nuit Debout squares. This is the only deliberation that we're taking. We don't deliberate about who we are to the world. It's a stage. To be a political movement, we need a position. We don't have this.
This minister was from the Green Party. She betrayed all her friends so she can now be in government. I don't give credibility to her and her government.
I'm not as radical as you are thinking. I think strategically I shouldn't give them any reason to think they are credible.
Taiwan's 2014 Sunflower Movement
What happens once the protestors go home?
Rich: I have been tracking these movements for five years now. They turn up, they learn something, they do something, people have an experience and then the moment expires. The progress goes underground where it can't be seen.
So assuming the worst case scenario: Nuit Debout is going to do that next week, it's going underground. The moment of consciousness is no longer on the public radar, then what would be the best outcome after that happens? For this network of people and their enthusiasm? How do you prevent that from being a defeat?
What I saw with Occupy Wall Street, was a golden moment that over time, as history is being written, history is constricting around what was a victory, and rewriting it as a defeat. That's so discouraging for the participants!
If we can predict that is going to happen in France, what's the resilient strategy against that enclosure?
Baki: Seriously I don't know. I think for me, the only success, the outcomes are: to have people meeting everyday to talk about serious stuff, taking the time to discuss their problems in the most inclusive way possible. It is more inclusive than we could ever have imagined. I don't say it is without flaws, there are many flaws, but this is the first outcome. From there, movements in France will never be the same again. As a long-term activist, I think this is the first outcome.
The second outcome, and this is the fight I have about digital, most of the people participating in this movement and in politics, most of the people ready to fight locally and engage, the outcome I wish for, is not a party in power. If there were a party called Nuit Debout in power, that would be a failure for me.
For me, my wish is a generation of people, in a party or not, that are ready to take the armor to come again in the streets, and say, "Now you stop this!" If we can build awareness, that is the best outcome.
What these people are doing, building Podemos France, is some stupidity. You take something that has happened in another country and try to replicate it. The guy who leading Podemos France is a political scientist. I'm like, guys, innovate!
Rich: I have a theory, looking at the individual level, not at the movement level: these movements are encouraging for people. If you think of encouragement, like taking someone and dipping them in a bath of courage, now you have courage soaking into you and you have been en-couraged. After the movement has passed, there are all kind of things that will dry you off and make you dis-couraged. So the question is, how do you maintain that encouragement and actually strengthen it over time, once the moment has passed? Once the historical forces have shifted?
What I'm seeing is that some individuals can do it. Individuals that have participated in movements 5 years ago, they've still got the courage. I think what it needs is to take that view of: what do I need to maintain my courage? I need a job that doesn't discourage me. I need to live in a way that doesn't discourage me. There's a translation from the political action to the economic reality. How do I participate in this economy on my own terms? How do I turn this solidarity I feel in the movement, into food, shelter and clothing and all the stuff I need to be a human. I think that is the job for the movement.
Baki: I don't have recipes, but I know if this movement continues in an inclusive way, the outcomes will be for generations. If this movement becomes a party, the outcomes will be diminished.
Rich: I'm doing what I always do: taking my experience and then projecting it onto the rest of the world. My experience at Occupy was amazing, change my life, but afterwards: then what?
I was forced to reckon with this question of how should I live now, having had that experience? What choice is left to me? The only choice left to me was to build a livelihood that was based on the same principles and values of the movement. I had enough friends that we have made that happen. So far. We haven't taken a wage from anywhere else.
And we have met other people doing the same thing. So Loomio lives inside of Enspiral, which is 300 people. A network of people that is working according to those values, it operates democratically, working on projects that they think are making a positive contribution to the world.
Say you're working in communications, you do a contract, get paid $10,000, then you choose some fraction of that to voluntarily share with the collective. Maybe 20% if it has been a good month, or 0% if you are broke. Anyone in the collective can propose how to spend the money. You get to allocate the contribution you've made. So you might say, 'I love Rich's project, I'll give my $2k to fund his project.'
So internally we have this networked economy where people are earning a livelihood for themselves and supporting each other's projects. Now we've reached a level where we're starting to meet the other networks like us. There's a little community in Germany, one in France, North America...
My experience of Occupy, which I wonder if it is similar to Nuit Debout, is that people in the movement have an allergy to business. As soon as you start talking business, they dismiss you as a capitalist. I want to short-circuit that. You can be in business without being a capitalist. I'm an anti-capitalist. We have an anti-capitalist business. Loomio lives in the commons. We take private money and use it to fund the development of the commons. I don't have an ownership stake in Loomio, it lives in the commons. That's a subtlety that you're not necessarily going to get to in a General Assembly.
Baki: The outcomes are immediate. Maybe you would not have thought of Loomio if you didn't participate. This is one of the biggest outcomes. If one day, out of this movement, people can make new tools, different companies, cooperatives, that is good! I would like that! For me, the worst thing that can happen is a party.
Rich: I agree. Have you heard of OuiShare Festival? It was an ambiguous event, but the conclusion was unambiguous, which was great. Yochai Benkler made this call to people in the room. He said, you people that want to start companies? Great, this is what I need you to design into these companies: they have to be ethically coherent, don't delay your ethical commitment, build your ethics into your business model. Don't make compromises on your ethics. Number two: they have to be for the commons, you have to build the commons into your business model as well. Number three: they have to be centered in social relationships. Not hierarchical. As Audrey said, not working for, but working with. He said, if you do those three things, build all the companies you want.
That's the kind of directive I want to see come into the movements. Where people can say, we have a problem with the capitalist, but we don't have a problem with work. We are happy to work. The problem is how we work.
Baki: I'm against jobs. But I'm for work.
You need to work with people who are there today. The movement is not there today. I don't think it will be there soon. The movement is very particular, every day people come and some people leave. It's good. The people who arrive today, they need to take the first step. For them, that is good, take the first step. That's not a problem.
You have to try to organise this with people that are already there.
What is possible in France, culturally, is to prove by showing that things work. France is a country of speeches. We are not a country of actions. When you make actions, you can show people, what are you waiting for? If you succeed, we want to be in the storytelling. If you have this project, think of it in an incubator. Incubate it in the movement, and when it works, it goes out of the incubator.
Rich: This is the thing about social relationships, too. Since we started Loomio, every movement has used Loomio. We have social relationships with people in the movement. If you think there is something wrong in the code or in the implementation, if you think we are doing something sneaky, you have the leverage of this social relationship. You can say 'Richard, why are you doing it this way?' If I can't win your trust as a human, directly, then it doesn't take long for all the movements to stop using Loomio. So we maintain that accountability through a social mechanism.
Intergenerational culture change
Baki: My parents are from the '68 generation. The richest generation in France. When they were my age they already had 5 children, a house, and saved money. I have no child, no money, and an apartment.
So 5 years ago I started couch surfing. One day, my parents stayed at my home while I was in Tunisia, during the revolution. They took the key from the doorman, and I told mum, there's a girl coming from Brazil tomorrow, don't give the keys to the doorman, the girl will meet you.
She says, 'Oh you never presented her to us!' I say, 'Yeah, you can present yourself to her.' She says, 'But if she is your friend, you have to present her!' I said, 'I don't know her.'
She was silent. What? You don't know her? - No. - Why is she staying in your house? Have you ever met her? - No. - Do you want me to stay!? - No. - Are you going to leave her in your house alone? - Yes. - How is she going to manage to live in your house alone? - I sent her an email explaining how everything works. She's a big girl. - Are you not afraid of things disappearing from the house? - I said, mum, like what? What is the thing in my house that can disappear.
The only things that have value is the crystal glass that I inherited from grandma. I use them everyday to drink bad wine with activists, we have broken already half of them.
I said, 'Mum, do you think a young girl from Brazil that is making a European tour, will steal my glasses? To do what?'
Afterward my dad said, 'the difference between your generation and ours is what you give value to.'
He reminded me, when I was young, I had a bicycle, and I had a friend that didn't have one. One day I asked dad, next Christmas, I'd like Santa to bring me a bicycle. He said, you have one already. I said yes, but I have to give mine to someone else.
That bicycle was so cool, so he didn't want me to give it to my friend. So he bought a new bike for my friend. So finally I gave my Christmas bicycle to someone else again!
I discussed with my dad, I have less money than they had, but I've visited 100 times more countries than them. First of all, I don't care about goods. When I wanted to visit Spain the first time, I was 17 years old. My parents said I had to work to do that. I said No, I'm not going to work, I'm going to Spain. So I visited Spain for free. For them it was the craziest thing I could have done.
We're in a generation, a social network with obligation in the beginning, and now it has become a strength. When I am in Madrid, I'm here, I'm not from Paris. And when I'm in Paris, I'm from Paris. It's becoming an advantage.
In the social movement too. People I met in Tunisia, or Egypt... I met Toret, we'd never met before but we had so many stories in common. I was so happy to see him physically. We were instantly like very old friends. We've been working in the same movements without seeing each other. This is an advantage.
Emergence of digital nationhood
Rich: This has been the summary of my trip. This is my first time in Europe. We've been here a couple of weeks. It's obvious at Nuit Debout especially. The 'digital native', the 'global citizen', that is literally a native, it's actually a nation. Global citizens have active citizenship there. Citizenship and nationhood have culture, the culture is different from French or German culture, it's nonlocal.
Some people in the movement have that culture, some people don't. That's the profound clash. The job of the movement, the reason you keep coming together, is because you're trying to impart your culture from one person to the next.
We have all the technology, that's great. But I think it still only happens one-to-one, face-to-face. I can hold it and I can pass it to you. And you can pass it on to someone else.
This thought developed into the talk I gave at the D-CENT conference two days later:
Baki: Yes! This is how we are solving it. For example. The media centre is not in Place de République. Why? Because we don't want the police to take our computers. We need a good internet connection, and electricity.
The first criticism was: you are never there. You are hackers.
We started making a weekly meeting in the Place. People started coming, we started discussing. It's going cool, more and more now.
Even in the media center, we are digital natives. In general, digital natives think the world outside digital is stupid.
Rich: That attitude makes you stupid. I've been dealing with the stupidest people, telling me how blockchain is going to fix every problem. You don't know about code but I can tell you this much: the blockchain is a database. That's all. A database is not going to fix power inequality. It will make new affordances, we can do things differently, but it doesn't fix things by magic.
Baki: They asked me to give a lecture in a university in Paris about how Facebook made the revolution in Tunisia. I went to see the professor and said, I can't make your lesson. Facebook did not make the revolution. Political scientists want to learn how Facebook caused the revolution. But it didn't happen! So I couldn't teach that class.
Sometimes we have to meet. On the other hand, you have to prepare the closing time of the meeting, because people will troll you. You need a bounded time.
I don't believe there will be a new movement today, without digital. Even in Saudi Arabia.
Rich: My question is, if it is a new culture coming through, what's the most effective transmission of that culture? I think it happens down a thousand channels.
I remember when I had my first experience of Google Docs, sitting next to my buddy, the two of us writing on one document. It shifted something in my brain: these words are not my own, these words are ours. It changed the way I relate to the job of writing. The same with Twitter. You have this experience where you say something and 5000 people repeat it. That shifts your identity. I want to know which are the tools that shifts people's identity in a positive direction.
Baki: I think they are not only mass consumer tools. Also small tools, for example, during this movement, what shifted my mind, I've used all the tools, I've been in Tunisia, I've seen the crowd shouting in Spanish. You see how a global movement can work. But the day that I was surprised: one day was Orchestra Nuit Debout.
Musicians from Orchestra Nuit Debout hold their instruments aloft
I played classical drums for 9 years. When I started being an activist, saying that I played classical music was a secret. When this guy published in Facebook that we want to make a concert in Place de République, three hours later there were 300 musicians saying, yes we want to play with you and 12 conductors.
They really played! They played the new world. The second movement is very cold, normally played on piano. The chief conductor, who is a woman, decide to play this with violins and drums. But she decided that two hours before! When you come from classical music, you say, what is she doing? All these parts are played in piano, and you're making us play it with violins and drums!?
It was so powerful!
There was too much noise to hear piano. My brain shifted. I thought classical music was one way, then a woman (and there are not many women conductors), can decide in two hours to make something cool. She did it! It shifted my mind. That's no tech. One person with her experience, she said, we're going to do it this way. We have electric pianos but you won't hear them out here, but if we put all the violins and all the drums, because a piano is percussion! It's hammer on strings! So she said, just go with that. Everyone was looking at her sideways, we're going to do that? They tried, and they did it!
Rich: This is what happens when you put someone else in charge. They do things differently!