History does us a tremendous disservice when it obscures the conflict and dissent within the movements that change our world. Take the example of two of the most important reform movements in the history of United States, women’s suffrage and black civil rights. The general lesson is that an extraordinary leader (or two) organized the people to take collective action and overcame opposition and achieved victory. This is the myth of reform. The truth is messier and full of conflict and squabbling and petty jealousy.
We almost never hear about the struggle within the struggle. Women’s struggle for the vote was riven with conflict from within as they fought with difficult strategic decisions such as should they abandon the struggle for suffrage to focus on abolition first to the question two generations later about whether they should abandon the struggle during WWI – so as not to appear unpatriotic. These struggles led to factions and splintering and whispers and gossip and sexual slanders of some movement leaders. Yet they prevailed and today we seem to think some women marched in the street and got the vote just like that.
Take just one small sliver of the Civil Rights struggle – the Montgomery Bus Boycott. We are taught that Rosa Parks committed the individual act of civil disobedience that sparked a spontaneous boycott that eventually ended the segregation on the buses in Montgomery. Well, many, many, many blacks had been arrested for this in past throughout the South. The reason this time was different was that this arrest was planned and executed after nearly two years of planning. The plan began in May 1954 and she didn’t sit on the bus until December 1955. The boycott itself lasted for a year – from December 6, 1955 to December 20, 1956. In the meantime, organizers sought buy-in and pledges from church leaders and the community. This was the least spontaneous act of civil disobedience you can imagine – even choosing who would be arrested was a committee decision. With this long effort in consolidating support in the community – they were able to sway even those who doubted the wisdom of the boycott to participate and keep their opposition muted and within the organizing committee. When the organizing behind the civil disobedience is hidden from history – how are we to learn the sort of slow heavy lifting that goes into effect organizing strategies.
If I were a conspiracist, I might believe this a deliberate effort to discourage people from organizing to change the decisions that affect our lives. Our efforts never have the extraordinary leaders because of course, leaders are only extraordinary in hindsight. Worse, we expect our efforts to conform to the completely false story arc of reform – the story arc that ignores the missteps, infighting, second-guessing, personality conflicts, jealousies and pettiness that all had to be overcome in order to Overcome.
What does this have to do with Second Life and fashion? Well, there are incipient movements to tackle the issue of content theft. These are the Step Up Campaign and Artist’s Voice. Certainly a petty issue relative to suffrage and civil rights, but for content creators who rely on Second Life for real life income, it is a vital issue. Both campaigns ask for all of us to commit to demonstrate to Linden Labs our serious concerns about content theft. The Step Up Campaign has asked everyone to not upload anything to Second Life on November 5th. Artist’s Voice is asking for a 48 hour moratorium on commerce on November 5th and 6th. There are, of course, many opinions about whether these actions will work, whether they are effective, strategic and so on.
My response is I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter. Anyone who expects the first actions of a new campaign to succeed is unrealistic. The history of reform is full of success built on failures. People have worked for health care reform since Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency. It took 72 years to win the vote for women. Just the Montgomery Bus campaign took more than two years. Success is seldom overnight and expecting wins with the first efforts is a recipe for despair.
I think that since we are taught this mythology of reform, we set false expectations on today’s organizing efforts. This plays out in different ways. We adopt tactics hastily without laying the groundwork for them. We also expect instant success and if we fear a tactic may fail, we allow our opposition to drive a wedge into the group, splintering the effort. We don’t need the opposition to divide and conquer us, we do that ourselves.
So this is what I think. I think whether or not you can participate wholeheartedly and completely in the moratorium, you can still support the goals of the group by keeping your opposition to those tactics proactive – avoiding the splintering and factionalizing that destroy many campaigns before they even get off the ground. You can brainstorm new tactics, come up with ideas for more effective outreach, think of alternative strategies. You can also get ready to boost the morale and bolster the spirits if the planned efforts do not succeed. Since success on the first effort is rare – this morale-boosting is likely to be needed.
As for me, I will support the moratorium and engage in no commerce on those days. I have no idea if Gidge will or not – and support her decision either way. Having no real income in Second Life, I am in no place to judge the decisions of others. I hope those who do not participate can, however, support the goals of the campaign by not personalizing their opposition and attacking the campaign and its organizers. Principled opposition within a campaign prepares next steps – it does not hope for failure to prove itself right. Instead it focuses forward, to the next steps. The key to doing this is remembering the long term goals – and recognizing that campaigns are won incrementally – and that wins are built on losses.
Excellent post, too often people want a “quick fix”, but the solution tends to be as large and as multifaceted as the problem.
Content theft is that large an issue, but both these campaigns are raising some intelligent dialogue & questions about what constitutes IP rights & it’s affect on the industry of Second Life. People are questioning their own values and questions of software piracy are also being raised. All valuable discussions that need to be had, and acted upon.
So while this action in itself may not be the magic ointment to solve the content theft problem, it is encouraging people to think, and that is never a bad thing.
It did not occur to me that some might see this as appropriation as I explicitly say “Certainly a petty issue relative to suffrage and civil rights.” I will bold it in the post to make that distinction more explicit.
The point is that our myths of these movements discourage contemporary action and organizing. We expect successes without the groundwork because our history ignores the groundwork these people did. We don’t leave room for failure and poor decisions because we are not taught that they made mistakes and even called off actions when they realized they were going to fail.
Perhaps the Frederick Douglass quote is gratuitous – though irresistible because it’s my favorite quote of all time. He gets at the heart of what hobbles so many campaigns, the desire to win their goals without rocking the boat too much, as though you can win without conflict.
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Excellent post. I have voiced criticism of the proposed moratorium on commerce, but my objections are to the short notice to prepare and difficulty to comply for many creators. Sales are already down across the board and so variable that many of my friends who depend upon SL income do not want to risk pushing away any potential customers. So I support the choice of those who may abstain from full participation. I do not, however, agree with making personal attacks on the supporters of the moratorium, nor do I think it fair to say anyone who criticizes the moratorium has no place to complain of theft or infringement in future.
I hope that if the moratorium does not meet its supporters expectations that it does not discourage us from pursuing other courses of action or something similar but differently organized in future. I sense a lot of frustration in the community at what feels like apathy from LL on this issue that is of tantamount importance to all content creators and conscientious consumers, and I respect that many of us yearn to do something to make LL acknowledge and act upon our concerns. So I respect the amount of passion everyone’s bringing to the table, and I think even those who disagree with this specific proposal of action agree on many basic points regarding theft and IP violation.
I wish we could all engage in discourse without getting heated and personal, but we are only human. I hope that ultimately we’re able to band together enough to achieve our goals.
An extraordinarily smart post, Caj — I appreciate its thoughtfulness. It reminds me that we can all find our own place in an issue we care about without attacking others who are trying to find their place. Thank you~
Really good points Cajsa about the different layers of activism and the patience it takes to see the fruits of a collaborative effort. The hardest thing to do when you are working towards reform is to have patience, and to learn how to work with the people who you are asking to and for change. Content theft took a while to evolve into the ugliness we see today, and so it will take time to wipe out effectively. I continue to have faith in the residents of SL who embrace social responsibility on a virtual platform, these are the residents who will come together and support the rights of the people who create the things that make SL a better place.
A rational voice amongst the chaos. Beautifully expressed, Cajsa. I am going to choose to refrain from engaging in creation or commerce, and I hope others will as well. As you point out, though, people should expect to be in for the long haul, and know things like this would only be a start.
Thanks for trying to somewhat still the waters on this.
Many good things have started small.
Pink ribbons do not cure breast cancer – but they do remind us to do our self checks, thereby allowing us the opportunity for earlier diagnosis – and possibly life vs. death.
A moratorium will not stop content theft, nor change the mind of those who do not care – but if it educates a FEW – who then tell their friends, then the seeds of change are planted.
And that is how real change is grown.