Good news/bad news: an independent media manifesto

  • December 28, 2013

Anarchism & Autonomy

The bad news is that the 1% and the mainstream media have caught us in their web of ideological control. The good news is that there’s still a way out.

We live in extraordinary times. All around us the old world is crumbling, while the new one struggles to be born. Crises and catastrophes are rocking our planet like never before. Rebellions and revolutions are stirring the system to its very core. And yet, while the tidal waves of history keep battering the shores of our collective imagination, the guardians of the 1% keep telling us not to worry: “there’s nothing to see here folks,” editors, advertisers and news anchors gently implore, “just keep moving along.”

The Bad News

With the global rat race speeding up to a fever pitch of self-destructive hyper-activity, humanity now faces an unspeakable challenge. Let’s start with the bad news. Dignity and democracy are under attack everywhere. And while the people rise up in defiance — whether through mass popular insurrections or small acts of everyday resistance — those in power keep telling us to look the other way: to our mortgages, our credit cards, our student loans, our increasingly crappy jobs and shitty pay, and, most of all, to “them”: the big corporations and powerful politicians, grand icons of market fundamentalism and loyal servants of its one and only deity: Mammon. The God of Money.

And so, even as world-historic events shake the very foundations of the Earth, the real news keeps being drowned out by the deafening silence of the media’s corporate agenda. The profit motive reigns supreme as the ultimate arbiter of value. Everywhere we look, people and nature are relegated to instrumental categories at best, and total economic and journalistic irrelevance at worst: cut out of newspapers and government budgets, jammed into Excel spreadsheets and sent off for auction to the highest bidder — to be packaged and delivered at a private yacht or penthouse apartment by tomorrow afternoon. And whatever tricks they conjure up to keep this system from destructing itself, the bubbles only seem to grow bigger and bigger — up to the point where, with a sudden sigh and a silent shriek, it all says “pop”.

But until that day comes, we seem to be stuck inside their web, wiggling and wrestling, but never truly breaking free. The media’s mindless dissemination of the dominant discourse, its sensationalist propagation of the spectacle, and its constant celebration of consumer culture render most of us either numb, apathetic or both.

Over two decades after Herman & Chomsky’s The Manufacturing of Consent, the immense ideological power of the mainstream media remains one of the fundamental pivots around which the everyday reproduction of global catastrophe revolves. “Hear no evil, see no evil” stands as the dogma of our era, in which the public exploits of multi-millionaire celebrity kids like Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber apparently count for more than the seemingly endless struggles of the millions who risk their lives in historic revolutions and the everyday pursuit of bread, freedom and social justice.

Breaking the hold that the ruling elite still has over our individual minds and our collective imagination requires us to first of all break out of the informational and ideological net they have cast around us. As the Spanish indignados put it: “turn off the TV and turn on your mind!”

Only by tuning out of the white noise that continues to pollute our thoughts and cloud our vision, and only by replacing this never-ending flow of mind-numbing nonsense with our own alternative channels of counter-information, can we begin to bypass the neural pathways of obedience that the elite’s propaganda has systematically engraved into our brains. The realization has come that it’s up to us to report and reflect upon the revolutionary changes taking place in our world; the 1% clearly won’t do it for us!

The Good News

Now, the good news is that we already have the tools for this. We live in a time not only of grave political and economic crisis, but also of rapid social and technological change. One doesn’t need to subscribe to old-fashioned technological determinism to see how the tools we wield alter the ways we interact with the world.

It may be a cliché by now, but it’s crucial to remember that, back in the days of the printing press, publishing was still centralized. Few people could afford the kind of upfront capital investment needed to purchase their own press and just start printing — only capitalists, parties and maybe some of the bigger trade unions could do that. Independent publishing remained confined to the samizdat and the local anarchist leaflet, read by a few dedicated dissidents at best. The same goes for the era of television and to a lesser extent radio (where pirate stations sometimes played a subversive role).

Today, things are radically different. One of the great contradictions of late capitalism is that the very information technologies (laptops, smart phones, digital cameras) that allowed the system to reproduce itself beyond the decline of the Fordist model in the West, are now empowering dissidents to create their own media with which to contest the dominant order.

Of course these new technologies don’t make revolutions — people make revolutions — but they do help us to report and reflect on them in a more dynamic and democratic way. Hypothetically, at least, everyone with a laptop and an internet connection is now a potential publisher; everyone with a camera and a shoestring budget a potential guerrilla filmmaker. The trick nowadays is not so much to produce independent content — but to do it the right way. To aggregate the right type of information. To ensure in-depth analysis and high-quality content. And, most of all, to formulate a thorough critique of the status quo and provide credible alternatives to the crisis-ridden world we inhabit.

ROAR very much grew out of the convergence between this crisis of global capitalism and the quiet media revolution that has been unfolding at the grassroots. Unemployed and equipped solely with a laptop, we set out to reflect on the revolutionary wave that began with the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and that continued through the European anti-austerity protests to the global Occupy movement and on to the most recent mass demonstrations in Turkey and Brazil.

Throughout all of this, our aim and philosophy have remained the same: to provide grassroots perspectives from the front-lines of the struggle for real democracy, which for us revolves around the principles of autonomy, horizontality, self-organization, workers’ control, openness, and social solidarity.

It is with these principles in mind that we have been actively reporting and reflecting on the social mobilizations that have been stirring the globe for the past three years. And it is with these principles in mind that we have committed ourselves to keep struggling — through ROAR and any other means at our disposal — for the realization of the world we wish to see.

It is obvious that getting there won’t be easy, and we may never even succeed. But this much is clear: if we don’t find ways to circumvent the elite’s propaganda apparatus, in the form of the mass media and mainstream academia, we are unlikely to convince anyone else that this other world is not only possible, but desirable. And if we don’t find ways to connect our various national struggles by articulating a global critique of the capitalist world-system and a radical vision of a post-capitalist society, we will be forever doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Be the Media!

The somewhat tacky but nevertheless paramount slogan of the media activists in the alterglobalization movement was: “don’t hate the media; be the media.” Back in the day, this meant setting up and maintaining the various national Indymedia forums — autonomous spaces where activists could come together to strategize and share counter-information. Today we do not really have any “centralized” hubs like Indymedia anymore. What we do have is a proliferation of independent media collectives that are all more or less working in the same direction but that nevertheless remain relatively scattered.

Of course it is neither possible nor desirable to jam all these initiatives into a single overarching framework. But we can — and indeed we must — start collaborating more actively between one another and across borders: by solidifying our networks, intensifying the exchange of content and ideas, and one day maybe even pursuing a strategy of voluntary federation into something resembling “One Big Union.”

Only by collectively constructing our own autonomous nodes and networks of communication, only by generating our own participatory platforms to mediate other ways of seeing things, other ways of engaging with the world around us, can we liberate ourselves from the mental incarceration forced upon us by those in power.

This, at the most fundamental level, should be the role of a truly independent media: to inform critical thought and inspire constructive subversion. To identify the epochal changes and tectonic shifts that are already stirring deep below the social surface. Not to “give a voice to the voiceless”, but simply to amplify the powerful voice of the unheard. To promote complex thought, in-depth investigation and critical analysis where the global trend is towards an unequivocal dumbing down. To charge forward where the old guard desperately clings on to its last-remaining vestiges of authority.

And, ultimately, to anticipate the unexpected — so that when the day finally comes, we will be able to rise like lions and lionesses to seize the day and meet the challenge.

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