Independent Media Center is now 20 years old. The project that was started during protests in Seattle is not in a great shape internationally however in some countries it’s role is still quite important for the anarchist, left and liberal movements. With riots in Connewitz attracting a lot of media attention and relative silence in the left circles on the topic we decided to write our own perspective on what is going on right now with indymedia in Germany and where can it go further.
Germany is not the first and most probably not the last country that spends resources to fight Independent Media Center. In fact already in 1999 in Seattle police was trying to evict indymedia press center during the protests against WTO. Since then indymedia activists and journalists were constantly harassed by the power players in different countries. Indymedia journalists were beaten and arrested on multiply occasions as they were reporting from protesters perspective. In 2006 Brad Will an indymedia journalist from US was killed in Mexican state of Oaxaca during uprising. Later on police officers and employees of the local government were arrested for the murder.
Many times indymedia servers were seized by the police in attempt to identify the people who were posting information online. However, one of the credos of the project was not to keep any logs that can identify users. So with every wave of repression people were confident that their data is not going to be leaked to third party. In the modern world of surveillance capitalism for most of the people it is hard to imagine how to publish information anonymously online. It goes so far that different media projects are starting to use secure drops for those who want to pass information to public anonymously. From the very beginning indymedia was giving this possibility to the activists and simple people with clear knowledge that even in liberal democracies the state can go after “dangerous” people whoever they are.
This movement is as old as the human race. There were always people in power who wanted to tell “the truth”. The priests, the generals, the monarchs and presidents. And there were people who would oppose the ultimate truth. The poor, the stupid, the thieves, the scum of the earth. Attempts to shut up the unwanted information is going on for really long time. However, we were never so far in possibilities for the power to control our message because we found ourselves in the networks controlled by that power.
So when indymedia linksunten was banned it was not the first attack of the state on the project. However, it was the first time ministry of internal affairs put responsibility of the content not on the people who were publishing it, but on administrators of the platform. The reason for prosecution and ban were publications that state prosecutor saw as promoting violence and extremism.
The story with attacks on platform for their content is not new. Major social networks now have mechanism to delete “offensive” content if this content violates platform user agreement. Many liberals met this regulation of the big capitalist players with open arms – the nazi content was finally censored and everyone was fine with that.
Most of the people didn’t expect that the same regulations would start being applied to the smaller platforms including indymedia. The thing about indymedia and many other smaller political projects is that there is no cooperation with the state. No censorship is applied to the content if the state demands that. Through that those projects provide protection for the things that are illegal today but are good from the moral perspective. After all many things that were illegal 50 years ago are now considered to be legal. With that approach clearly indymedia didn’t get the best feedback from state censors.
Nowadays each national state tries to regulate their chunk of internet. EU as union of national states is also trying to do that. So it is not really surprising that christian democratic party used good political situation to ban platform that was creating troubles for the ruling status quo.
To put it in the perspective, what happened to indymedia could happen to every small media project out there that tries to counter state censorship and promotes anonymity online. The talks about ban of Tor in Germany are actually going in the same direction. Everything that can’t be adapted to state apparatus in its moderate version should be pushed to the line of extremism and banned for the public. The fears are used as a lever for further political advancement. It is no wonder that the right with their usage of fear found themselves in situation where the extreme right and fascists are actually overplaying them in this game.
Extremism is a scapegoat for the state to address any radical criticism of the current political, social and economic issues. It’s no wonder that liberal ecological initiatives are ending up on list of extremist organizations – a lot of them are putting responsibility for ecological disaster on state and capitalism. Today being against capitalism puts you quite fast into the extremist camp for the state institutions. So ban of indymedia came as a logical development of this ideology. If we can’t control the message on the platform, we are going to destroy the platform.
Em, solidarity is our weapon?
Fight for linksunten can’t be called extremely vivid. With some energy purred into campaigning for indymedia at the beginning not so many people moved into some active phase of struggle. Yes there were stickers, yes there were shirts and even posters but this rapidly became part of counter culture without any message behind it. After two years linksunten indymedia presence in leftist circles was fading. And we are not talking about the mainstream media that was ignoring the topic almost completely after the first repression wave.
Ministry of Interior picked up good timing to ban indymedia. After G20 protests a lot of organized political groups and initiatives were at the down point due to resource exhaustion. Repressions and police violence left many demoralized. So back then there were no riots or uprising to fight for linksunten. Many silently switched back to de.indymedia.org which got second life.
Demonstration in Leipzig in front of the court was actually something big happening in the case. Mobilizations started all around Germany to join the demonstration and be strong and loud to attract attention of the public. Be angry because of repressions against the indymedia and the leftist and anarchist movement in the last years.
At the end we got small clashes with the police during the demonstration. And let’s admit that this night police was actually doing deescalation first time in years in this region. People got so used to violence and harassment from the police on demonstration that some got confused by the distance that police was holding that night. But the story doesn’t exist in a moment and frustration for everything that was done years before actually burst on the streets. Stones thrown against cops and their cars were the result of policies that were applied on the people through those years. Censorship, Poverty, Discrimination – all of these things are result of political decisions made by the state and private capital.
The stones did their job and everybody noticed indymedia. Most probably without the stones demonstration for linksunten would attract little attention of media copypasting report about yet another demonstration in Leipzig. Small escalation and a couple of broken windows gave media what it wanted – the show, the spectacle, the game. With all of this reports have changed and transformed into a huge attack both on linksunten and anarchists/leftists. The narrative have changed and it was not anymore about the attack of the state apparatus on the leftist resource but it was about attack of the leftists on state apparatus. The discussion was left to liberal journalists, politicians and cops who were all shouting together that use of violence is not acceptable and should be countered with proportioned measures. And if we look back into history this is exactly why indymedia was started – to give the space for those confronting the power. Again the voice of protesters is lost in the loud noise of the official media and politicians.
At the same time it felt like those on the streets had nothing to say. German indymedia is still up but there was written on Leipzig protest. By the time this text is written groups that were participating in the demonstration were not trying to present their version of what happened. The riot was left to itself without any attempt to use the attention that was given. Linksunten solidarity group stayed silent after publishing speeches from the demonstration for over 4 days.
Right now it doesn’t seem that people behind the demonstration had a longer plan of how to go with the whole situation. What should be done after the demonstration and how to react to the different scenarios in aftermath. Leipzig demonstration feels isolated and not really connected to any struggle going on. It happened, everybody went home, media got their images of stones and fireworks that sells well to liberal and right wing public. End of story.
We see this as a problem of the modern anarchist and leftist movement. The moves that we take in political sphere are very limited and clumsy. We rarely manage to put any goals on our struggles and have hard times maintaining something bigger than 1 demonstration event. This is not how we can reach social revolution or any smaller radical changes. Behind every victory there is a hard work done that takes months and years of organizing and planning.
To give an example of a good political work we can come back to the cops. Police and ministry of internal affairs did impressive political work on the evening of demonstration. And although there was quite a huge dissatisfaction with police presence in South of Leipzig this was forgiven for what happened afterwards. They were doing a huge amount of work at the spot to push their narrative and present themselves as good guys who are there to protect neighborhood. And this was the main story after the riots. Poor police injured in clashes with some crazy people.
So to sum up the perspective on Leipzig protest – it did manage to reach to the public through anger and clashes with the police. However, the protesters and campaigners failed to manifest their ideas in any sensible manner. The readiness of leftist and liberal political figures to distance themselves from the protest created even a bigger wall to jump over for those who were still trying to give their point of view.
Mom, why do we still need indymedia?
After all of this we believe it makes sense to finish with the question that many people are still asking themselves. Why the hell on earth indymedia is still valid. There are alternative social media outside mainstream circles. Use them if you don’t like twitter or facebook. There is so much of everything that you can find anything you prefer.
Maybe they are right. It is time to give up on the outdated concept of independent media centers that lost it’s strength with rise of social media era. It became extremely easy to find news from all around the world. Personalize your own news line and here you go, you are jumping into the world where every second something happens. And even if nothing happens there are still friends who are posting pictures of their pets or children or even cars.
Maybe they are wrong. Social media platforms became garbage bins of everything that people want to say. It rarely matters what exactly to say. The importance of likes, new subscribers and fun transformed lives of millions of people. We all want to speak at the same time and such conversations are extremely boring. It’s better to stay silent and do not take all the space for ourselves. Indymedia was giving this opportunity to stay silent and not force you to grow your social capital online. You can be anonymous or registered and contribute once or on the regular basis. You are still part of the community. And it’s not that we don’t want to see cats or dogs, though some of us behind this text are extremely boring people. It’s just we need platforms where we can exchange serious ideas and knowledge about the struggles. Sure there are a lot of alternative medias that you can subscribe to in your social media timeline, but again you will be bombarded from all the sides and ignore most of the things that are coming on you.
So indymedia even after 20 years of its existence and 15 years of struggle with different social networks is still actual. We still need platform that values contribution and not your social status or social capital. You can write smart or stupid, moderate or radical, long or short and there will be space for you as part of the community struggling for the better world.
So do we still need indymedia? Definitely! And the hard times are coming to fight for it – the people in power want to identify every bigger or smaller threat and neutralize it. In this times anonymity of indymedia is still one of those lights that can bring us to the better future.