DeeDee Halleck on Indymedia

This interview was originally circulated on the nettime list. The article was submitted to us by a reader, but as it had been reproduced elsewhere in the meantime, such as, I have decided not to place it on the front page.

Interview with DeeDee Halleck by Jakob Weingartner

How would you describe the strategy of indymedia?

The Seattle Indymedia site was inaugurated as part of setting up an
Independent Media Center so that all of the many movement media comng to
Seattle could collaborate. There was a growing realization that radio,
video, print and art groups could effectively work together on specific
issues. Before Seattle, there was the case of the impending execution of
independent radio journalist Mumia Abu Jamal. Although there was no
physical center, nor a coordinating web site, a national meeting of
alterntive media folk made a committment to try to collaborate a campaign.
In the space of very few weeks many of us worked collaboratively to make a
media blitz to counter the State of Pennsylvania’s assigned date for
execution: radio programs, videos, satellite broadcasts, special print
inserts, posters and a CD Rom were made with, for the first time, a real
sense of collaboration between different media. Throughout the country
there were continual messages against the death penalty and in favor of a
new trial for Mumia. For the moment, it worked, and the state postponed
the execution. (Though Mumia is still in jail and may still be executed.)

With the convergence of many groups to Seattle in 1999, we knew that the
sort of campaign that had been waged to save Mumia might be an effective
way to get the message of the anti-corporate movement before the public.
So we planned to do a similar sort of cross media collaboration. The web
site was just to be a place where we could post our work. Before Seattle
happened, I don’t think anyone really imagined that the web site would be
such a popular and effective tool. Sure, many groups have web sites, but
the dynamism of the Seattle site was phenomenal. This was to a great
extent due to the unique potential of the Catalytst soft ware, which made
it easy for everyone to post not only text, but photos, video and audio
files. Catalyst was developed in Australia by Mathew Arnison and others
for use by Australian activists. Mathew just happened to be in Boulder
shortly before Seattle and was able to introduce Manseur Jacobi and other
tech people to the Catalyst code. The strategy per se was just to make it
as accessible as possible, not only for downloading, but also for
uploading. I think that only after the site went up and became so
effective that we began to really understand what a powerful tool it was.

Does indymedia want to put pressure on the mainstream media in order to
force them to alter their news coverage? Or do you follow a concept of,
let´s call it „counter-information“? If that´s so, do you see the danger
of addressing an inner circle of already leftist people? There is a
constant struggle within indymedia as to what the attitude should be
towards the main stream media. There are those who think that indymedia
can pressure corporate press to be more honest. I think that yes there
have been stories that we “broke“ and forced main stream media to take
notice and report. There are those who think we should court the press
and get them to „cover“ indymedia and that „legitimates“ us. I pretty
much disagree and I guess I am in the camp that says fuck the corporate
media, let’s make our own!

The distrust of mainstream media has been codified in one version of the
"IMC Blueprint" with the following rules: "Try to get mainstream media to
schedule times to come to the IMC so it is possible to let everyone know
they were are coming. If possible, we try to clear a the scheduled
mainstream media visit through a general meeting. 2. All mainstream media
doing articles on the IMC should register as mainstream media - it is even
possible to give them special passes to wear while they are in the IMC. 3.
Someone from the outreach team can accompany mainstream media at all times
when they are in the IMC".

Sometimes IMC activities do catch the interest of the press and greatly
increase the number of visitors to the web site. As related by "J.M.G." in
a process discussion: Creative applications of the Internet technology
during the S11 protests demonstrated the ability of the Net to not only
function as an organizational tool but also as a form of civil
disobedience in cyberspace. The tongue-in-cheek link to JohnFarnham's
'You're the Voice' - chosen as the S11 song - and the clever 'hactivism'
which redirected users from to, generated
considerable discussion within the press, radio and television media. This
publicity alerted new audiences to the existence of the site incrementally
increasing the number of hits the site received. The old media was
important in publicizing and drawing attention to the new, highlighting
the fact that, although the Net is an important new tool, activists still
largely rely on coverage in the traditional media and cannot rely solely
upon the emerging communications networks."

Main stream critics have snidely put down the indy media activity as being
contradictory: using corporate tools such as the internet to attack
corporate agenda. Indymedia makers have countered that that is a time
honored guerrilla tactic-- to turn the tools of the oppressors against
them. However, a more considered rejoinder is that the internet was
developed in a collaborative process through public funding via
educational institutions. The creation did not spring from a search for
profitable products to market. The entire effort was subsidized by public
grants and nurtured in an atmosphere of mutual cooperation, not unlike the
process of indymedia itself. The early internet researchers were not
initially making products that the commercial sector could (and would)
develop. As e-commerce takes over much of the band width, it is efforts
such as indy media that are preserving the authentic interactive potential
of the internet and, as such, preserving its role as a progressive public

As to the question of preaching to the choir.. well, first of all the
choir needs information and „to be preached to“, otherwise how can we all
sing together? But with the sorts of numbers indymedia is generating in
terms of daily visitors, we are certainly going beyond any concept of
„inner circle“. This is a broad audience. But moreover it is not passive:
there are almost as many posts as there are visiters.

Indymedia recently celebrated its 2 years of existence. If you look back
at the development of the antiglobalisation-movement and the
implementation of independent media in it, which goals have been reached,
where have you failed? What has changed?

Certainly we have changed the perception of the public in terms of global
trade organizations. No one looks at the WTO or the World Bank as being a
benevelent organizations any more. That is clearly a huge victory. In
terms of failure, I think the biggest problems are the same problems we
see in the world around us: the vast inequities in access to resources,
the deeply rooted problems of racism and sexism and the ever present
temptations of consumer culture. There are few indymedia centers in the
South. Women and people of color are still in very much the minority at
indymedia centers and many of the creative young people who have learned
to make media at indymedia are sucked off into the corporate world so that
they can pay off their credit cards.

How has the strategy of indymedia changed through this 2 years? (Perhaps
you would like to answer this question chronologically, starting with
seattle, over washington, prague, genua etc.) I don;’t see „change“ per
say, but just a sort of evolution and growth, which varies depending on
the location and the persons involved. One exaample of a particularly
active group is dcimc, which is making a 24 hour radio station, a tv
channel that scans all the other imcs and posts a sort of roving video
string. Also DC has perfected the use of the imc archives as counter
surveilence: checking for images of police undercover provacateurs,
recording police abuses (such as taping over their badge numbers with
black tape and excessive violence) and other sort of vigilant activity.

Genoa was amazing in the production of breaking news. It was a global
interactive event.

how have the wtc/pentagon bombings changed the work of indymedia? It is
hard to say what the ultimate outcome will be. The images of black bloc
kids at globalization protests seem curiously out of place in the current
image climate. But the imcs have been very useful in providing an
alternative to the jingoism of corporate press. Certainly the New York IMC
has played a very useful role in uniting the community of media makers and
artists in the WTC area..

Is the imc being exposed to a lot of hate in this heated up situation
since it so openly opposes the „war against terror“ lead primarily by the
us-government? There have been individual indymedia people attacked, but
nothing so far, in terms of specific repression. I would say that the
danger is more of intimidation: with Ashcroft’s draconian laws in effect,
one wonders where the sword will fall.

An interesting aspect to the new legislation is that anyone attacking
property or threatening US business interests is in the same catagory as
airplane hi-jackers.

The ongoing or even concluded process in which the media-output is being
mainstreamed as far as the war in afghanistan and it´s propagandistic
counterpart in the usa is concerned is quite terrifying. What has to be
done in order to deconstruct the hegemonic, and if you want to go that
far, imperialistic discourse dominated by the us-government from your
point of view? Which role should the independent media play in the
anti-war movement? It is very important that the independent media make
cogent criticism of the corporate media. Just as the WTO struggle is a
global one, the stuggle against corporate media needs to be made global:
we need to have a global initiative to preserve the airwaves and bandwidth
for free speech and creative expression. In 2003 thre will be a global
media meeting in Geneva at the International Telecommunications Union.
This should be the „Seattle“ of media: we need a convergence and a
demonstration of the need to nurture local media initiatives and to save
satellite slots for grass roots communitcation. The question is how can
the grassroots use of information technology be cultivated in the "vast
wasteland" of global commercial (and military) hegemony of technological
resources? Perhaps it is time to look at the ITU and to reinsert the
public into their agenda. The ITU was organized before the United Nations,
as a global agency to assign radio frequencies to prevent interference
between nations. It has the task of designating both global spectrum and
satellite paths. Both of these resources are essential infrastructure for
any communication project. At the current time, most of this supposedly
global resource has been assigned to commercial entities and military
users. With the collapse of the Eastern Block, the demise of the
Non-Aligned Movement and the privatization of national telecommunications
agencies, there is no organized resistance to the commercialization of the
world telecommunications infrastructure. This is why the Murdochs and the
MTVs of the world can have free access to their target "markets: we are in
the bull's eye.

An example of how communities can successfully "tax" corporations to
reconfigure communication infrastructure is the public access movement in
the United States. Begun in the early seventies, community groups and
visionary city officials were able to extract from cable corporations
provisions that ensure public access to cable channels and equipment.
Although this movement has been ridiculed in the popular press in the US
(a press for the most part owned by cable corporations!) it has flourished
in many cities and provides a model for the rest of the world as to how
excess communication profits can be directed into "affirmative action" for
information equity.

The local and regional models of collaboration and participation such as
public access and the IMCs can be the foundation to design a global system
of information resources that sees humanity not a markets to be exploited,
but as participant citizens. Why not a global standard of participatory
communication, asserting the public nature of global information
resources, such as earth orbits and spectrum? The imc’s show the way.

The imc started off as a project that´s tightly linked with the
anti-globalisation movement. Edward Said recently visited vienna and in an
interview doubted that the antiglobalisation-movement can be transformed
into a „new peace movement“. What would you reply? If we can’’t do that
we are in big trouble. The United States Patriot Act, which was passed by
Congress last month, states that any act that could be deemed dangrous to
human life, or forcing government officials to change their policies, can
be construed as domestic terrorism. According to Michael Ratner, of the
Center for Constitutional Rights, it is not a stretch to predict that this
will be used against any future anti-globalization protests, or at the
very least against the leaders. This law makes what in the past is civil
disobedience into domestic terrorism, so that acts on which there were
certain sentencing limits, and makes them much more serious. Under this
law it means certain acts can be called terrorism and punishable with
twenty years in jail. Even thowing a rock in a Starbucks window. If
there is glass that breaks and could be construed as endangering human
beings, that action can be tried under this act. There is also a part
about blocking mass transit. So that demonstrators blocking a main
thoroughfare or a train track could be arrested as terrorists. This
directly targets Reclaim the Streets and Critical Mass.

This law takes actions which in the past were not seen as major crimes and
makes them punishable as domestic terror. There is finally a growing
reaction to the militry tribunal idea. The reality is sinking in and
actually the resisitance is from both the left and the right. Let’s see
what happens in the next few months.

Here in europe nothing is being heard about the american peace movement.
Why? Perhaps because European media takes their cues for internal
reporting of the us from what is reported on CNN. Of course thre is no
recognition from CNN as to the peace movement.

In the usa as well as in europe authorities are forcing the implementation
of extensive surveillance over it´s citizens. The only solution is to
resist. For one thing this stuff is very expensive. As the recession
settles in, it is going to get harder for the gov to tax us for all this
new equipment.

How does the new peace movement adress this issue? On all fronts: vigils,
actions, theater, art, and IMC posts! What I am doing is working on a
daily news program with journalist Amy Goodman. We are doing two hours a
day of news over satellite, community tv, public radio and the internet.