Sunday, April 08, 2007

I Just Want To

Sing Your Name

There was song by Woodie Guthrie that honored Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Its title was the same as this post. The repetitive lyrics were simple. He sung their names and repeated the title. There are some names I would like to sing too, those of the few hundred with whom I have communicated empathetically since treading the path to where we are on the Further Left Forum.

One of our team members recently recounted experience at the end of a first year of blogging. I was impressed and it seemed a good idea to do with Further Left. It has been a long trek with many changes and people. Today marks a fifth anniversary of sorts. This is a good time.

It will be a telling of Further Left’s genesis from perspective of my involvement. Repetitions of “I”, “me”, and “my” will certainly lend an egocentric slant that I hope is discounted. The several hundred other participants will remain unnamed out of respect for anonymity, but the trip has been a joint venture of the many rather than one or a few.

Early days of my professional career delved concepts of computers before they existed. My specialty was microcomputer telecommunications by time of mid 1980’s retirement. That is when, along with uncounted others, we were first nourishing an internet seed just beginning to germinate.

Away from professional environs, I publicly wore without concern the reputation of civil rights, labor, anti-war, and associated cause activist, organizer, and general political/social troublemaker. Classrooms and labs fed the family while struggles in streets, meeting halls, and doorways fortified the heart.

From retirement until early 2002, I was prevented by circumstances from exploring what the internet had become. Age and distance also prevented social and political aspects of life I would rather be exercising. A computer on the internet bridges those limitations. It seemed a suitable tool for increasing the odds of at least figuratively ‘dying on my feet’ by substituting fingers on a keyboard.

Five years ago today marked my entrance to online agitating by posting on a US site oriented and operated to support its democrat political party though posing otherwise with the pretentious label ‘underground’. I became a fixture with views either too far left or ‘under’ to suit the site’s proprietors. They finally banned my further use in late December 2003.

I came to join with some of shared outlook from there at a now defunct site that was underground in more than name. It was web invisible, used encrypted transmission, and accessible only by invitation. Besides a forum for posting articles and opinion, it had a chat room to which I was attracted.

I knew from experience that political organizing solidifies through personal relationships. Previous activism taught to maximize their development and minimize mistakes by basing trust on observing what a person does rather than says. Unfortunately, just as in paper publishing, the pre-configured writing of internet posting favors saying and obscures doing. It lets readers know what a writer wants them to think rather than perceive what they are.

Chat rooms differ in that respect. There, habits are prominent in guiding more rapid back and forth expression. They impede coating presentation to desire. Personages behind the words reveal themselves eventually, whether intended or not. A chat room seemed a promising tool for melding a preferred past into a computer present if taken to public domain. The Further Left chat room opened as such on Yahoo in August 2003.

It started well and soon drew a core of dedicated users. Sometimes just a few attended, but about 12 were normal, and it was double that at times. I had the background, inclination, time, and internet facility to most readily assume primary responsibility for maintaining the room's existence. Others shared keeping it open around the clock as well as maintaining a conceptual credo similar to that of the Forum today.

When I suffered incapacitation of computer use for a period of several months, regular users extended efforts to maintain the chat room's existence. It showed they considered it as having value. It was good to discover personal importance and presence were neither predominant nor necessary. That lesson mattered a lot.

The room's user demography reflected internet use in general. About half counted the US and UK associated nations as origin, the latter in relative lesser proportion. The other half influenced me most however by expanding political and social outlook beyond provinciality of previous experience. That was the greatest abstract value I gained from the chat room. The less abstract one was meeting people I came to know well.

The Yahoo system offered no manner of moderation over who could join or what they might do. People began to show with discordant motives. It was their computer and just as with a shoot 'em down game, they could entertain themselves as chosen with little apparent recognition there were real lives behind the screens. It went progressively downhill from there. Some disruption was from intended counter political effort. Most was just plain ‘look at me’ computer play.

To lend direction, I sought serious user input and created a file of Frequently Asked Questions in the late fall of 2003. That was the start of what enlarged through user contributions to become in March 2004 the Further Left Chat Room Library web site. It helped somewhat and its contents still account for a large share of Forum contacts through search engine queries.

The decline continued however. Many solid participants cut us off and left a feeling there was something else going on. There was. There were fake, impersonating, and lying emails, impersonating posting, fake web sites, threats in print, phone calls, instant messaging, and emails. Resulting distrust chased some old hands and many newcomers away. There was worse, much worse.

Revelations of user names, addresses, phones, and businesses appeared. There was a web site falsely identifying a user as a child molester on the lamb for murder. A separate chat room offered another’s sister in prostitution with contact details. Confusion occurred from sprouting of similar and same name Further Left chat rooms and web sites. Some of the Library's code combined with that of a porn site. There were complaints to law enforcement and surreptitious infiltration of same. People went to jail and underground. Many good ones left out of necessity, disgust, or because they could not afford that sort of strain on personal lives.

Such chaos was not restricted to Further Left but occurred throughout the Yahoo chat system. I believe it was probably out of concern for legal liability and advertiser fears that Yahoo did away with all user created chat rooms in June of 2005. That is despite some evidence the political direction of our room was a specific target of individuals working within the Yahoo operation. Whichever was the case, we saw our demise in the works before it happened. The closing came without surprise and we were ready to turn negative to positive.

We immediately installed the Further Left chat room on an IRC system. It was an improvement over Yahoo in many respects. Some were reliability, format, and ease of use. The biggest change had to do with managing manner of use. There was no more of either the nonsense or danger primarily due to our preventative actions.

Also missing were many users we thought at the time we would like to retain. Several gave us a look but evidently decided there was greater joy in the excitement of Yahoo craziness. Others quit because they objected to our moderation controls. Despite concerted notification efforts, many probably lost track of our location after the Yahoo demise. I regret my fault of discouraging some by valuing operation over persons.

Some intentional disruptors returned and attempted encores on the new chat system. We cut it off. Blocked attempts also repeated on the Forum after its initiation. Some still try for acceptance under pretense of innocent appearing inputs in the chat room, Forum, and its team member blogs. People can become good at fooling the unwary. Spotting what they can be and remembering it was a sad but advantageous Yahoo chat experience.

One of our long-term chat participants and team members created a personal posting blog in November 2004. Several others established theirs between then and October 2005, when the Forum was initiated. Its original team members were chat room regulars of long standing. Other team member blogs soon followed. The team grew as some joined in the fall of 2006. The Forum’s Posting Guide, Privacy Policy, and Contributors list were designed in part to aid maintaining a focused conceptual style that does not lead toward mistakes of a murky past.

In March 2006, the Library’s internet service provider denied us further hosting. The claim was its political content and links to the chat room and Forum were causing hacker attacks presumably emanating from the US. It is ironic the service is owned and operated by a Canadian and located in Mexico. Whether or not the reason given was the valid cause of action, the de facto censorship did not stick. We moved quickly to and still are with a more reliable and enhanced service at half the cost.

From the perspective of those of us who continued using the chat room, its quality improved markedly at the move. That however has evidently not been the view of most that never returned. Use has since fallen steadily to where now just a few of us who know each other well continue to communicate as friends. Our Contributor list shows the Forum also suffers a noticeable contribution decrease. I wish these were otherwise but understand people change in circumstance and inclination.

That is where we were and how I see us today. Where will we be tomorrow? How will we get there? Which way should we stride? Or, should we bother at all? Is this missive a final verse to a last hurrah? I have no answers to those but wonder about them in pondering the words of Antonio Machado: "There is no path. Paths are made by walking. The only path seen looking back is as a wave in the sea, one never to be tread again."

What I do know is that if you affect someone, it will pass to another. You probably will not know to whom, how, or when, but it will pass. There is an improvable but statistically substantiated conjecture that shows how far and easily. Suppose Joe knows Moe and Moe knows Floe. Call that a “two link bridge” between Joe and Floe. Study has it that a bridge of six links is sufficient with a high degree of probability to connect any two people on Earth. We are closer to affecting one another than we think.

Five years ago, I did not know the internet could spread political effect. I had never heard of a chat room four years ago. Blogs entered my conscience less than two years past. The current Forum team has been together about half a year. This report started as a song honoring names of more than a couple hundred who have walked some of the way with us. All have also traveled with others. Moreover, those others have …. You get the idea. Paths are made by walking.

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