(en) local knowledge - global wisdom report

sage (jesse@tao.ca)
Sun, 29 Jun 1997 11:41:22 -0400 (EDT)


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Local Knowledge Global Wisdom Report

The Media Collective is an excuse to hack reality. However, in this age of Information Warfare, it can be difficult to find reality.

The World Bank and the Government of Canada just finished hosting a conference in Toronto called 'Global Knowledge for Development'. The Media Collective upstaged and infiltrated the Global Knowledge conference, and found very little reality offered by the World Bank and surrounding Corporate and Government Sponsors.

In this report I'm going to reflect on a four day period between June 22 and June 25, in which I helped organize a counter-conference called 'Local Knowledge - Global Wisdom', protested in the streets against the 'Global Knowledge' conference, then with the help of a colour scanner, internet, and colour printer, reproduced copies of the badge necessary to gain entry to the World Bank's invitation only, $750 admission, Global Knowledge '97 (GK97).

I consider this 4 day period as the Local Knowledge - Global Wisdom conference (LK), organized by the Media Collective. There were a number of good reasons for us to organize this counter-conference: dramatic technological changes underway locally, regressive techno-fascist regime in power provincially, international trade agreements dissolving sovereignty and nation-states, and a potential audience of international visitors in town for the GK97 event. We wanted to perform a public education event, for our friends and community locally, as well as international participants in GK97.

The World Bank scheduled the the Global Knowledge event to coincide with the Earth Summit being held in New York, where many of the progressive and anti-corporate NGOs would be spending their time and resources. The few who attended Global Knowledge would not necessarily have the ability to resist, deflect, or derail the World Bank and Co.'s attempt to manufacture consent, and push through an agenda of free market, privatized communication, technocratic, surveillance state.

Sunday June 22nd

We assembled speakers for Local Knowledge who would present a critical if not radical perspective on the 'Information Revolution' and the society of the 'Global Market'. Organized only three weeks ahead of time, with the help of community radio and community networks, over 120 people participated in the first day, including folk travelling from Africa, South America, Europe, and Asia (including a South African caucus of 20 people). Sunday began with everyone taking the opportunity to introduce themselves to the group, and make a brief statement on why they were there, or what they wanted to hear about.

Anna Melnikoff began the event by saying a few words on the art of communication and the generation of knowledge. Change comes through conversation, and development results through a democratic process involving tolerance and diversity.

I followed after Anna and spoke on the politics of the global village. I defined the information revolution as: the overthrow of sovereign governments and the empowerment of private capital. National trade liberalization has brought international trade regulation (MAI, WTO, APEC), national communication deregulation has spawned international corporate concentration. The new state is based on the politics of connected intelligence (the market and the network), and the religion of virtual reality (consumerism, and pay-per-choice).

Dr. Bhausaheb Ubale, former Canadian Human Rights Commissioner, presented a talk on the impact of technology on development. He explained that technology could be used to speed up the development process, however if not accompanied with sustainable rises in livelihood, such as clean air and water, access to jobs or income, that the technology could be employed solely by an entrenched and shrinking elite.

Felix Stalder spoke about the new environments that contain an old story, employing the processes of connection, translation, and disconnection to illustrate how the financial networks use new technology to appropriate new powers, while perpetuating the same control narrative. His talk is available online at: http://www.fis.utoronto.ca/~stalder/html/old-new.html

PJ Lilley made a fun and provoking presentation, in which she drew a context of the 'traps of sustainable development' as proposed by the World Bank. Presenting an image of a newly paved highway with a sign indicating a turn to the right, she argued that the current global development agenda is neither for people nor progressive/social ideals.

A vegan feast for peace was served by the local Food Not Bombs group, and a dub poet and hip-hop artist performed near the end of lunch. After the dark topics discussed in the morning session, the lunch was a peaceful way to relax and remember why we're here.

The first speaker after lunch was Sydney White, who spoke about electronic treasuries, cashless societies, and the privation of social welfare systems with the implementation of bio-metric scanning in the form of fingerprint identification. Sydney discussed how first Metropolitan Toronto passed legislation to privatize the digital management of the welfare system to a subsidiary of Citibank, as well as plans by the Harris regime to implement the same program provincially, except on a larger scale that includes the health system, and various other government services such as licensing, and taxation.

Marjaleena Repo then spoke about NAFTA (North American Free Trade) and the expansion into MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investments). While discussing the various efforts being waged to resist and cancel these international agreements, Marjaleena also warned about the dissolution of national sovereignty.

The conference then split up into three concurrent sessions: off-line struggles, on-line struggles, and organizing culture and media. These three sessions covered topics and groups such as No to APEC, Friends of the Lubicon, Citizens for Local Democracy, Catalyst, Media Collective, TAO Communications, Students against Neo-Liberalism, Web/APC, OPIRG, Universal Access, ENDA, the McLuhan Program, Information War, and Public Encryption.

Sunday ended with an open general session discussing issues from the day. Plans were also made for a march to be held in the early evening down to the venue holding the Global Knowledge conference. 42 people gathered in the early evening summer sun, half on bikes, some carrying signs like 'free your mind' or 'free global knowledge', and we all walked the dozen or so blocks from the University of Toronto (LK) to the Sheraton Centre (GK97). The unruly mob walked down the middle of the street, blocking traffic on St. George, Beverley, and Queen Sts, employing a megaphone to broadcast news about the global corporate agenda envisioned by the world bank, the resistance celebrated by those marching, and the promise of free beer at the end of the line, for those who joined in on the march. As the march proceeded, we were met with loud car horns from irate drivers, smiles from sympathetic pedestrians, and television coverage by pre-warned media.

When we arrived at the main entrance to Global Knowledge, we were met with a red carpet, and security guards scrambling to block the doors. We the people demanded entry to the conference but the security guards held strong. No longer than 60 seconds after we arrived, a member of the Metro Police Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism unit came out and begin asking who we were, and what was our intent, the Prime Minister of Canada, and the President of the World Bank were due to arrive soon. Shortly thereafter half a dozen police from 52 division arrived and peaceably removed us from the red carpet, wherein it was quickly rolled up and removed.

Joined by dissident participants from inside the Global Knowledge event, we stayed and blocked the main entrance for over an hour, sitting and standing in the sun, having a fun end to a long day. Some of us got into the building through other entrances, but the inside had tight security and multiple secret service agents, as several heads of state (from Canada, Costa-Rica, and Uganda) were slated to give speeches. After we found out that the motorcades were diverted to underground entrances, we decided to meet at a patio for dinner and more discussion.

Monday June 23 International Independent Media Federation

The second day of Local Knowledge, Monday June 23rd, didn't begin until late in the afternoon. After the long first day, and even longer first night, those who could, slept in late on Monday. Global Knowledge meanwhile began early, and had sessions given by the likes of Jean Monty CEO of Northern Telecom, one of the world's largest suppliers of telecom equipment, the global information infrastructure itself.

The schedule for the second day of Local Knowledge was open. It began with a demonstration made by Scott Anderson of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, of the Southern Development Gateway, a web site employing frames and java to organize and present sustainable development info. Running concurrent to this demonstration was an open forum on tools for action, organizing, and other issues that were brought up through the first day's events.

In the late afternoon Local Knowledge also hosted a meeting of the International Independent Media Federation. Participants in this meeting included the host Media Collective, the Association for Progressive Communications (international internet network), Videazimut (international network of independent video and community media), and AMARC (international network for community media), many of whom were in town for the Global Knowledge event. Topics discussed in this meeting were greater collaboration, and the need for an independent and grassroots federation to organize alternatives to the global corporate cocacolonization.

That night as part of the weekly McLuhan Seminars, a presentation was made by Guizhi Wuang on 'The Psychological Processes of Chinese Characters'. Guizhi, who is China's top McLuhan Scholar gave a fascinating presentation on the analogic nature of the Chinese alphabet, as well as drawing on the many parallels between Chinese linguistic culture and characteristics of the Internet.

Tuesday June 24 and Wednesday June 25 Infiltrating Global Knowledge

Participants of the Local Knowledge event received an invitation to the Women's Breakfast being held at the Sheraton Centre as part of Global Knowledge. Using a colour photocopier we reproduced this invitation so as to enable as many people as possible to attend the morning event. However while reproducing invites to the breakfast, we also reproduced the badges necessary to get into the entire GK conference. In so doing, GK quickly became part of LK97 as loudmouthed radicals gained entry to the GK proceedings. My badge had the name Taylor Mead, others had badges with names like Indiva Dual.

The breakfast, held in honour of the role of women in creating, maintaining, and sharing knowledge, was a large, grandiose affair, with James Wolfenson, president of the World Bank, making patronizing remarks on the role of women in technology. While the breakfast itself was meant to be a celebration and call for increasing participation of women in all aspects of society, it quickly became a sign of how far women need to go. The large majority of participants in the GK event were men, primarily men from the developed world, but more so, men in power. Many people left the breakfast feeling that it did not accurately reflect the ongoing struggle for women's equality and liberation. Once again the World Bank was able to tone down any notions of change, and replace them with the illusion that the status-quo was making accommodations that could address any and all inequalities.

After the breakfast Local Knowledge participants split up and went to some of the sessions being offered as part of GK. I decided to go to the session titled: "The Role of the State in Creating and Enabling Environments for Private Investment and Access: Policy Regulatory Frameworks" which featured panellists from the World Bank, World Trade Organization, Teledesic, UNESCO, and the Governments of Uganda and Chile. I felt that a more accurate title for the panel would be: "The Information Revolution: Overthrowing the Nation-State and Empowering Private Capital".

The presentations made as part of this panel were extremely dry, and instinctively internalizing a rabid free market ideology. As with other LK participants in other sessions, I made two comments to the panel which were met with mixed responses.

The first remarks I made challenged the notion that we were heading into a new era of competition, but perhaps what we were witnessing was a transitory phase, between the breakdown of national and regional monopolies towards the formation of a global monopoly. I cited the recent flurry of communication and media mergers, and subsequent lack of any new competition from outside players. I reminded the panel that traditionally state monopolies existed to ensure that the operators remained accountable and in the public interest, ensuring that access levels were just, if not universal. I asked the panel what international body would be able to regulate this emerging global monopoly. The moderator of the panel immediately remarked that it was a good question, however the representative from the World Bank offered a puzzling remark stating: 'It is narrow minded to believe that international capital will be dominant.' ???

The second remark I made, along the lines of content and culture, was to remind the session that it was convergence that was driving communication deregulation, the dissolution of barriers between telecom and broadcast, which was supposedly heralding a new era of interactive, participatory media. However I challenged this notion of convergence, citing that among the largest shareholders of the telecom companies were the content and digital companies. That in fact convergence was also a metaphor of concentration, and the companies who are building the communication channels are also ready to provide consumer content to fill those same channels. While the electronic commons is a nice metaphor, that implies equal participation in the new media environment, the barriers to this new arena are economic. Historically the policies used to circumvent these barriers were cross-subsidization or some form of government assistance, which would be against international law once the WTO and MAI took effect.

The type of comments I was giving to this particular session, as well as the responses I received, were indicative of the rest of the GK event. Meeting up in the corridors and hallways, Local Knowledge participants reflected that it felt as if we were on another planet. The people organizing and speaking at GK seemed to be part of another reality, another consensual hallucination. Another agenda was driving GK, and not only did most GK participants have no clue what it was, but those who did and wanted to dissent, were unable to. The channels of power were moving too fast for any diversion to have any effect. With our various radical comments in various sessions were able to reach the audience and make friends and allies from all over the world, however the panellists and organizers would not budge, and their conception of a successful conference which heralded the ability for 'technology to eliminate global poverty' continued unabated.

One session featured a partnership between the World Bank and Walt Disney Company, wherein the World Bank would pay for bio-genetic scientists from around the world to make presentations at Disney World's Epcot Center, and learn the magic of communication, and the Disney diatribe of fun and fantasy. At GK, Disney had a whole slew of environmental propaganda touting their 'environmentality' and their commitments to sustainable development.

The reality at GK was just too weird. It was so crafted and so virtual that resistance was almost futile. However those of us who were in the audience, found strength in our numbers, and made contacts and started relationships with our friends in struggle around the world. We'd meet afterwards and talk about what was really going in our own localities, our own cultures. In each session the people either in dissent or in question of the dominant agenda, were always the largest in number. The people were on our side, but in a conference organized by the World Bank, for organizations in the International Development Community, we did not have the support of power. Power was in the form of large global bodies like the World Bank, like the global communication corporations, like the Disneys, the Unievers, the Coca-Cola's, and the Nike, who sponsored the Global Knowledge Event.

The corporate consensual hallucination, that the World Bank offered as reality, was completely disconnected with real people. People from Africa, Asia, South America, Europe and North America over the four days came together and spoke about the reality of their locality. On a face to face basis, when we met with all these different people, our visions of struggle and change were reaffirmed. We understood clearly what the interests of power were envisioning, and even more directly the consequences of their actions, and the response needed from we the people. When we spoke with all the people from all over the world, we found a common thread of disenchantment with the neo-liberal global regime, mixed with eagerness and energy to resist, while building alternatives.

Global Knowledge is free, and access must be universal. There is an international popular movement of the social, and it is waging a revolution. Everyone is involved, but not everyone realizes it.

The Information War has been unleashed to deny us our true reality. It knows no boundaries, and seeks no prisoners, only participants as consumers. The fight for our mind is a fight against reality. We are not fighting, merely defending ourselves. Reality is natural, we generate it as we breathe. By denying us reality, replacing experience with consumer desire, the Information War denies us our humanity.

In calling for peace, we are calling for life. In calling for peace, we are calling for human-centred development. In calling for peace we are calling for a democratic reality that all may have opportunity to engage equally. In calling for peace we are calling for a free mind with free knowledge.

The Media Collective is a peace movement in an age of Information War.

http://www.tao.ca/earth/lk97/ http://www.tao.ca/earth/lk97/archive

Jesse Hirsh - jesse@tao.ca - jesse@lglobal.com P.O. Box 108, Station P, Toronto, Canada, M5S 2S8

http://www.tao.ca/~jesse

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