Sometimes the message for spray painting a banner is obvious: Fuck the police! Stop the war! Land Back!
But putting these wonderful slogans into practice is harder. We need more clear, accurate, and actionable information! Instead, we’re surrounded by firehoses – social streams and mainstream screens – of misleading information and outright lies.
This is no accident. Corporate-owned or foundation-funded media can’t speak to our everyday lives under an unforgiving regime of landlords, employers, police, and government agencies. Big spenders can buy up ads, plant hundreds of tweets in the hope one goes viral, or – when all else fails – send in the cops to bust something up.
When we pick up false or misleading information, it can really damage our work. It can confuse who or what we are fighting, and set our demands and efforts shooting off in the wrong direction. Misinformation makes movements insular, as core members adopt the party line while those outside write it off as delusional or walk away due to an inflexible status quo.
To stay grounded in reality, we have to start local and unplug from social media when shaping our thinking.
When done wrong, finding the “truth” can mean aligning with the settler media, NGOs, and corporations that have defined it for so long. Truths seem to only get considered as such if written in the colonists’ language. Fuck that! Get the truth from the streets, the trees, the rivers and oceans, and the people. De-gentrify and de-colonize our thinking. Go deep and touch what’s real.
That’s powerful. This is what the people in power are trying to take away from us – by separating us from knowledge of the earth, sending us to schools which prepare us only for a lifetime of work, and keeping our grubby hands out of the air-conditioned archives.
Here are some tips for getting up to your knees in information:
- Hit the books. Go to a free library, community center, or archive. Talk to the staff or volunteers. Read old newspapers, look at photographs, and check out relevant books. Sometimes you may encounter barriers dealing with pretentious archives, or be disgusted by a relentless focus on white settlers or powerful men. But often in the archives (sometimes only by reading between the lines) you’ll find glimmers of people like yourself – hungry for change.
- Make a public information request. Many government agencies are required to provide their emails, contracts, and other internal documents to anybody upon request. Some are more cooperative than others, and you may find yourself stonewalled if you hit a hot button issue. But generally, they are responsive and you may learn something from the results. Expose their plans, and avoid their co-optation strategies.
- Get the numbers. Data is often manipulated by those who have resources. Because our society collects such an incredible volume of data, people can often cherry-pick data points which are favorable to their goals. But oftentimes, we can go into these same data sets and find other trends which disprove their narrative – or learn something that might change our approach. Get out your bullshit meter and try to find somebody who knows their way around a spreadsheet.
- Search academia. Academic articles are notoriously dense and hard to understand, but often times someone has already done great footwork for you – it’s just buried in an obscure journal or master’s thesis! See if your local public university has a free computer where you can search catalogs and download PDFs, or talk to a reference librarian.
- Ask the streets. There’s nobody better to ask than someone who’s lived it.
Learning a lot? Consider writing it down in a place that others can read and which can be edited later. One problem with making a Twitter thread is it gets lost, probably never to re-surface, and it can’t be updated as you find out new information.
You can set-up a free blog on WordPress.com, Home.Blog, or an activist equivalent such as NoBlogs. You can organize your thoughts into posts on specific topics. An added bonus of this method is that it will surface in search results when people type in whatever you are organizing around.
That’s just a start. Get organized and liberate the knowledge!