Sydneysiders Getting Nervous In Olympic Buildup

Published: Thu 31 Aug 2000 12:58 AM
Sydney Indymedia is a collective of activists, media-makers, groups and individuals offering grassroots, non-corporate coverage of struggles, actions and issues around the 2000 Olympics. Everyone is a witness. Everyone is a journalist.
Untamed, unframed: Sydney's Independent Media Centre
by Tracy Sorensen 11:24am Wed Aug 30 '00
The Sydney City Hub - An Alternative Inner-City Newspaper - Ran This Story On The IMC Late Last Month.
Sydney is chaotic now, and it's going to be worse during the Olympics. To aircraft noise, rail derangement and traffic madness add a few million visitors, thousands of cops and a large number of hastily-trained Olympic
volunteers herding us around. For many, the only rational response is to flee.
Conversation in the cafes of Newtown and Glebe still circles back to the mythic Cheap Flight: won't the airlines want to fill up empty seats after they've dumped the world at our feet? Can't we go back with them, to wherever they've come from?
But there's another conversation abuzz over the cafe tables, continued in cyberspace and followed up by a bit of roaming the Net. This one goes: how many cops? is capsicum spray really dangerous? who's got a video camera?
This is the Stay and Fight conversation, and it is gaining ground. Busloads of activists are expected to come up from Melbourne, fresh from the S11 demonstrations against the World Economic Forum; Aborigines are coming in from around Australia to camp out in three tent embassies; and everyone from civil libertarians to people opposed to Round-Up Ready soybeans will be out on the streets, pressing home their causes.
Which brings us to another cafe conversation, this time in the vegan Emu internet cafe on Enmore Road. Over steaming cups of soy chai and sometimes incomprehensible geek-speak, the Sydney Independent Media Centre (IMC) is taking shape.
Inspired by the independent media centres which operated during protests against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle late last year, the mobilisation against the World Bank in Washington DC in April, and during May Day in London this year, the Sydney IMC aims to get news and views
straight from the streets to the computer screens of people around the world. This will be the unedited version; uncensored, untamed, and unframed.
And because IMC members have close links with the activist movements (many double as acitvists themselves), the Centre will also be a a contact-point for mainstream journalists wishing to cover alternative issues and activities.
IMCer Colene Woods explains that the Centre is focused around two things: a website and a physical space (or spaces). The website is already up and running.
The physical space will be a place where media activists can gather to upload their text, graphics, audio and video straight onto the indymedia site. The exact location is still being sorted out, although it will probably be housed in a converted warehouse near the St Peters train station.
The IMC project is intended to run only through the Olympics period in September, and then pack up shop. (But who knows? It may morph into something more permanent.)
The scene at Sydney IMC HQ during the Olympics will probably look something like April's Washington DC IMC, where activists took over an alternative art gallery, upgraded the phone lines and installed banks of computers and equipment.
They put huge maps of the city up on the wall, which got covered in post-it notes tracking the mobilisations' movements. Teams of video, audio and print media activists followed the demonstrations, calling back to the centre on
mobile phones for live net radio broadcasts. Every few hours, they'd come back to the Centre with new video footage, photographs and text for uploading onto the website.
The usual line between activist and journalist was demolished. People were both participants in and documenters of the events taking place.
While the Sydney IMC will look something like Seattle and Washington and London, it's not because Sydney activists are simply copying something that has happened overseas: Sydney geeks have been a crucial part of the international IMC movement from the very beginning.
Over a long percolation period that passed through involvement in community radio and television as well as the web, Sydney media activists in a group called catalyst developed software for a site they called active-sydney.
(Versions of this online activist calendar and "newspaper" have now spread to Canberra, Hobart and Adelaide.)
The active-sydney software, developed by Sydney geeks like Matthew Arnison and Andy Nichols in collaboration with activists like Gabrielle Kuiper from the radical cyclists' group Critical Mass, allows anyone to add an event, a
story, or a comment. There's no-one standing at the gate: any casual internet roamer with something relevant (or irrelevant) to add can do so.
The software behind this project is "open source", which means that its interior workings are freely available to see, to use and modify. This is the opposite of Microsoft's approach, which hides its software's source and controls its distribution in order to make its legendary profits.
"This is where social networking and geek power come together," says Colene Woods. "The software itself reflects its message. It's the opposite to TV, which is one-way communication. It's the opposite to what the corporations
want to do with the Net, which is to control public interaction."
"The internet is the natural enemy of information distribution rackets," adds Predator, another IMCer and Catalyst handyperson (he doesn't give out the name his Mum gave him).
In a twist on classic socialist thought, he says: "Catalyst is about seizing the means of information rather than the means of production. When information is free you eliminate the division in society between the people who are rich and not rich."
In June 1999, the Catalyst collective used the active-sydney model to provide live internet coverage of the Sydney J18 demonstrations against global corporate domination.
When the Seattle activists started planning their independent media centre later that year, Matthew Arnison was able to pipe up (via email, of course)and say the technical blueprint for the website was all ready to go.
Arnison - a young physicist currently involved in a scientific project at Oxford University - then lent a geek hand to the Seattle activists' site once the protests were underway.
"At one stage tear gas floated in off the street into the Seattle IMC and everyone choked up,'' he says. "I was in my lounge room in Sydney, so I could focus a bit more clearly on some of the more complicated technical things on the web server computer that needed to be fixed as the audience
kept on zooming up in size.
"I could watch the events unfold as they happened which was awesome for a major activist event happening on the other side of the world."
Unlike the Olympics themselves, which have sponsors' logos dripping from every available surface, the IMC movment is entirely self-funded. The geek hours spent tinkering with activist software could have earned Arnison a fortune if he'd been working for a big dotcom.
The Washington site got a million hits during the mobilisation against the World Bank. That's a lot of customers, but the IMC wasn't selling anything.
Judging by the level of interest it has already received, the Sydney IMC site will also be very popular. And no-one's going to make a cent.
"I am so lucky to live in the relative comfort of a rich country," says Matthew Arnisson. "I figure the least I can do is spend some of my time doing things I enjoy that help change the world for the better."
The IMC includes people with media skills - writers, video documentary makers, community radio and television people, web creators, graphic designers - as well as activists who want to promote free speech and alternative views.
There is an active core of about 20 people who meet face to face. Over 100 people have subscribed to the email list set up to discuss and plan the IMC.
People are involved in the IMC for a range of reasons. Some are there because they are opposed to the Olympic Games: they don't like the way its corporate sponsors are ruining the planet, or they don't like the way the Games promote elitism in sport, or because they are dislocating the poor and homeless.
But there are also people in the IMC who are not opposed to the Olympics as such; they are simply interested in using a great opportunity to promote social justice issues in Australia.
The IMC includes people from Sydney's alternative media (City Hub, Green Left Weekly, Radio 2SER, Actively Radical Television, Koorie Radio) as well as people with jobs in the mainstream media who are supporting the IMC in their spare time.
All material is free for non-profit reuse unless otherwise noted by the author. All opinions are those of the people contributing to the site; sydney indymedia doesn't necessarily agree with them.

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