Announcing the Geeks for Social Change Podcast!

By popular demand our first episode "How government technology limits who we can become" is out today

Thanks to all the lovely people who filled in our GFSC supporter survey, we learnt that podcasts are super popular with you all, with over 60% of you listening to them.

We’ve spent the last few months chatting to friends about what this could be about, and landed on a simple concept: a series of conversations with our extended networks about our day to day lives navigating technology, ethics and activism.

We’re delighted to present the first episode to you today. Mallory Moore (Trans Safety Network), Zara Manoehoetoe (youth worker and community organiser), and Dr Kim Foale (Geeks for Social Change) discuss technologies of state and empire that control our lives. With a special focus on UK trans legal status and lengthy prison sentences given to black teenagers for sending text messages in Manchester.

You can listen to it below, or on anchor.fm. We’ll be adding it to all the major podcast platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, Google Podcasts, Amazon etc) today.

“I see a lot of the criminal justice system as a technology for further aggravating class divides”

– Mallory Moore

“[The CPS] is saying what you hold in your phone, what data sits in your laptop, that is who you truly are as a person”

– Zara Manoe

“One day I’m going to have to pass the exam to prove I’m a gender disaster goblin, will that be an official form?”

– Kim Foale

If you liked it and want to support us, feel free to send us a tip – needless to say noone is paying us for these and there’s a lot of production costs involved in terms of equipment, transcription, production, etc. We also have Patreon and OpenCollective set up but are yet to get rolling on these – anyone wanna be our first backer? 🥰

Episode information

Glossary

  • CPS: (UK) Crown Prosecution Service
  • GMP: Greater Manchester Police
  • “Fedposting”: Publishing intent to commit a criminal act online

References

Credits


Transcript

Kim: Hello. I’m Kim Foale and this is the first Geeks for Social Change podcast. I’m joined today by two amazing guests. We’ve got Zara Manoehoetoe from a range of groups of Manchester, probably point at one and she’s on it, and with Mallory Moore from Trans Safety Network, again among many other groups. I’ll let them introduce themselves in a second but I just wanted to say that the point of this podcast is to start getting some conversations we’ve been having privately about tech and activism and the intersections between the two down on paper. We tried doing this as kind of a zine and we’ve tried doing, writing it up and coming up with other formats but, like, I think, I’m sure they’ll both join me in realising a lot of the best conversations we have at the moment just seem to be in group chats or voice notes or emails or things which just - or discord conversations - and things which never sort of get written down anywhere. So we’re here to kind of explore this interplay and see if we can sort of, through these conversations, come to a better understanding about how these two things work together. [00:01:49]

Kim: So without further ado I will introduce Zara. So do you wanna tell me kind of what you’ve been working on, how you’re feeling this week, anything you’re excited or sad about? [00:01:59]

Zara: Um, so yes, hi, I’m Zara. I am involved in a lot of anti racism, abolitionist organising and have been for quite some time. I’m Manchester based, Manchester born and bred, Manchester and proud. Let’s just get that straight out there. But, yeah, no, been heavily involved in kind of the ‘Kill the Bill’ movement, the mobilisations with Black Lives Matter and now looking really into building foundations in the community to counteract the harm that we’re facing through the state. Whether that be through like cop watching but also raising awareness with children and young people around the harms that they’re faced with and their families and that kind of stuff. I’m feeling ok. I have had a whirlwind of a couple of weeks but yeah, I’m feeling ok. Happy to be here, in good company. [00:03:02]

Mallory: Hi, I’m Mallory Moore. I’m one of the founding members of Trans Safety Network and I have are, well, previous to that of various grassroot activism since my teens, I‘ve been doing various sorts of activism on and off. My big things right now are trans safety research and trying to make it so that harm to trans people actually matters because it’s something which keeps disappearing just because no one is particularly interested in it - which it’s a funny thing because everybody talks about it, but anyway, I won’t go too deep into that one. And in terms of how I’m feeling, I’m feeling pretty good though. There seems to be a bit of a swell of various sorts of grassroots - and it’s small, but people are starting to get a bit more creative, and it’s something that’s really inspiring me, away from the usual kind of institutional left. So that’s a big deal for me. [00:04:16]

Kim: I think that’s a really good segway to, kind of, what we want, d’you know, just this episode to this whole podcast to be about. Which is kind of, I think these two terms, kind of, activism and tech, are both, the more we’ve looked into them in kind of developing this idea just the sort of, the more vague and weird and undefined they are and how I think almost everyone who defines, who describes themselves as an activist, hates the term actually and ends up almost immediately kind of making a sort of like: “well an activist, but not that kind of activist” kind of gesture, right? And we all do it and we all talk about it. And I think there’s possibly, like, a feeling that there’s maybe some bad things about it that really don’t appeal to us. And I think the same with anarchists, like, a lot of these terms feel almost like cringe, y’know? Like who would say they’re an activist? Who would say they’re an anarchist? How cringe is that! And I think the same with tech. So a lot of the perception we have of tech is very, its kind of all good or all bad, you know. Its either the thing that’s gonna save us all or its all terrible and surveilling us, and so yeah, I think we’re gonna try and get into these a little bit. So I wondered, first, if either of you have got any thoughts on, kind of like, what we mean by an activist, if it’s something you identify with, if you hate it, cause I do, Is there anything else you’re using at the moment? [00:05:29]

Zara: I actually cringe when people are like: “and meet Zara…activist!” and I’m like, ok, but what does that mean to you? I think, I just think so many people are activists - and that’s cool like, people can do what they wanna do and if you’re doing good then that’s great but I also think that it’s a label that’s, y’know, has so many different definitions and is used in so many different ways and it’s also used as, like, a label to, like, exclude and invalidate your work and what you stand for as well. It’s like the term radical, like: “Zara, she’s radical” and it’s like ok next you’re going to call me an extremist. D’you know what I mean? And all those kind of things. But, yeah, I mean, I don’t usually talk about myself and my position but I would say like: “oh yeah, I’m involved in like a lot of grassroots community campaigns and I’m involved in a lot of organising activities” and that kind of stuff. But yeah, there are definitely people that would tell me, like: “you’re an activist”. [00:06:41]

Mallory: Yeah, I guess if I jump in here, on the trans front, there’s like currently this thing called the ‘TRA’ which is, like, ‘Trans Rights Activists’. It’s been chosen as a term because it sounds like ‘MRA’ or ‘Men’s Rights Activist’ and there’s this idea, like, these evil TRAs taking over the world, like, we’re secretly plotting in the shady corners of the world in our volcano layers. [00:07:06]

Kim: Good. [00:07:07]

Mallory: And taking over everything. And the truth is, I am. But actually it’s kind of disappointing sometimes cause you get, like, every single trans person’s a TRA if they speak publicly about anything. So I guess my relationship with the sort of activist stigma is kind of the reverse where I see quite reactionary trans people who aren’t necessarily doing anything for the community. I don’t want to name too many names because there’s too many of them and they’re, like y’know, basically celebrities, or z-list celebrities and y’know the moment they say anything about trans issues they’re a trans activist. Literally every trans person’s like, I’ve worked hard for my radical stripes and like, literally every trans person’s written off as a radical these days and I feel like, the room just isn’t there for me to like, be pushing a radical agenda. Which is really upsetting for me because I guess that’s something I’ve wanted to have and there’s just no space left cause it’s what we’re allowed to say and what sort of things we’re allowed to imagine have been cut back and back and back in the media so far at this point I’m not even on the edge anymore. [00:08:46]

Kim: Yeah, I think we, y’know, the other term that is thrown around alot is kind of abolitionism. In this case meaning sort of, like, getting rid of systems. Cause let’s face it, in the UK most of them are bad. If you point at anything, it probably needs abolishing, let’s face it. But I think, yeah it’s really interesting cause if you ask most people what their image of being an activist is it’s usually something along the lines of, kind of, going to a protest or being kind of obnoxious in some way, y’know. Like, it’s the people are terrified of, well maybe terrified is the wrong word but you look at groups like Insulate Britain and people just see them as someone who’s slowing them down getting to work, or whatever, right? Like, that’s like, the only concept people have got and yeah, like you say, it’s just bananas with trans activism where we’re sort of asking for things that five years ago were not controversial. But because that’s so distant from where the overton window is at the moment it seems radical, so yeah. I’m really interested for you to talk more, Zara, about what you were saying about this term activist being used as a way to kind of exclude people or set them apart. [00:09:53]

Zara: Well I think, see for me, the funny thing is, is that I never realised that the work that I was doing would be considered activism because it was just what I did based on the fact that I come from a community that is persecuted based off the fact that we’re working class, racialised, and so it was just, like, standing up for ourselves. It was what we were taught to do from young. And then as I got older I became involved in, you know, “organising”. But because of, like, working in and around Manchester, I study social policy, you know, sitting at tables with people who were in charge of institutions and in positions of power and authority and in positions that were able to kind of, frame strategies and frameworks that affected my communities. And I’m talking, for years this, like, because I’ve always been the gobby one in the room, in the workplace, like, I’ve never been able to keep my mouth shut. When I was an apprentice, they liked it but then once I was a paid employee it was like: “okay, slow down”. They would say things like: “Oh, this isn’t an activist space. We’re doing things differently here” and, you know, “You don’t have to shout about things. You don’t need to get so angry”. Well, actually, people are being tasered to death, or, you know, people are being harassed on the daily in the streets by the police, or, you know, we’ve got social services coming in removing children that don’t need removing, what needed happening was the parents needed support. I am angry. My anger is valid and when I’m nice and I’m calm and I’m like “okay” you aren’t listening to me. So I need to bring my assertive self into that space for you to take me seriously. And to say, you know, you have to work within the system. Well the system is causing me harm and I’m here sat at this table, conversing with you, telling you what you can do in your positions of power to make it better for us and then you’re saying: “Oh but we can’t do that because that’s too much change” or “That’s not how we do things” or “Things need to take time and we need to do some research into this”. We don’t need to do any research because our lived experience is sat in front of you. And that’s how they’d use it. They’d use the term “activism”, “activist”, to kind of say: “Oh”, you know, “calm down a bit. Not here, not round this table”. It invalidated it because it wasn’t, you know, what I was presenting was the lived experience of myself, community members, reflections, examples, real life examples, with badge numbers and recordings. But because that information wasn’t presented to them in a report, written by a doctor from a local university research center, it wasn’t valid for them. Which is really, really sad because those institutions make money off my lived experience and then present it to strategy leads and policy leads and make recommendations. All while anonymising us but taking credit for that work and thousands of pounds, even millions of pounds is thrown at that but the recommendations aren’t followed. And it’s just a cycle of experience, research, experience, research and nothing actually changes fundamentally for us in our lives. [00:13:33]

Mallory: Yeah, it’s that real relationship of inequality around who’s allowed to produce knowledge. That happens a lot. It happens for us a lot as well. [00:13:48]

Kim: Yeah, so I think, like, there’s a couple of themes that come up there for me. I think one of them is, like, which I wasn’t expecting when we started this. It almost feels like there’s an element of something akin to whistleblowing to a lot of the work we’re doing. Where it’s being the one to be willing to be the one to stick your head above and say actually, this isn’t good enough. And it’s interesting to pull it out but I feel like the other part we maybe have talked about less and I’d like to hear what both of you do as kind of, like, what are the activities that you do that, I don’t want to say ‘make you an activist’ because we’re trying to get away from that term, but, like, what are the activities you do that feel are the kind of most benefit to your immediate communities. So, like, to give examples, I think for me a lot of the time it’s kind of like working on some software stuff with Geeks for Social Change that we’ll talk about on future episodes, you know, like that, cause often the most useful thing I can do for other people is to just, like, help them out with some, like, basic tech support or do some stats or something. But I think on a more day to day level it feels more about being there to support my sort of friends and comrades and colleagues, like, emotionally and, like, making space to have these kind of conversations and to like invite people around for dinner and to, like, encourage people to talk about, like, the things that are bothering them and the kind of, like, you know, this dissonance between the experience of living in the country and, like, what you’re supposed to think it is, you know? I feel like there’s such a mish-mash there and especially post-COVID, when we’re supposed to be in this sort of, leveling up and everything’s better now and it’s gone back to normal and most of us are still processing what’s happened, you know. I can’t put my finger on it but it just feels, like, sometimes being what I think of as activism is just like, paying attention to this huge disconnect that feels everywhere right now. [00:15:34]

Mallory: So I guess there is that kind of care and I do that too with, kind of, with other activists who are like peers, other people doing community work and community, trying to have a relationship of care with other people who are doing that work in community. You know, telling people they’ve done good. Listening to them talking about stuff that’s stressing them out. Trying to provide experience where I’ve got it or direct people onto people who might be able to help them if I don’t have it. I think that’s, like, that’s a foundational thing, just making sure that it’s sustainable, like, I’ve got a peer organiser that I do a weekly debrief with privately and we just talk about shit that’s happened and just deal with it and try and work out, not even try and work out solutions to it but just, like, talk out shit that’s happened in the last week. Cause there’s always something. [00:16:30]

Zara: I would say that I do a range of things. So you might see me on a Saturday with a megaphone stood on St. Peter’s Square, shouting my mouth off. Leading chants, marching but then, you know, the back office organising that comes with that, organising a demo. But then, and that’s like, you’re typical, innit? But then I also do information sharing, raising awareness within the community, like the biggest thing that I think I do is listening and offering space, again, like, what you just talked about, because then I am able to take what I listen and what I hear and do something with that. In many ways it’s actually kind of a real driving force behind my work and I am able to identify needs within the community. So recently there’s been, like, a rollout of, like, know your rights training that’s been made available to children and young people, parents, allied professionals within the youth work sector. But also things like, being involved with intervention of stop and searches and what that looks like and supporting people to, you know, find the information that they need to be able to challenge and take on services and institutions that are causing them harm but then also mapping them with an organisation that can provide immediate safety or care or support, in that moment. So yeah, a range of things and I’m lucky actually to be surrounded by people like youse who, like, I like to think of myself as, like, a younger. I’m like thirty now but that I have like, all these people who are just around me who I’m able to be like: “Can I just talk this through for a minute?” and you know this is happening, I say all the time, like, I walk with confidence because I have so many people around me who offer this knowledge and information to me and, like, me and Kim have been known to be voice-noting ‘till 1 o’clock in the morning. But yeah, no, and I like to think that I bring that information and share it with others. [00:19:12]

Kim: It’s interesting cause when you talk about it this way, it’s almost like, you know, it almost feels like the work that goes on in the network level is like a big mycelial network and the protests are like the mushrooms that spring up, right? But it’s kind of, it’s kind of wild cause I guess maybe, because protest is seen as like, the entry point to activism, maybe we get to blame the SWP for this now I think about it! Another thing to put on their shit list. Like, it’s like, all this other stuff I feel is almost like, more important, is much more important on a day - to - day basis. I think protest is like, often a flash point and a way of letting off steam and it should be a way of like, experiencing joy and seeing your friends and hanging out. It’s just, I’m not sure how people can get involved in this if they don’t go via this protest route. Which then kind of, sets the scene for everything that comes after and you end up with just the angry ones, like us hanging around. I don’t know. I suppose everyone’s angry, I don’t know. [00:20:12]

Mallory: Yeah, I mean, there’s other ways people find into activism. Like, around community care activism there’s a lot of people who end up coming into contact with that through, and peer advocacy that happens, a lot of people come into contact with that through a crisis happens in their life and they need support of some kind and then they come out the other end and if they’re ok and they’ve got the resources they get trained up themselves. Like, there are other models for things and the benefit of that kind of model is that those people aren’t coming in because they were looking to be a ‘do-gooder’, they’re, kind of, coming in because they’ve got their own lived experiences of the situations and they’re becoming an activist as a result of sharing their, what helped them survive crises, in order to strengthen other people going through that again after them. [00:21:15]

Kim: I think that’s good. So maybe we should go on and talk about, like, technology a little bit. And I think I’ll frame this a bit cause I think the word technology, especially in the last ten years, has come to mean something very rarified that it hasn’t always. So the literal etymology of technology - I mean there’s a few sites that give you different ones - it’s from the Greek and it means: “systemic treatment of an art, craft or technique”. So really there’s two parts to this. There’s kind of like, the thing itself that’s being made and the process that it’s made through. So you know, at Geeks for Social Change we’ve started talking about tools and processes for community liberation and this is why, because we think it breaks it down a bit. It’s like a lot of the things we’re talking about here, you know, like protest, information sharing, community care, these are all processes. And in doing them we use tools and these things get various amounts of attention, you know. Just to give this a bit more flesh too, like, Ursula Franklin is an amazing Canadian physicist who wrote a really seminal work called ‘The Real World of Technology’ that we’d advise everyone to read but there’s a series of lectures too that we’ll, we’ll link under the podcast afterwards. But she splits technologies into two kinds, so basically this, she calls them holistic or prescriptive technologies and basically this is the difference between a work related tool and a control related tool. So a work related technology, such as a typewriter, are designed to make tasks easier. This has also been seen as, there’s things like making a pot, where, you know, usually when you have a pottery class everyone’s involved - a potter is involved in every stage from collecting the raw material to making the final thing. And while the pots might all look the same, they’re all slightly different and will have been adapted and gone through the same process and effectively the potter is in control of this work. Or if you’re using a single, non networked computer, the computer operator is in control of this work. And then, a prescriptive technology is more like a technology of the boss. So if we think about, say, making something like a steel beam, this is then like a universal unit that can then be sort of, picked up and reproduced. Or if we think about a computer that becomes networked, that’s then something that a boss can sort of, see how much is being produced. And so it, it turns it around and it means that it enables this control by people on the workers that are doing it. And I think that it’s interesting that these two, even though they might have the same tool, the process here is very different. So this is how we’ve been thinking about technology and I think we’ve not been, necessarily communicating it very well. But I just wanted to put this in to like, frame tech. I don’t know if that’s way too academic or like, what people think about that and how you think about, kind of, what technology is and how you use it in your day to day life. I don’t know who wants to go first. [00:24:07]

Zara: It’s all tech to me. It’s that thing that I’m not very good at and I don’t really get, in a nutshell. I have a phone, I have a laptop. Can just about use, like, Zoom and Word and that kind of stuff. But in terms of like, with the work, like, organising it’s only since meeting you, understanding that the two need marrying together and that that work is actually taking place. I just wasn’t aware of it because the work that I’ve always been involved in has been very, boots on the ground, face to face meetings, meeting with people in the community, it’s always been like, conversational and if we had brought, if there was any kind of techy bit to it, it was basically to like email someone and like emailing lists and you know, recording misconduct by the police on a phone for instance. But then, as the years have gone by, and the organising has gone kind of national its been like, ok, we need to really get more structure around what we’re doing but then also understanding how we can be infiltrated through tech, how we can be monitored through tech, how we’re so easy to track and trace and that the government and, you know, all of these statutory bodies and services have whole teams of, like, media and communication and all that kind of stuff that we’re having to deal with and it’s funny cause they do a lot of their work as well like through tech, like, consultations but we’re we’re not accessing any of that information because it is online and it is free surveys and all that kind of stuff. So, I’m still finding my footing but then I’m also understanding that I don’t need to understand everything, I just need to communicate with the people that do, so that then they can do their magic and we can work together. [00:26:26]

Mallory: Like, I think it’s interesting that the first thing you said was that tech is not something that you’re not very good at and I probably should have explained in my introduction, I’m a technologist for a living but like, yeah. I think this is actually a big feature of what’s happening with tech in terms of automation and computerisation of technology. Whereas, the examples Kim gives of tech being, like, you know, potter’s wheels and things like that. Which is not how a lot of people think of tech these days. For me tech is like, you know, includes human processes and you know, how we talk to each other. If we have a process for, like, vetting new members of an activist group to see if they’re safe or not, things like that are still technology to me. But, like, what’s going on in part is that, like, you say you’ve got these technologies of surveillance and control that are invading our lives through being useful, like, phones are useful. But they’re not transparent to you, they betray you to the police, they send your information to, like, advertisers, which is sold. You don’t have control over that very easily. Most people don’t have control over that. So yeah, like, I think this aspect of the lack of transparency in tech is such a huge problem in terms of how hard it is for people to have any control over their lives when all of that belongs to people with ownership over the tech. Ownership of the ways, ownership of the means. The tools and the processes all belong to someone else and they work for someone else, even if you’ve paid money for it, which is, like, that’s kind of the thing. [00:28:31]

Zara: It’s funny that you , like, when you say it, like, I think of tech as this big massive black hole. You know like the phone stuff and like yeah that’s happening up there somewhere and I don’t really get it and it’s, but I need my phone. [00:28:48]

Mallory: Yeah, cause that belongs to someone else. That’s kind of what I mean. That all of that process, like right from the, like, silicone chips in your phone and how those are organised, all the way up to the equipment in the satellite that’s like taking all of your phone calls to some other place, the whole thing belongs to someone else. And because they have control over it, you don’t get to see how that works, even if you were able to understand it, which is like, yeah. [00:29:15]

Zara: And I think that actually, like, to me, the unknown is quite scary. So instead of pursuing the scariness, I just kind of black it out. Like, even at uni I was the person who went and sat in the library, pulling the physical books off the bookshelves and reading them and writing notes by hand rather than accessing all these PDFs because once I’ve downloaded something, I can never then find it again and, you know, al these different things, and I think so and then, but what you said about, processes also being, like, human processes. Now those I can do. I’m very meticulous with ways of working and I like my lists and I like this and I like that. So thinking of it like that is, like, nice for me actually - to take out of this conversation. [00:30:04]

Kim: Yeah, like, something that really triggered a lot of this thought process for us too was just this statement people make when they say, like: “I’m not a tech person” or “I don’t really get computers” and I’m kind of challenged to find a single person, at least in the UK, who doesn’t spend a decent part of their everyday life, like, on their computer, or their phone, doing something. And it’s, like, it’s so embedded in everyday life and I don’t think it was always like this. I think, I can’t remember, you know, like, facebook, youtube, twitter, they’re all less than 15 years old, I’m pretty sure, I’d have to check the dates and it’s wild how fast this has kind of changed what organising looked like. So I think, you know, when I started out as a baby activist, what it meant to be an activist was to organise events and festivals and put stuff on that your friends could come to and make social places and set up squats and do fun stuff. And I feel like when I was doing tech stuff back then that was more like, helping people lay out, like, set up magazines in like Quark XPress or whatever, or it was setting up networks in community centres, or it was like, making old, piecing together thin client computers from bits out of a skip. And at some point in the last sort of ten years or so, that’s just not the case any more and increasingly, like, it’s gone from tech people being, like, individuals who would, like, you know, make a quick website for a community centre or put together a network and have a general range of skills, to being this sort of very rarified thing where, like, if you learned, if you go and learn about how to be a programmer nowadays you’ll learn a very specialist thing that just basically, you know, what massive companies want and you’ll sit on a team of two hundred and do some really specialised parts. You know, I’ve spoken to people who do this, like, they’ll program sort of, like, 3D CAD software in the cloud in javascript but like, they’ve never deployed a website, you know. And I can’t get my head around that and it feels like, I think exactly like you said Zara. It’s like a black hole. It’s like, it’s been designed to feel like you’re powerless. And I think weirdly what we’ve got here now, with this sort of, you know, with this facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google - F.A.A.N.G. as people call it - it’s kind of a real oppressor/oppressed situation and what always happens when you’ve got an oppressed group is that it just feels stupid and like it’s their fault, right? And actually, like, it’s the other way around, it’s been deliberately engineered to be like this, in this sort of, like, global, totalitarian, fascist worldview, I mean and is it fair to call the structure of facebook literally fascist, I think it is? And yet like, everyone feels like they’re suddenly each individually a personal failure for, like, not being able to fit in with it, right? [00:32:35]

Mallory: Like, if you think about a shovel, right? Let’s break down technology really, really simply. If you think about a shovel, that is a piece of technology that is designed for one person, with one pair of hands, ok. And it’s got, like, a thing at the end that you hold. It’s got a shaft that you hold as well. You dig things with it. It’s got a place where you can put your foot. That’s a one person thing and it’s designed with the intention - this isn’t something that we think about when we look at a shovel - but it’s designed with the intention that one person is going to be using that. Not two people, or, like, any other configuration. It’s not gonna be very useful for someone with, like, only one hand. Various other things are going to be problematic for it because it’s been designed with one purpose. And if you look at things like facebook or, like, the mobile phone network, that stuff’s opaque, not because it’s not visible to you as an end user, because the intention is that you’re an end user - shut up! Like, it’s not that the end users are stupid. And I’ve worked on telecoms equipment, they have lots of information, they have like, a standard telecoms hub taking like, fibre into, like, a fibre cabinet or something like that, you know it has a special access door for, for law enforcement that’s, like, standard built into all of them. So for some people it’s very very easy to access that kind of technology, for everyone else, it isn’t. And they’re designed that way, like, it’s not - people often feel stupid because, like, Kim said, people feel stupid because they’re disempowered because the technology is disempowering. Wasn’t designed with a handle for them to hold onto and I think that’s really, you know, the handles are all pointing towards the people who own the equipment or the people who have legal powers to seize control of the equipment. [00:34:42]

Zara: And it’s funny cause like, so I’m thirty, so I’ve watched things come in and it’s funny cause I say all the time, I’m so glad that I actually had a childhood - and I call it a childhood cause I used to go out and play kirby, and knock-a-door, run and d’you know what I mean? Whereas the young people that I work with, my nephews, my nieces, all them, they’ve just been on screens from day dot and but for them, this is their norm, so they’ve been born an end user with tech how it is now and don’t know any different. Although, like, some of them, young people that I work with, are into coding and are doing that in libraries now, from the get go, but like, what you’re talking about, this whole, like, infiltration mechanism that’s built into this tech that nobody’s aware of, I think, even when people are aware of it a lot of people are just like, just like when the state refuses to feed children and it’s: “oh that’s the way it is, there’s nothing you can do to change it”, whereas, like, especially now, for instance in Manchester, I have a real motivation to be educating children about how the data on their phone can be used against them. Like, media, and how, even just media that’s on your phone can be used against you and I think we have to be thinking that way now, don’t we? And it’s funny because that is a forked path that you’s will have had for years, I’m guessing, like, just, kind of being in that zone. Whereas I’m just still catching up because we, a lot of the work I’m involved in is still very much is still about putting chairs out in a community centre and putting them away and making brews and, you know, having physical space for conversation and a lot of our activism is face to face but what we’re now realising is the experience is also tied to the tech in your lives when you’re not in those spaces. [00:36:46]

Kim: This might be a good segway into talking about a huge case that just happened last week with a joint enterprise trial. It’s the 30th of May, I’m not sure when we’ll be broadcasting this but I wondered if either of you, do you feel able to an introduction to this case, Zara? Cause I think it’s maybe, a lot of this can sound really virtual but I think where we’re coming with this is like, this is very real and very literal and happening right now. [00:37:10]

Zara: Yeah, so, the case that’s happened, actually looks like a joint enterprise case but the doctrine of joint enterprise wasn’t used. So, joint enterprise is a doctrine that’s used to convict a group of people for the same offence based off the fact that there can be evidence that people have knowledge of this singular offence taking place. And we’ve seen it happen before in Manchester multiple times, use of joint enterprise where, a violent crime has been committed by one, two, three people and groups of up to twelve or fifteen people have been prosecuted, found guilty and sentenced for that, whether that be for murder or, you know, like, a serious harm. Because they have been found to be closely associated, or have knowledge of that harm taking place. So what’s happened in Manchester, just now, is that ten boys have tragically lost a friend in 2020 and were conversing in a group chat, following this, in moments of grief, to organise a memorial. Different things happened in aftermath, where harm took place in terms of, like, which involved a weapon and a car, which two or three of the boys, three of the boys were involved in and had knowledge of, at two different times but ten boys in this group chat were arrested by the police because of being part of this group chat and were charged with conspiracy to murder and conspiracy to commit grevious bodily harm and all ten have been found guilty of that. And basically, the evidence that has been used in this trial to get that guilty verdict, as presented by the GMP to CPS, has been a telegram group chat in which, links the boys together and then following their arrest their telephones, their telephones, mobile phones, have been taken in and used as evidence with, like, tens of thousands of pieces of media downloaded and gone through by people who aren’t experts in understanding the media and data that was on the phone. These are all ten black boys, I should add at this, you know, should have said at the beginning. And the prosecution have managed to create a narrative around the boys of them being an organised, criminally active gang, based off the fact that they are into music, drill music specifically. All come from very, what would be considered disadvantaged postcodes, you know, they have black skin, they, one of them had a drugs offence. Which actually, was completely, because of a lack of safeguarding, safeguarding failure in his life. So yeah, basically this narrative has been created based off the media that was on their phone where people were posing in pictures and in videos because some of them were rappers and in music groups which then was able to bring forward this gang label because they wore the same colour, where actually some of the evidence they provided in the trial was absolutely misrepresented because it was footage from London and not even with the boys in there, in this group. So the jury, which, you know, we never get a jury of our peers, let’s be serious, found them guilty. Four of them have been found guilty with conspiracy to commit murder and six of them have been found guilty with conspiracy to commit GBH and the sentencing hearing is taking place on the 30th of June. They’re looking at some serious, serious sentencing. Double figure sentencing for a moments, moments of grief, with no [00:41:33]

Kim: In some cases, as few as three text messages, I believe, right? [00:41:36]

Zara: Yes! [00:41:36]

Kim: Yeah. [00:41:37]

[Pause] [00:41:39]

Kim: So I think, yeah, I’m intrigued to bring in Mallory’s thoughts here but I think, you know, one way of looking at this is kind of a massive systemic failure of a load of technological systems, right? So you’ve got policing, you’ve got the courts, you’ve got the individual functions within the ways that these work, you’ve got all this content, which is presumably being pulled from, you know, I presume the drill videos are kind of on YouTube, so it’s almost like none of these services give a fuck, right? They don’t care. It’s like an unreal, kind of, massive catastrophic failure of this whole system to represent these people. [00:42:19]

Mallory: Yeah, I mean in terms of the technological aspect of that, I don’t know where to start. I see a lot of the criminal justice system as a, as a technology for further aggravating class divides. So, yeah, I mean you can tell its, you can tell the criminal justice system is a technology for perpetuating class violence because it does that to ten boys and you know, politicians can do an unknown number of criminal things and get nothing but I’m trying to be a bit less glib but I don’t know what to say because it’s a genuinely shocking, the whole case is really shocking and I don’t know what else to say about it. [00:43:10]

Zara: The key thing for me, in this case, or not, one of the key things is that the media and data on the phone outweighed the actual humanity and their character and I’m not trying to say that people should be excellent and should be, you know, amazing but, these, some of these boys had university places, college places, were involved in football, you know, still lived at home with parents, were just friends off the same estate, off the same areas, you know, had good grades, were attending school, were doing all these things that, you know, we’re told that we have to do when we’re children to comply and, and become a success in life, none of that mattered because the tech told us who they really were, according to the CPS, and this was the argument. It was: their interest in music means that they advocate for violence, their skin colour means that they are part of a gang, you know, the fact that they lost a friend and they wanted to talk about this on this telegram group chat, specifically it being telegram, means that they had something to hide and there was an ulterior motive, when actually, [00:44:30]

Mallory: All sorts of people set up groups on telegram. [00:44:15]

Zara: Well, it’s, after the guilty verdict came back I tweeted: ‘I feel like running up, I’m very, I’ve got mixed feelings, I feel like running up in that courthouse and causing a ruckus’. Once I sent it, I realised, that message is probably very similar to what the boys had said and, you know, and I reply tweeted to it, like: ‘It’s this kind of message that would have me done for conspiracy to commit criminal damage’. [00:45:04]

Mallory: Yeah, I mean it’s kind of a meme in like, online geeky activist circles. Talking about ’fed posting’ and avoiding ‘fed posting’ cause if you fed post, you know, it could come back and bite you later. If they pick you up for one thing then, like, anything dumb you’ve said online becomes evidence. [00:45:27]

Kim: I was gonna say, like, from what you’re saying Zara, it’s weird, like, it’s almost like the, the reality that, it’s almost like who these boys presented themselves as online has been more real to the judge and the jury than who they actually are in real life, right? It’s like these few interactions with social media, like, the sum of them sounds like it’s been more under discussion than who they actually are. [00:45:51]

Zara: And some of this media hadn’t been shared. It was just on their phones. D’you know what I mean? And some of it, it wasn’t them, their interest in other people’s music, you know, made them an advocate for violence and, but yeah, it basically is saying, what you hold in your phone, what data sits in your laptop - that is who you truly are. And I suppose, you know, there’s arguments to be made that people would make, pro that, but when it comes to children who are navigating a very hostile environment who are grieving, and this is one of the things that I said on Saturday, they were grieving, not guilty. [00:46:38]

Mallory: It’s basically thought crime, isn’t it? Like, simply enough, like, people used, people use social media to get their thoughts out, even if it’s bollox and like frequently most of us just type bollox and like, this is essentially just thought crime, what’s going on. [00:47:00]

Zara: But who would have known, like, and this is the big thing for me, like, working with children and young people, because I don’t believe that children and young people should be policed around their expression of self. I really don’t. I think children should be free to explore themselves, to be free to experience what their interested in, to change in interest and, you know, all that kind of stuff but there’s something, there’s a piece of work there that I haven’t quite thought out, yet, but I am in the process of thinking through, around how we, because technically this would be considered political education, what I’m talking about right now, is we need to be letting young people know how this can happen to anybody. The ramifications of being a child, basically, like, and I don’t want to stop them from being a child but I want to prevent this from ever happening again. [00:48:00]

Kim: I guess we’ve talked a lot about tech as being something scary and that’s oppressing people and I think for the most part, it is, and I think this is what I see missing from most mainstream tech discourse. It’s just like, there’s always this, it’s sort of portrayed as this, kind of, value neutral thing where it’s, like: ‘we’ve made a cool new little widget, isn’t that nice?’ and then you look at the sort of sum total of it all and it’s, like, no, it’s definitely not nice. But I was gonna, kind of, move on a bit to just, I think there’s possibly a lot of parallels here to the work that I know you do with transphobia, Mallory, and just the similar patterns where you’ve kind of got the media and, you know, like, a bunch of really hostile twitter accounts and they really use these tools to, kind of portray trans people in a certain light and I, I don’t know really where I’m going with this question but I’m just kind of interested what you see as kind of, are there any ways of resisting this or is it just sort of, like, you know, fighting a losing battle, do you think? And in what ways would we resist this? [00:49:01]

Mallory: So like, on the trans questions, with respect to institutional transphobia and technology, like, the history of, the big one is, like, trans health care and the history of trans healthcare is one of trying to stop people being trans, fundamentally, like, transition related healthcare that we have now started off with them trying to stop people being trans and then realising that they couldn’t and then, like, helping people transition. Helping the few people who, like, got through that hazing process, to transition but, like, deciding that trying to prevent people transitioning was, like, a good idea. So, we’re in, like, this current, so there’s that angle on things of our whole healthcare system is trying to mitigate against our existence and then there’s all this other side of stuff which is like the processes in society in general, regulating gender, regulating legal gender and how spaces are, spaces and processes are gendering. So there’s this great book called captive genders and it includes stuff like the ways that, like, it’s got stuff by Cece McDonald who was a black trans woman who was incarcerated in America for killing a white supremacist who was trying to murder her. And she and other people talk about surveillance and gendering and all sorts of other ways that there’s this kind of, invalidation that happens through, you know, what’s your real, legal gender cause we all have, like, legal registered gender in most countries, in most parts of the world. Like, because it’s written down somewhere and because it’s attached to whether you have any rights or not, this institutional weight is added to it and it affects your human rights, it affects how you get treated if you go to prison, it affects how you get treated if you get discriminated against in law, it affects all sorts of rights elsewhere. And there’s this big conflict between, like, fairly white and liberal trans rights organisations who seemed to be mostly interested in, like, tampering around, like: ‘Let’s make these genders valid and legal’, versus a lot of other people who’ve never had proper documentation who will struggle with any system where you have to, like, turn up and provide evidence. Like, it works genuinely, quite a lot like the border system. You have to, like, have documented evidence that you’ve been, like, in this particular condition and that you’ve been validated by these people and you’ve been doing it for two years and you’ve proven you’re a good citizen cause you, like, signed up and you took your hormone pills and you were, like, you know, so you’ve got a right to change gender and then the government will change your gender for you and it’s just absolute, like, the, the entire thing seems to be designed around hampering trans people just getting on with their lives. All for the purpose of maintaining this binary separation between men and women in law. Like, you know, we have other social classes where we can protect against discrimination without having an actual legal status that makes you that thing. We protect against, like, we protect against homophobic discrimination, or against racist discrimination without you legally homosexual or legally black, like, we don’t have that but in terms of gender regulation we still very much have that, so that’s probably what I would say is probably the big, the big divide in trans activism is around wether we should, like, tamper with that system and make it better for some middle class documented trans people who have, like, two or three years worth of documentation and, like, signed letters from two different psychiatrists and can prove, like, they’ve been employed the entire time so they can get a letter from their employers to, like, show that they’ve been properly living as a woman or a man or, like, whatever. Versus people who can, like, recognise that that’s actually really bad as a system and we should probably just abolish it. So, yeah. [Laughs] [00:53:42]

Kim: Does this mean one day I’m going to have to pass the exam to show that I’m just some weird, like, gender disaster goblin? Is that going to be, like, on official government forms? [00:53:49]

Mallory: One of the most passable middle class trans women that I know, who has been, like, transitioned for several years, like, got every single surgery, got, like, bunch of other stuff, got rejected from her first application to change her gender, so it’s, like, maybe they don’t feel like it that day, right? Which again it’s a lot like the home office as far as I’m concerned, it’s a bit, like, I don’t know. Anyway, so. [00:54:22]

Kim: Something that’s really struck me here, is, like, I think we’ve talked a lot recently about, between the three of us, in all these voice messages, talking about, I think, just about the kind of intersectionality to a lot of these issues feels like it’s, kind of, gone down the river a bit because there’s just so many day - to - day fights on all of these issues that kind of take over, especially if you’re a bit terminally online, like, I think it’s fair to say all of us are. And it really just strikes me, like, you know, these are two vastly different use cases, you know, the case of these, kind of, ten black boys from Moss Side and the case of, kind of, like, you know, often, sort of, middle class trans women and, but there’s these, like, real connecting lines and it, and I think this tension between your representation in the technologies that exist to control our lives and how you actually are, as a human being, this seems to be a really big tension. And maybe, almost the cause of, to bring it back, right to the beginning, where a form of activism starts. So maybe what I’m getting is there’s a sense that kind of, like, if, you know, you’re representational fit within this, within this bigger system gets too disconnected from how you actually are, this is almost what forces you to become an activist cause you don’t really have any choice. It’s like the system has like, sort of, popped you off the side, you know, like you don’t fit anymore and then really the only option you have is to kind of, I guess, like, depending on your perspective, either fight to be reincluded in it, or fight to change the system because it sucks. You know, I’ve been talking recently about how it’s sort of like, you know, we get invited to these listening events and consultations which basically get ignored and it’s kind of like, they’re passing us felt tips and we’ve kind of got the fire lighters, we’re ready to like burn the thing down. And it’s just like we’re on two completely different wavelengths, you know. [00:56:02]

Zara: It’s funny though cause, like, when it comes back to that tools and processes thing and, like, the example that Mallory gives, it like, working like the home office, when they find something that works they’re gonna roll it out wide. [00:56:18]

Mallory: Yeah! Exactly, exactly. [00:56:20]

Zara: And it makes me think as well, like, because of all this data that they gather on trans people, what we’re going to end up with, is like, we have the gangs matrix, there’s going to be a trans matrix. [00:56:34]

Mallory: There’s a transexuals register.[00:56:37]

Zara: Ok.[00:56:38]

Mallory: [Laughs] I’m not on it because I refuse to sign, I refuse to get myself licensed as a transexual. Fuck it. [00:56:45]

Zara: And what Kim said about, you know, being forced into activism, like, I’m literally a human, I exist, respect my existence or expect resistance comes to mind, but also, like, working within systems of harm. So like, in my professional work environments I have struggled to work in certain settings because it means being complicit with the violence that funding means you have to commit and therefore have had to move away from those places of employment. Same with policy. Like, and that’s why, when I have conversations with people within the community and we’re talking about things and I’m, like, “Ah, so basically, you’re already part of the movement” and they’re like: “What?” and I’m like, well if you’ve stood up for this and you’ve said no to this and you don’t want that because you need this, you’re already with us. You just need to draw the lines and I like to think, I was having this conversation with you the other day Kim, like, I’m quite good at finding links and we have all these individual pieces of legislations and individual policies and strategies and it’s funny cause we’ve talked about this as well, about like greater Manchester strategy. There’s all these individual things but actually they all work quite well together but nobody’s connecting the dots until you’re that in it, that you can only see the dots. And it’s sad for me sometimes because sometimes I wish I couldn’t see the dots, so that I didn’t have to be angry all the time, so that I could just chill out and like, enjoy a night with my friends in town but then something happens and I’m like: “Oh see, look, there you come, policing us” and du-du-du, duh, duh and it’s, it is that intersectionality of oppression and we have to adopt that intersectionality within our organising. And I said it on Saturday, like, my child is your child, your child is my child, like, my fight is your fight, your fight is my fight and it’s only by sharing this information and knowledge that we work towards solutions. And not even changing the systems, just getting rid of them and creating the ones where we’re actually on equal footing from the beginning cause people talk about equality, diversity and inclusion. I’m over the equality part, give me some equity or move out of my way. So yeah, there’s my little rant. I didn’t think I was going to have a rant, I had a rant! [00:59:14]

Kim: Yeah, it’s good. Or I’m increasingly, just like, just pay for me to go on holiday.[00:59:18]

Zara: Give me some sunshine and rest.[00:59:21]

Kim: Beach. Yeah.[00:59:23]

Zara: Yeah, man. [00:59:24]

Kim: I think that’s a really beautiful point to leave it on, unless there’s any final thoughts from Mallory. [00:59:27]

Mallory: No, I’m good, like, yeah.[00:59:32]

Kim: Cool.[00:59:33]

Mallory: I think it’s about ownership. I think it’s about ownership of the process and like that whole Audrey Lorde thing of, like, ‘Master’s tools’. A lot of these systems aren’t working for us because we don’t own them. If we owned them they would work, they would be ours but they’re not. [01:00:01]

Kim: Yeah, processes as things you can own, that’s really good. Hey, maybe that’s the topic for the next one. [01:00:01]

[End] [01:00:04]