Before ANANSI was a home space for artists, it was conceptualized as a platform for activists.
Here the “home space” we are refering to is the community to the “platform’s” civil society, drawing on the sociological concepts of gemeinschaft and gesellschaft of Fredinand Tönnies.
Overtime, it became clear that what we need is more community and less society, but the core thesis of the ANANSI RED PAPER still holds true for this latest manifestation of the project. The praxis is still explicitly augmented by digital technologies, but the focus is on building healthy “homes,” with ports and places for connection, rather than on the digital infrastructure to build virtual “cities” and “states.”
Below is an excerpt from the original ANANSI RED PAPER.
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ANANSI is a platform of digital tools and services that supports grassroots organizations and makes activism accessible to everyone. The ANANSI platform makes use of emergent technologies and principles that enable discussion, on and offline organization, economic activism, and education — like decentralized chat protocols, secure video conferencing, browser extensions to promote ethical consumption, and tools for maintaining a collective knowledge base — to support the coordinated efforts of disparate grassroots organizations. By assembling these technologies onto one decentralized platform, ANANSI makes it easy for people to coordinate social justice initiatives regardless of their level of activism experience.
The name "ANANSI" originates from a deity from the folklore of West African and diasporic communities. Anansi, who plays the role of the trickster, is revered for using his wit to gain the upper hand even when the odds are against him. This folkloric character resonates with the ANANSI platform, because we provide tools to help social justice movements fight against unjust hegemony and navigate past the typical bottlenecks that too often stymie their progress, namely: resource management, communication, and mission (rather than profit) driven praxis management.
The ANANSI project draws on a body of research that navigates tensions between the present-day technological revolution (of automation and decentralization), and what might be seen as democratic goals within this developing technological paradigm. Namely, we look to the Platform Cooperativism movement, and emergent decentralized technological infrastructures (blockchain, bittorrent, mesh networks, etc.) for the conceptual frameworks that drive the ANANSI project.
In order to win the support of and create solidarity amongst people across the spectrum of political activism, grassroots movements must make use of advances in distributed networks, decentralized ledgers, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies in order to contend with the sophisticated technical operations of states and corporations. Our goal is to counter the harsh pessimism of philosophers arguing that we’ve reached the end of history and media theorists continually pointing out that it is easier for us to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. ANANSI takes this call to action and provides a platform that not only enables political organization today, but also acts as a prefigurative postcapitalist social network. Ultimately, the ANANSI platform provides a model for what our online and offline communities can look like in a more just world, giving users the ability to fight for that world today, while also permanently existing on the internet far into the future. The platform ensures that grassroots progress is continually built upon and not wiped away with the break down of temporary, isolated, and location based initiatives often labeled (and dismissed) as "folk political".
These "folk political" social movements are often dismissed as inherently weak because their focal topics of concern are highly particular, localized, and unable to scale up or create lasting change. However, we believe that the deficiency of folk political action results from a failure to gain systemic traction and connect with a network of support beyond their local supporters, often due to the fact that there is no social networking infrastructure available for intentional activist organization. ANANSI aims to fill in this gap to enable activists to complete projects at different scales and in different locations while actively fostering connection and communication between otherwise isolated initiatives. ANANSI thus leverages the power of the internet, particularly Web3.0 technologies, to take advantage of the real human connections that come from folk politics while also transcending the localism that so often dooms the enacted change to impermanence. Our platform offers a network of communities, content, and connections with other digital citizens that are organically linked to demonstrate the interconnected nature of all social justice movements. In turn, we hope this approach will lead to the cross-pollination of strategies and strengthening of bonds across causes.
ANANSI may be rooted in political theory, but what we are building are real world applications that will have immediate and lasting effects on society. We are creating the building blocks for mission driven communities to unite, organize, and execute collective action. We plan to do this through the creation of a decentralized network of activist communities that maintain control over their individual instances of the network while simultaneously benefitting from their involvement within the larger platform through access to an ever expanding set of direct action tools. Though communities will be self-hosted and governed by their own set of rules, the network as a whole will be designed to encourage cross-pollination of ideas and communities across "fluid borders" through natively enabled cross-posting, nested and related communities, and "Universal Citizenship."
In this way, ANANSI aims to satisfy two basic needs of social justice movements that have surfaced since the invention of the internet that as of yet have gone unfulfilled: first, the need for communal online spaces that exist explicitly for the advancement of progressive causes; secondly, the need for digital tools that are designed to reduce the unpaid labor that goes into political organization.
While there are bubbles of socialist activity on existing social media platforms (think: Leftist Twitter or BreadTube), these websites are not designed for thoughtful discourse and intention-driven organization. Because they exist solely for the accumulation of profit, these platforms capture people (often intentionally) in ideological vortexes where they see their ideas mirrored back at themselves and their frustrations magnified to the point of outrage; worse still, these platforms operate under opaque content guidelines that allow them to regularly censor and de-platform activists while enabling the spread of far-right ideologies that satisfy their profit motives. In contrast, at the core of the Alt-Right's use of technology (hereafter referred to as Alt-Tech) are discussion platforms like r/TheDonald, 4chan and 8chan. Design choices around these platforms subtly coax people into discussion and active engagement with their conversation partners (even if they choose not to), where as Twitter's design signals the importance of an individual thought over discourse. 4chan and 8chan would also not have the success that they have experienced as avenues for radicalization and discussion if it we not for their early strategic decisions to fight against the censorship of Internet communities by centralized corporate entities. It is important to remember that before 4chan "memed Donald Trump into office" it spawned Anonymous, arguably the most well-known hacktivist organization of all time, which went on to fight for freedom of information, support protesters in the midst of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and release the names of KKK members who had wielded the same anonymity to terrorize marginalized communities. While they have obviously delved to intractable levels of racism, sexism, and violent extremism, there is still insight to be gained from the core of the early spirit of those communities: decisions about what can and cannot be said on a platform should be left to the users rather than an all-powerful, completely opaque, external "governing body."
This is particularly true when we consider the mission of ANANSI to bring about a post-capitalist world. Though online tools exist that can be used for political organization, there is a massive difference between having something created for the explicit purpose of accomplishing a particular task and repurposing another tool designed to do something similar. The intrinsic friction of this "repurposing" is more often than not a huge barrier to activist organizations using these tools in the first place. Whether its the requirement for a company email address to sign up, design systems that optimize for maximum profit and capitalist "efficiency," or simply having subscription models that limit collaboration and functionality behind a recurring pay wall, most if not all project management platforms on the market today have systems in place that implicitly reinforce neoliberal hegemony. And this goes without mentioning that even when these platforms lack these barriers to entry, they are often created or owned by companies that have it in their best interest to suppress socialist political organization. Are we being true to our goals when using Meetup.com to organize rallies around class solidarity when this service is owned by WeWork, a company that has laid off thousands of employees while awarding the man that caused the company's collapse roughly $1 Billion? What risks do we bring on to ourselves by using Zoom to try to bring about universal liberation when we know they have endangered these efforts by generating encryption keys in China, where they are legally obligated to disclose them upon request by an actively authoritarian government? While it could be argued that laborers that use the computer and "free" internet technologies to work can claim more ownership of their means of production than workers in the past, we will never move into a post-capitalist world as long as corporations own our means of political organization.
This isn't to say that there are no platforms that challenge this status quo, but rather that by nature of being counter-hegemonic projects, we often view them in isolation from each other and existing only in opposition to the current order. This perceived isolation leaves potential activists with a sense of futility in the face of platform capitalist ubiquity. And while, yes the forces that we're fighting against are powerful and destructive, no great lasting change is built by just holding the line and being "not as bad" as the other guy. What we need is a healthy, interconnected ecosystem of open-source tools that play well with each other and are defined not by the fact that they are "socialist alternatives" to existing products, but instead by the benefits they bring to people's lives outside of their political contexts. ANANSI seeks to help this ecosystem flourish by making it easy for communities and individuals using the platform to integrate these tools into their praxis. This will come in the form of a robust API, well documented protocols for integrating other services into instances of ANANSI, the use of Decentralized Identification (DID) protocols for accessing other decentralized platforms with ANANSI credentials, and an open-source code base. All this to say that while we may have an initial set of features that we envision will make up the backbone of the platform, in order for us to consider this project fully successful, it will also have to facilitate the ideation and creation of technologies that we could never imagine as isolated individuals.