September 18, 2000

'Community Interactivism'
by Colin Moynihan

Broadcasting civil disobedience on the Net can be a powerful outlet for activists.

On a recent evening, Steve Englander and Eric Goldhagen stood in a fourth-floor room at ABC No Rio, a cultural and community center on Manhattan's Lower East Side watching images play across a computer screen: A young man dressed as a sunflower climbs a tree outside City Hall to protest the razing of gardens. Protesters are arrested moments before the Esperanza Community Garden on East Seventh Street is bulldozed by the city. Avenue B gardeners explain how they transformed an abandoned lot into a fertile green space. Some of this footage appears in the first issue of Interactivist.net, a site started by Goldhagen and Englander as an alternative to mainstream media coverage of community activism.

After the film Goldhagen says, "We're simply creating a more direct path between people involved in newsworthy actions and other people who want to know what happened."

The idea for Interactivist.net came to him while he was at the now-defunct radical newspaper The Guardian and working with stringers in Nicaragua, who filed stories using FedEx (FDX) and UPS. When they stopped flying out of Managua because of the unstable political climate, the correspondents turned to early Internet services to transmit copy. "It became obvious that it provided an infrastructure that could be used by small activist news organizations," says Goldhagen.

Last summer, Goldhagen told his idea to ABC No Rio coordinator Steve Englander. The two wrote a proposal and were awarded a new-media grant by the nonprofit Manhattan Neighborhood Network. Soon after, Interactivist.net was formed with a group of 20-odd volunteers.

Two weeks after the ABC No Rio screening, some 200 bicyclists gathered in Union Square for a monthly ride called Critical Mass in which cyclists pedal through the streets, demonstrating to motorists that they have an equal right to the road. Along for the New York ride that evening was an Interactivist.net camerawoman.

The bicyclists wound through Manhattan. Musicians played brass instruments while riding in pedicabs, and cyclists blew on whistles and kazoos. As the group reached Times Square, police officers in vans and cars appeared. Most cyclists continued downtown, but a dozen were handcuffed by police and charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing traffic.

A couple weeks later Englander and Goldhagen were back at ABC No Rio planning the issue in which the Critical Mass footage would appear. "It would be great if we end up getting shots of cops pulling people off their bikes." Goldhagen says. Englander nods. "People were arrested for disorderly conduct," he adds. "But the real disorder happened when the police began making a big scene." And if they have the footage, they'll show it.

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