Piracy On the Local Seas


The Northern California Pirate Festival is June 17 and 18 in Vallejo. As a registered member of the California Pirate Party I’ll be there. It’s not a joke. The name was chosen because people who value a free internet, open information (which means government transparency), and reforming our archaic copyright laws were called……pirates.

The point is we are now an information society which moves very fast. Freedom and survival depends on the free flow of information. But barriers have been going up fast and furious. California Pirates are focused on these goals but the broader platform and strategies are still in formation. In general there is a bottom up bias in organization. Not too much thought has been given to what this means at the bottom. I would like to share some pirate flavored strategy names to my own attempts to work at the local level in my checkered past.

Sometimes a single person moves fastest without a committee. Writing letters to newspapers, legislators, or blogs is an example. Doing research and contributing ideas to people from that research is another. Research includes experiments as well as general “book learnin.” I call these  “post” functions.

We all have posts but we can also be part of a group. A “crew” is a local cohesive group in regular contact focused on a very specific goal that is a little bigger than what one person can accomplish. When they work together they are totally in sync and in the zone. I would call this “a cannon crew.” Staging a videoed speaker event or keeping a website fresh and up to date are examples.

Separate crews can have the same function but different targets. Its important for different crews not to duplicate efforts while leaving some tasks undone (overlooked targets). Coordinated crews with similar skills and talents I would call “a team.” Staffing a political campaign or the recruitment of legal and internet SEO experts are high value teams.

The sum total of posts, crews, and teams in a locality dedicated to supporting each other and their efforts is of course, “the ship.” A ship may be a city, a county, part of a city, or two counties. Effectiveness should not be restrained by artificial boundaries. State organizations could be thought of as just bigger ships with captains in their own right. Or they can be thought of as fleets with admirals (a little hierarchical I know). What happens at the top depends on what is underneath.

Specific actions could have names as well to commemorate those efforts. They could be called “cruises” or “tours” of duty. Just like some bands have tours that are memorable enough to sell merchandise, both official and pirate (Arrrgh!).

These pirate groupings are not fixed over time. They are like an orchestra with different instruments and sections coming in at different times in the symphony. A violinist could be a soloist at one point and part of the violin section in another part. A pirate can occupy their post writing a blog, be part of a camera crew, and commit to a team effort making a movie.

So is this all a bunch of armchair philosophy? No, I have painful experience. In the late 70’s and early 80’s I was part of a minor party that did the usual boring stuff. But I also was part of separately organized groups. These groups allowed me the freedom to define my role in aligned community and fellow traveller projects. So here are three personal examples.

My first political foray beyond licking envelopes and staring out from behind a fair booth was my 1979 anti draft protest role. Carter was trying to revive conscription and the peace groups were hot in San Jose. They needed a site near the collage and I had an idea. I went to the City recreation department with the story (mostly true) that I was part of a student club that wanted to put on a “seminar” in the San Antonio Plaza. I mentioned that so far I had a SJSU professor and a think tank spokesman lined up.

I got the permit. The real organizers provided the band and the hard core participants. The police were there but it was the department head that got in trouble not us. I had seriously misled a government employee.

The Koch crowd activists wanted to enter SF’s Gay Freedom Day parade. So I bought a1948 bread truck on my own dime and painted it “Clark For President” green for a focal point. It barely ran and overheated near the end of the parade but not until publicity photos were taken of it and the flyer pushing campaign workers buzzing around it. For the next year I used the “Green Machine” to haul old books to a college flea market where locals had secured a voter registration booth.

I was getting faster on my feet and started talking to high school classes and community groups. There was a group of three people who did this. I wasn’t the County Chair’s first choice as a speaker  since I was considered a loose cannon (Arrrrgh) and a “Plan B” with his own script. Next I joined two other Party outcasts as part of a morning community radio program on KKUP in Silicon Valley. We weren’t especially interesting but we stayed with it. These were all good communication experiences.

Some of these projects were my individual efforts and some were cooperative crews and teams. But all were bottom up operations with little interference from initiative sapping bosses.

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