Art, Tech & Culture

A Hack in the Odious Machine: Digital Organizing Tools for the Precariat

Art, Tech & Culture
13 Apr, 2015

A Hack in the Odious Machine: Digital Organizing Tools for the Precariat


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Original Post

Many high-tech projects that hoist the banner of "innovation"€ pride themselves on creating "disruption" to established modes of industry and commerce. Yet, often the disruption that ensues comes at the expense of the lives, livelihoods and neighborhoods of people in a vulnerable position on the socio-economic scale. What would a technology of disruption look like that champions the working poor? How can we as technologists, artists, designers and innovators "disrupt"€ an economic system that has led to shockingly high inequalities of wealth and has damaged an already flawed system of democratic political participation? Stories of Solidarity attempts to do just that, to build a platform of social media where low-wage, part-time, marginal and/or seasonal workers (the precariat) can share their stories, images and videos to others in the same predicament, in order to build new solidarities that can combat inequality. Our Stories of Solidarity project began as a “hack-a-thon” that brought together designers, artists and computer programmers to build a platform that was artistic, versatile and anonymous (when desired). Our team asked critical questions of what an art/technology/community engagement project could be that truly benefits the underserved and underrepresented. The goal was to create something that was visually and aesthetically appealing with the technical capacity to accommodate multiple levels of interaction. Users access stories through a geolocation-based interface, while live data feeds provide deeper context through information graphics. In the spirit of the Free Speech Movement, our project asks how the resources and intellectual power of our public university can be used to engage and empower Californians often deprived of the fruits of university research.

Glenda Drew is an artist and designer whose research and practice centers on making art that supports social change through an inventive and often playful approach. From scratch-n-sniff trading cards to Viewmaster reels, and from time-based portraits to visual databases, Drew uses the language of media and technology to create messaging with social implications and encourage social change. Her subjects include country musicians, waitresses, feminists and precarious workers. The content of Drew's work is rooted in her own life experience, growing up the daughter of a truckdriver in Cicero, a working-class suburb of Chicago, and working in low-wage service jobs for many years. Drew was an active member of Paper Tiger Television in San Francisco for several years, a defining experience that continues to anchor and shape her work, from the DIY aesthetic and approach aimed at unpacking media technologies, to creating accessible media to ask critical questions about media ownership and media. She exhibits her work nationally and internationally and was recently featured in Bitch! A Feminist Response to Pop Culture magazine. Drew is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Design at UC-Davis, where she teaches screen-based and interactive design.

Jesse Drew is Professor of Technocultural Studies at UC Davis, where his research and practice centers on alternative and community media technologies and their impact on democratic societies, with a particular emphasis on the global working class. A teenage runaway at age 15, Drew lived in remote wilderness communes as well as inner-city urban communes in New England and California, participating in collective and cooperative projects involving food distribution, community media, sustainable agriculture, appropriate technologies and grassroots political organizing. Drew became a staff boycott organizer under Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers Union, and later became active in labor organizing on factory assembly lines and warehouses in the once-industrialized Bay Area. He then worked in Silicon Valley electronics plants and startups and became active in guerilla television, video art, independent film and interactive digital media. His video, film, photography and art work has been exhibited at festivals and in galleries internationally. His writings have appeared in numerous publications, journals and anthologies, including Resisting the Virtual Life (City Lights Press), At a Distance (MIT Press), Collectivism After Modernism (University of Minnesota), Ten Years that Shook the City (City Lights), West of Eden (PM Press). His current book is “A Social History of Contemporary Democratic Media (Routledge). At UC Davis, he teaches media archaeology, radio production, documentary studies, electronics for artists, and community media.

Berkeley's Art, Technology, and Culture Colloquium is an internationally recognized forum for presenting new ideas that challenge conventional wisdom about art, technology, and culture. This series, free of charge and open to the public, presents artists, writers, curators, and scholars who consider contemporary issues at the intersection of aesthetic expression, emerging technologies, and cultural history, from a critical perspective.

For the first time ever, the 2014/15 lecture series will be co-presented by the Arts Research Center, the Berkeley Center for New Media, and The David Brower Center, and will focus on the legacy of the Free Speech Movement here on the Berkeley Campus. All lectures will take place at The David Brower Center from 7:30-9:00pm.

Visit the ATC Colloquium's home page at for tickets, directions, a list of speakers, and to join the mailing list.

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