Oakland group wants to help raise ruckus

EAST BAY SEMINAR TO TEACH TOOLS OF ACTIVISM

The Ruckus Society — as in "raise a ruckus” — is a group of left-wing protesters who have taught scores of other activists how to blockade police, hang banners off buildings and generally monkey with the "corporate machine.”

Now, the Oakland-based society has scheduled its first "Tech Toolbox Action Camp,” a training seminar to show demonstrators how to use the most modern technology to fight the world’s capitalist overlords.

To them, it’s the 1960s all over again, but this time in the age of the Internet and global positioning satellites.

The Ruckus Society is the group that trained squadrons of protesters for the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) summit in Seattle three years ago and has taught such civil disobedience methods as "how to lock your head into something,” a means of using one’s body to stop some action.

In a camp scheduled for June 24 to July 2 in Sonoma County, the hell-raising activists will show how to bring to bear the latest technology in protests against whatever Establishment foe happens to be in their cross hairs.

"We have quite a number of geeks within our ranks,” said Ruckus Society Executive Director John Sellers. "We’re seen by a lot of the movement as the wonky action geeks, so we have some incredible technical people.”

Not everyone is charmed by their crusades.

To Mike Burita, communications director for the Center for Consumer Freedom, the new high-tech camp just sounds like the Ruckus Society is "preparing to cause more trouble.”

Given that the society’s logo is a monkey wrench being thrown into some gears, Burita’s probably right.

"I think this is an example of some misguided youth who really need something better to do with their time,” said Burita, whose group is funded mainly by restaurant chains and tavern operators. "The things they protest really provide a benefit to society — for instance, biotechnology and genetically modified foods.”

Burita’s center runs a Web site, www.activist cash.com, which profiles protest groups and tracks their funding. It started in the mid-1990s in response to "different food cops and public health advocates,” Burita said, "who were telling people what they should and shouldn’t eat.” But the consumer center has expanded beyond that now, keeping tabs on a variety of activists.

Activists branch out

One of the Ruckus Society’s founders, Mike Roselle, was a co-founder of Earth First, the radical environmental group that gained notoriety for driving spikes into trees to foil loggers.

Two months before the "Battle in Seattle,” the society held an action camp to train activists on disruptive demonstration techniques for the WTO protests, then asked them to pass on the techniques to other foot soldiers back home in preparation for the summit. While Sellers does not condemn vandalism outright — the Boston Tea Party was property destruction, he says — he believes that the violence in Seattle was out of bounds because it created an unsafe situation for others.

"Non-violence is the heart and soul of what we do,” Sellers said.

Now the society’s new bag of tricks — in addition to teaching such staples as urban rappelling and civil disobedience — will include high-tech tools. Allen Gunn, better known as "Gunner,” is organizing the new venture, which the society hopes will become a regular feature in its catalog of protest camps. He expects about 100 trainees.

Naturally, only vegetarian cuisine will be offered during the weeklong gathering.

The camp’s curriculum

Among other things, the trainers will be talking about Web sites, how to use e-mail tactically, information and privacy, how to use technology on a limited budget, and how to protect files and data.

"What if your donor list is on your hard drive and it crashes?” Gunner said. "Or what if the feds come knocking on your door? Then it’s one-stop shopping for them.”

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