For Autonomous Communication: North Shore Counter-Info at Two Years

North Shore Counter-Info launched just over two years ago, at the start of March 2018. Since then, we’ve published 302 texts with the goal of providing a platform for autonomous communication and connecting related struggles across the region. We’ve had a lot of feedback that the project is useful – starting from the repression in Hamilton around the Locke St affair in the project’s first days to the Wet’suwet’en solidarity movement this winter. This text is written by some members of the collective to share a few thoughts about what North Shore has been able to do so far and offer some directions for future growth.

In founding the project, we wrote about overcoming isolation in Southern Ontario, sharing resources to make anarchists across the area stronger, and make space for a conversation specific to our needs here. In some ways North Shore is a news site – we do hope to make actions and ideas visible, especially among people who share some underlying ideas. However, there are far, far more things that happen in the area than what gets posted to North Shore. We could spend more time scraping things from social media or reposting articles, but it isn’t our goal to be exhaustive or represent “the struggle” as a whole.

We encourage people to share news and reflections about their activities and situations because they value having access to an autonomous platform to reach other radicals that isn’t run by interests hostile to their own (like, for instance, Facebook). We encourage people to read what’s posted here to share tactics and ideas across the region, amplifying everyone’s actions and linking them together around shared principles.

The benefits of having this platform have been very rich. A surprising piece is how North Shore has enabled actions that might not have otherwise happened because there would have been no way to communicate about them. We are concerned with an emerging ‘common sense’ even in some anarchist circles that actions are only relevant when they are shared on social media, and so the only actions considered are those that can safely be posted to Facebook. This is intensely pacifying and greatly limits the kinds of tactics and strategies at our disposal.

During the wave of #ShutDownCanada actions in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders, North Shore provided a secure, anonymous platform for a wide variety of submissions on actions ranging from reports on public demos to blockades to sabotage actions and incendiary attacks targeting the rail system. We hope that by amplifying these calls to action, analysis, communiques and reports that we helped contribute something meaningful to the level of coordination between anarchists active in the solidarity movement. In particular, it’s much harder to communicate about clandestine actions like sabotage, and North Shore was one of the only where people trying such actions could share experiences and build momentum.

It’s not our desire to privilege these actions over others though – in our first retrospective text at six months, one challenge we identified was that North Shore seemed associated with the most combative and controversial aspects of anarchist practice in a way that limited what kinds of actions seemed post-worthy. Our hope is that clandestine attack, protests of all kinds, blockades, mass organizing, and agitational street art can all appear here alongside analysis and reflection. We want people who do different things to be in touch with each other and develop their ideas together, to co-ordinate when it makes sense to, and have lively debate and critique around tactics and strategy.

This practical diversity has been most vibrant on North Shore during social movements. The first big moment of that was the Pride Defenders solidarity movement after the far-right attack on Hamilton Pride in 2019. Reports of rallies, discussion, graffiti, counter-demos, and more poured in from all over, articulating different visions of solidarity, struggle, and queerness. This conversation through action was beautiful, complemented by reflective pieces and notes in the comments. During the Wet’suwet’en solidarity campaign this winter, the conversation about solidarity continued and deepened – is anarchist solidarity based on taking direction to further the strategic objectives of those we support, or is it based on clarity about our own ideas and attacks on common enemies that further both our respective priorities? It’s unlikely that a discussion of that nuance, playing out through a dozen reportbacks and analysis pieces, would have happened about this movement without a platform like North Shore.

One small change here at North Shore is we have scrapped the Events page. Although we feel it’s urgent that we regain our collective ability to promote and find events without relying on social media, the plug-in was never very user friendly and we didn’t receive many submissions. We suspect that while some anarchists are exclusively posting their events on Facebook, others have wider strategies to promote their activities that are specific to their local context and don’t gain much from appearing on a regional website. That said, we have heard stories of anarchists finding each other for the first time because of an Event post on North Shore – we remain open to your ideas!

This brings us back to why we don’t encourage the use of social media, especially corporate platforms. Although we do want a wide reach, our goal is much more qualitative than quantitative – we want to deepen and enrich, not just grow. We do have some social media for North Shore – Twitter and Reddit, and also Raddle (a radical-run alternative) – but, in line with how some recent texts have proposed (here and here) we “think of social media as a megaphone, a way of amplifying your voice, and not as a living room, for discussing and getting to know people. [We] use it to promote, to announce, to disseminate, but move conversations elsewhere.” We also encourage “collective abstinence or near-abstinence from personal social media, and very limited use of social media platforms for promotion, with the explicit intent of drawing people offline while drawing them towards anarchist practice.”

Quantitatively speaking though, of the 302 posts on North Shore, 139 are action reports and 101 are news or analysis. Considering that a bunch of the latter are updates from ongoing projects, it seems like the balance is pretty good in terms of keeping theory welded to practice. In terms of location, the balance is a bit skewed. There are as many posts tagged Hamilton (115) as there are of Toronto (51), Kingston (28), Ottawa (24), and Kitchener-Waterloo (11) combined. This might be partially explained by the level of anarchist activity in Hamilton, but it’s also due to a radical culture in that city that makes a point of writing report-backs.

This location breakdown is about the same as it was after North Shore’s first six months, so our goal “to continue trying to involve people in cities and towns throughout the region” hasn’t really been successful. Building cohesion and dialogue regionally still seems like a worthwhile goal, so we will keep trying to find ways to bring in more content from as many places in Southern Ontario as we can. If you want to support the project consider writing content about actions you’re involved in or taking some time to write a reflective piece or opinion piece about your local context. Encourage your friends to do the same, argue about ideas together and help each other edit, and then hit submit.

Finally, with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and the government measures that now dominate our lives, we think this project could be more relevant than ever. As anarchists and anti-authoritarians around the world are scrambling to respond to this rapidly developing crisis, having online platforms to encourage, highlight and reflect on real-world organizing and intervention is vital. As more and more people are finding themselves isolated, quarantined or locked down – whether it be by choice, circumstance or threat of punishment – we want to provide a space where critical discussion can happen about the new social and political context we find ourselves in. In a period of intense threat to human health and survival, when the economy seems to be crashing while state repression and social policing are rapidly escalating, we must continue to find ways to struggle together, both online and especially offline, for lives worth living.