Cultural activist and professor Ricardo Dominguez faces loss of tenure from the University of California-San Diego due to pressure from anti-immigrant, Republican congresspeople.
Ricardo Dominguez is developer of the Transborder Immigration Tool, a technology utilizing recycled mobile phones loaded with software directing people crossing the border to caches of fresh water in the desert. He also founded Electronic Disturbance Theater and is a former member of the group Critical Art Ensemble.
Ricardo presented the transborder immigrant tool at the 2008 Allied Media Conference on the role of technology in human rights / social justice organizing.
A supporter writes, “It’s a controversial project, to say the least; and Ricardo has received death threats from people in the SD community and beyond. The project was picked up by the national and international presses, and CNN named Ricardo one of its ‘Most Interesting People’ of 2009 because of the project. Several Republican congressmen also recently sent a letter to UCSD demanding that the project be ceased and Ricardo be censured. In response to this, the university has been scrambling to find a way to shut it down.”
More recently, as part of the March 4 national student protest actions, Ricardo Dominguez’s bang.lab created a virtual sit-in on the University of California Office of the President website.
A virtual sit-in works in this way: participants go to a specified web page, which continuously “refreshes” connections to the target webpage. This obviously increases traffic to that site — much like a live sit-in at a specified locale – with the potential effect of making it too busy to accept new incoming connections. It is similar, in form, to what’s called a “Distributed Denial of Service Attack” (DDOS). There are several critical difference between a virtual sit-in and a DDOS: a DDOS is prolonged and unending, used by various governmental groups to censor a wide variety of free speech groups, activist groups, etc, and non-transparent (the creators of the DDOS set up virtual robots to blast a given site with millions of hits, and hide the creators behind various firewalls and filters. A virtual sit-in is open, does not use such “robots,” and the creators are identified freely.
One letter of concern reads, “like ‘real world’ (embodied) sit-ins, a virtual sit-in is part of a broader set of cultural and political actions directed towards a specific, non-essential site with a specific message in mind. It is also limited in time and scope, precisely like a performance, with a set beginning and ending. The purpose of a virtual sit-in is to participate in a broader collective social action (in this case, March 4), transparently, in the interest of conveying the sentiments of a collective social body.”
Supporters believe UCSD administration is using the virtual sit-in/DDOS question to act on what they’re upset about: the political fallout from the Transborder Immigrant Tool.
It is important to note, despite sensationalist media reports to the contrary, that the Transborder Immigrant Tool has not as yet been used by anyone unaffiliated with bang.lab. It is still in development, with input from non-profit border organizations and the Border Patrol.
Ricardo Dominguez met with UCSD officials Thursday, accompanied by a protest in support of the professor, and an online petition for Ricardo Dominguez is being sponsored by the UC Multi-Campus Research Group in Internationalism and Performance.
Pacifica Radio’s Uprising recently interviewed Ricardo Dominguez about this issue.