Friday, March 09, 2012 2:30 PM
Soldiers march through the streets. The town square a dozen blocks away is full of young, idealistic protesters. Whispers of revolution begin to glide through social media websites. From the anonymous refuge of cyberspace, people call for earthly liberation. But then, inexplicable gunfire punctuates the pregnant night air. Something violent is happening, and internet access has been blacked out across the city.
Crackdowns on protest movements in the Middle East over the past two years, like the one in Egypt this winter, belie authoritarian regimes’ fear of social networks and the free flow of information. Large scale internet shutdowns somewhat effectively neutered the crowd-sourced angst of protestors, especially those depending on wireless communications and cell phones to mobilize and advocate. Seeing this increasingly popular trend, Liam Young of big ideas think tank Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today came up with a futuristic way to put the data stream back in the hands of the dissidents.
“Part nomadic infrastructure and part robotic swarm,” Young developed hatbox-sized, remotely-piloted aircraft that can hover above a crowd like a dragonfly and also serve as an ad hoc electronic network. In something of an ironic twist, Young’s “Electronic Countermeasures” use implements of Big Brother-esque citizen surveillance. Says Young: “We have built a flock GPS-enabled quadcopter drones from components that were originally intended for aerial reconnaissance and police surveillance.”
In his introduction to the project, he continues his description of the drones’ potential uses:
The public can upload files, photos and share data with one another as the drones float above the significant public spaces of the city. The swarm becomes a pirate broadcast network, a mobile infrastructure that passers-by can interact with. It is a site specific file sharing hub, a temporary, emergent online community where content and information is exchanged across the drone network. When on location, a visitor can log onto the drone network with their phones and laptops. When the audience interacts with the drones they glow with vibrant colours, they break formation, they are called over and their flight pattern becomes more dramatic and expressive. Impromptu augmented communities form around the glowing flock. Their aerial dance and dynamic glowing formations give visual expression to the digital communities of the city.
The techno-futuristic vision of Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today may allow the highbrow conceptual design of the swarm—with its “dynamic glowing formations” and “dramatic and expressive” flight pattern—to get in the way of functionality. In a life-and-death protest situation, I know I’d want my mobile internet infrastructure to blend in with the surroundings and stay in one place.
Of course, there’s just as much chance that Young’s technology will be more beneficial to those who fear neither guns nor gallows. My guess for the first place you’ll see one of these little multi-purpose digi-copters: a Flaming Lips concert.
Source: Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 10:25 AM
This article originally appeared on
When you fall in love, it’s all about what you have in common, and you can hardly imagine that there are differences, let alone that you will quarrel over them, or weep about them, or be torn apart by them—or if all goes well, struggle, learn, and bond more strongly because of, rather than despite, them. The Occupy movement had its glorious honeymoon when old and young, liberal and radical, comfortable and desperate, homeless and tenured all found that what they had in common was so compelling the differences hardly seemed to matter.
Until they did.
Revolutions are always like this: at first all men are brothers and anything is possible, and then, if you’re lucky, the romance of that heady moment ripens into a relationship, instead of a breakup, an abusive marriage, or a murder-suicide. Occupy had its golden age, when those who never before imagined living side-by-side with homeless people found themselves in adjoining tents in public squares.
All sorts of other equalizing forces were present, not least the police brutality that battered the privileged the way that inner-city kids are used to being battered all the time. Part of what we had in common was what we were against: the current economy and the principle of insatiable greed that made it run, as well as the emotional and economic privatization that accompanied it.
This is a system that damages people, and its devastation was on display as never before in the early months of Occupy and related phenomena like the “We are the 99%” website. When it was people facing foreclosure, or who’d lost their jobs, or were thrashing around under avalanches of college or medical debt, they weren’t hard to accept as us, and not them.
And then came the people who’d been damaged far more, the psychologically fragile, the marginal, and the homeless—some of them endlessly needy and with a huge capacity for disruption. People who had come to fight the power found themselves staying on to figure out available mental-health resources, while others who had wanted to experience a democratic society on a grand scale found themselves trying to solve sanitation problems.
And then there was the violence.
The Faces of Violence
The most important direct violence Occupy faced was, of course, from the state, in the form of the police using maximum sub-lethal force on sleepers in tents, mothers with children, unarmed pedestrians, young women already penned up, unresisting seated students, poets, professors, pregnant women, wheelchair-bound occupiers, and octogenarians. It has been a sustained campaign of police brutality from Wall Street to Washington State the likes of which we haven’t seen in 40 years.
On the part of activists, there were also a few notable incidents of violence in the hundreds of camps, especially violence against women. The mainstream media seemed to think this damned the Occupy movement, though it made the camps, at worst, a whole lot like the rest of the planet, which, in case you hadn’t noticed, seethes with violence against women. But these were isolated incidents.
That old line of songster Woody Guthrie is always handy in situations like this: “Some will rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen.” The police have been going after occupiers with projectile weapons, clubs, and tear gas, sending some of them to the hospital and leaving more than a few others traumatized and fearful. That’s the six-gun here.
But it all began with the fountain pens, slashing through peoples’ lives, through national and international economies, through the global markets. These were wielded by the banksters, the “vampire squid,” the deregulators in D.C., the men—and with the rarest of exceptions they were men—who stole the world.
That’s what Occupy came together to oppose, the grandest violence by scale, the least obvious by impact. No one on Wall Street ever had to get his suit besmirched by carrying out a foreclosure eviction himself. Cities provided that service for free to the banks (thereby further impoverishing themselves as they created new paupers out of old taxpayers). And the police clubbed their opponents for them, over and over, everywhere across the United States.
The grand thieves invented ever more ingenious methods, including those sliced and diced derivatives, to crush the hopes and livelihoods of the many. This is the terrible violence that Occupy was formed to oppose. Don’t ever lose sight of that.
’s Beautiful Nonviolence
Now that we’re done remembering the major violence, let’s talk about Occupy Oakland. A great deal of fuss has been made about two incidents in which mostly young people affiliated with Occupy Oakland damaged some property and raised some hell.
The mainstream media and some faraway pundits weighed in on those Bay Area incidents as though they determined the meaning and future of the transnational Occupy phenomenon. Perhaps some of them even hoped, consciously or otherwise, that harped on enough these might divide or destroy the movement. So it’s important to recall that the initial impact of Occupy Oakland was the very opposite of violent, stunningly so, in ways that were intentionally suppressed.
Occupy Oakland began in early October as a vibrant, multiracial gathering. A camp was built at Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza, and thousands received much-needed meals and healthcare for free from well-organized volunteers. Sometimes called the Oakland Commune, it was consciously descended from some of the finer aspects of an earlier movement born in Oakland, the Black Panthers, whose free breakfast programs should perhaps be as well-remembered and more admired than their macho posturing.
A compelling and generous-spirited General Assembly took place nightly and then biweekly in which the most important things on Earth were discussed by wildly different participants. Once, for instance, I was in a breakout discussion group that included Native American, white, Latino, and able-bodied and disabled Occupiers, and in which I was likely the eldest participant; another time, a bunch of peacenik grandmothers dominated my group.
This country is segregated in so many terrible ways—and then it wasn’t for those glorious weeks when civil society awoke and fell in love with itself. Everyone showed up; everyone talked to everyone else; and in little tastes, in fleeting moments, the old divides no longer divided us and we felt like we could imagine ourselves as one society. This was the dream of the promised land—this land, that is, without its bitter divides. Honey never tasted sweeter, and power never felt better.
Now here’s something astonishing. While the camp was in existence, crime went down 19% in Oakland, a statistic the city was careful to conceal. “It may be counter to our statement that the Occupy movement is negatively impacting crime in Oakland,” the police chief wrote to the mayor in an email that local news station KTVU later obtained and released to little fanfare. Pay attention: Occupy was so powerful a force for nonviolence that it was already solving Oakland’s chronic crime and violence problems just by giving people hope and meals and solidarity and conversation.
The police attacking the camp knew what the rest of us didn’t: Occupy was abating crime, including violent crime, in this gritty, crime-ridden city. “You gotta give them hope,” said an elected official across the bay once upon a time—a city supervisor named Harvey Milk. Occupy was hope we gave ourselves, the dream come true. The city did its best to take the hope away violently at 5 a.m. on October 25th. The sleepers were assaulted; their belongings confiscated and trashed. Then, Occupy Oakland rose again. Many thousands of nonviolent marchers shut down the Port of Oakland in a stunning display of popular power on November 2nd.
That night, some kids did the smashy-smashy stuff that everyone gets really excited about. (They even spray-painted “smashy” on a Rite Aid drugstore in giant letters.) When we talk about people who spray-paint and break windows and start bonfires in the street and shove people and scream and run around, making a demonstration into something way too much like the punk rock shows of my youth, let’s keep one thing in mind: they didn’t send anyone to the hospital, drive any seniors from their homes, spread despair and debt among the young, snatch food and medicine from the desperate, or destroy the global economy.
That said, they are still a problem. They are the bait the police take and the media go to town with. They create a situation a whole lot of us don’t like and that drives away many who might otherwise participate or sympathize. They are, that is, incredibly bad for a movement, and represent a form of segregation by intimidation.
But don’t confuse the pro-vandalism Occupiers with the vampire squid or the up-armored robocops who have gone after us almost everywhere. Though their means are deeply flawed, their ends are not so different than yours. There’s no question that they should improve their tactics or maybe just act tactically, let alone strategically, and there’s no question that a lot of other people should stop being so apocalyptic about it.
Those who advocate for nonviolence at Occupy should remember that nonviolence is at best a great spirit of love and generosity, not a prissy enforcement squad. After all, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who gets invoked all the time when such issues come up, didn’t go around saying grumpy things about Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.
Violence Against the Truth
Of course, a lot of people responding to these incidents in Oakland are actually responding to fictional versions of them. In such cases, you could even say that some journalists were doing violence against the truth of what happened in Oakland on November 2nd and January 28th.
The San Francisco Chronicle, for example, reported on the day’s events this way:
“Among the most violent incidents that occurred Saturday night was in front of the YMCA at 23rd Street and Broadway. Police corralled protesters in front of the building and several dozen protesters stormed into the Y, apparently to escape from the police, city officials and protesters said. Protesters damaged a door and a few fixtures, and frightened those inside the gym working out, said Robert Wilkins, president of the YMCA of the East Bay.”
Wilkins was apparently not in the building, and first-person testimony recounts that a YMCA staff member welcomed the surrounded and battered protesters, and once inside, some were so terrified they pretended to work out on exercise machines to blend in.
I wrote this to the journalists who described the incident so peculiarly: “What was violent about [activists] fleeing police engaging in wholesale arrests and aggressive behavior? Even the YMCA official who complains about it adds, ‘The damage appears pretty minimal.’ And you call it violence? That's sloppy.”
The reporter who responded apologized for what she called her “poor word choice” and said the phrase was meant to convey police violence as well.
When the police are violent against activists, journalists tend to frame it as though there were violence in some vaguely unascribable sense that implicates the clobbered as well as the clobberers. In, for example, the build-up to the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, the mainstream media kept portraying the right of the people peaceably to assemble as tantamount to terrorism and describing all the terrible things that the government or the media themselves speculated we might want to do (but never did).
Some of this was based on the fiction of tremendous activist violence in Seattle in 1999 that the New York Times in particular devoted itself to promulgating. That the police smashed up nonviolent demonstrators and constitutional rights pretty badly in both Seattle and New York didn’t excite them nearly as much. Don’t forget that before the obsession with violence arose, the smearing of Occupy was focused on the idea that people weren’t washing very much, and before that the framework for marginalization was that Occupy had “no demands.” There’s always something.
Keep in mind as well that Oakland’s police department is on the brink of federal receivership for not having made real amends for old and well-documented problems of violence, corruption, and mismanagement, and that it was the police department, not the Occupy Oakland demonstrators, which used tear gas, clubs, smoke grenades, and rubber bullets on January 28th. It’s true that a small group vandalized City Hall after the considerable police violence, but that’s hardly what the plans were at the outset of the day.
The action on January 28th that resulted in 400 arrests and a media conflagration was calledMove-In Day. There was a handmade patchwork banner that proclaimed “Another Oakland Is Possible” and a children’s contingent with pennants, balloons, and strollers. Occupy Oakland was seeking to take over an abandoned building so that it could reestablish the community, the food programs, and the medical clinic it had set up last fall. It may not have been well planned or well executed, but it was idealistic.
Despite this, many people who had no firsthand contact with Occupy Oakland inveighed against it or even against the whole Occupy movement. If only that intensity of fury were to be directed at the root cause of it all, the colossal economic violence that surrounds us.
All of which is to say, for anyone who hadn’t noticed, that the honeymoon is over.
Now for the Real Work
The honeymoon is, of course, the period when you’re so in love you don’t notice differences that will eventually have to be worked out one way or another. Most relationships begin as though you were coasting downhill. Then come the flatlands, followed by the hills where you’re going to have to pedal hard, if you don’t just abandon the bike.
Occupy might just be the name we’ve put on a great groundswell of popular outrage and a rebirth of civil society too deep, too broad, to be a movement. A movement is an ocean wave: this is the whole tide turning from Cairo to Moscow to Athens to Santiago to Chicago. Nevertheless, the American swell in this tide involves a delicate alliance between liberals and radicals, people who want to reform the government and campaign for particular gains, and people who wish the government didn’t exist and mostly want to work outside the system. If the radicals should frighten the liberals as little as possible, surely the liberals have an equal obligation to get fiercer and more willing to confront—and to remember that nonviolence, even in its purest form, is not the same as being nice.
Surely the only possible answer to the tired question of where Occupy should go from here (as though a few public figures got to decide) is: everywhere. I keep being asked what Occupy should do next, but it’s already doing it. It is everywhere.
In many cities, outside the limelight, people are still occupying public space in tents and holding General Assemblies. February 20th, for instance, was a national day of Occupy solidarity with prisoners; Occupiers are organizing on many fronts and planning for May Day, and a great many foreclosure defenses from Nashville to San Francisco have kept people in their homes and made banks renegotiate. Campus activism is reinvigorated, and creative and fierce discussions about college costs and student debt are underway, as is a deeper conversation about economics and ethics that rejects conventional wisdom about what is fair and possible.
Occupy is one catalyst or facet of the populist will you can see in a host of recent victories. The campaign against corporate personhood seems to be gaining momentum. A popular environmental campaign made President Obama reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada, despite immense Republican and corporate pressure. In response to widespread outrage, the Susan B. Komen Foundation reversed its decision to defund cancer detection at Planned Parenthood. Online campaigns have forced Apple to address its hideous labor issues, and the ever-heroic Coalition of Immokalee Workers at last brought Trader Joes into line with its fair wages for farmworkers campaign.
These genuine gains come thanks to relatively modest exercises of popular power. They should act as reminders that we do have power and that its exercise can be popular. Some of last fall’s exhilarating conversations have faltered, but the great conversation that is civil society awake and arisen hasn’t stopped.
What happens now depends on vigorous participation, including yours, in thinking aloud together about who we are, what we want, and how we get there, and then acting upon it. Go occupy the possibilities and don’t stop pedaling. And remember, it started with mad, passionate love.
TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit is the author of 13 (or so) books, including
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster
Hope in the Dark
. She lives in and occupies from San Francisco.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.
Copyright 2012 Rebecca Solnit
Image by Newtown graffiti, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, October 06, 2011 5:06 PM
It’s true: We’re covering the Occupy Wall Street movement to death over here (and yes, there’s more to come), perhaps because it was granted so little coverage in the first days of its contentious life. Need a primer-cum-rallying-cry? Read Tom Engelhardt’s essay on the movement’s importance. Pointing to a counter argument by political activist and cartoonist Ted Rall, our editor-in-chief David Schimke asks us to consider if Occupy Wall Street is pushing hard enough. Also, we’re trying keeping you up to date on our Twitter and Tumblr feeds.
Occupy Wall Street is straight up the most vocal, progressively populist demonstration in years—yet from the get-go has suffered from poor media portrayal and position articulation issues. OccupyMN’s April Lukes-Streich, answering via e-mail, tries to clear up a few things before the protest occupies the Minneapolis Government Center Plaza on Friday, October 7, and turns it into the People’s Plaza.
Utne Reader: The participants in the Occupy movement often come from either a background in local activism or a background in Anonymous, the hacktivist group. What is your activism background?
April Lukes-Streich: I’m unaffiliated with any activist group or organization, but have been a longtime political activist and blogger.
:What personally draws you to the Occupy movement? What are your personal motivations?
ALS: I was inspired by the recent occupation of the Madison, Wisc., Capitol building, and realized at that point that with the erosion of our voting rights by way of gerrymandering congressional districts, changing electoral college procedures, and voter ID laws—not to mention the corporate and moneyed influence in politics on both sides of the political aisle—that being present together is really the only chance we have to reclaim our voices to ensure meaningful participation in our political and economic system and the democratic process. I am continually personally inspired by a desire to reform our economic system in a way that ensures fairness for all participants. I cannot speak for all participants and know many to disagree with me, as we come from varied political philosophies, but I am strongly critical of the capitalist economic system and wish to see reform.
: The media has portrayed the Occupy Wall Street movement as somewhat directionless, lacking a central message. In your words, what is the central message of Occupy Wall Street?
ALS: That our movement is seen as directionless or lacking a central message is something that confuses a lot of participants, and I believe rightly so. As many have noted, if it’s unclear to anyone why we’re protesting, they’re not paying attention. Our economic system is in shambles, people are out of work and deep in debt with no discernible solution in the foreseeable future. The unified message of OccupyMN is “People Before Profits,” and we are continually working on lists of common goals. But because we wish to give voice to the 99 percent of Americans who do not currently have a meaningful voice in politics and economics in America, we are unable to present a list of cohesive demands in the way that many people seem to think we should. Ordinary people of all political persuasions are part of the 99 percent; what we want is not to all agree on policy or legislative issues, but to bring voice to the people to engage in meaningful, constructive debate about these issues without moneyed interests influencing the process and manipulating ordinary citizens.
This is a different kind of movement than any other we’ve seen. The process is new to everyone, participants and observers alike.
: Another criticism of the Occupy movement is that it has largely been the pursuit of well-educated, middle-class, white people. Has OccupyMN reached out to groups with cause for concern—minority, unemployed, disabled, etc.—to engage them with the movement/issues?
ALS: OccupyMN is very aware of these issues that are all too often present in activism and of the criticism. We are making every effort to reach out to all minority communities and ensure that folks from privileged backgrounds—namely white, middle-class men—are not dominating the conversation and direction of the movement. Our group is unified in this attempt and we expect to achieve the goal of making sure that everyone has a chance to speak and be a part of the decision-making process through our daily General Assemblies that we will have on the Plaza.
: What are some specific reforms that you’d like to see come about as a result of the Occupy movement?
ALS: I can’t speak for the entire group, but I would personally like to see election financing reform, an end to corporate personhood, and an overhaul of our tax system, including fairly taxing capital gains and instituting a nationwide corporate income tax. I would also like to see an honest conversation about the effectiveness and fairness of the capitalist system.
: Downtown Minneapolis is home to many corporate headquarters and business campuses of large banks—Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp, etc.—as well as a Federal Reserve building. Why is OccupyMN demonstrating in Government Plaza with all of these symbolic institutions around?
ALS: Our group voted during our first public forum at Stevens Square Park to move the occupation from the Federal Reserve to the Government Center Plaza for mainly logistical reasons. While occupying the area surrounding the Federal Reserve would be appropriately symbolic, we do not expect that we would have been allowed to remain there. The Government Center Plaza is public property, does not require a permit, and is in the heart of the financial district. We are not protesting at a bank because, beside being private property that we’d surely be arrested for occupying, rendering the movement effectively worthless, we are not protesting any one bank. We’re protesting the entire system, which leaves us without a meaningful voice. We believe that public, taxpayer-funded property is the most realistic place to achieve this goal.
: Is non-violent protesting the only course of action that OccupyMN is taking in the movement, or are there any plans for behind-scenes-work like lobbying and community outreach?
ALS: Many members of our organizational team, as well as countless other participants, are individually involved in lobbying and community outreach, but as a group/movement, we have not yet made plans for behind-the-scenes action. We are compelled to occupy primarily because our exhaustive efforts to lobby and outreach are not working. We need to be heard before we are able to change policies.
: What does success—either immediate or long-term—look like for you?
ALS: I will see success when I see meaningful reform to our economic and political structure. How this will happen, we have yet to know. First, we simply demand to be heard. I believe that, because of this widespread movement, we will be.
Thursday, October 06, 2011 10:29 AM
This post originally appeared at
In some ways, Zuccotti Park, the campsite, the Ground Zero, for the Occupy Wall Street protests couldn’t be more modest. It’s no Tahrir Square, but a postage-stamp-sized plaza at the bottom of Manhattan only blocks from Wall Street. And if you arrive before noon, you’re greeted not by vast crowds, but by air mattresses, a sea of blue and green tarps, a couple of information tables, some enthusiastic drummers, enough signs with slogans for anything you care to support (“Too big to fail is too big to allow,” “The American Dream: You have to be asleep to believe it,” “There’s no state like no state,” etc.), and small groups of polite, eager, well-organized young people, wandering, cleaning, doling out contributed food, dealing with the press, or sitting in circles on the concrete, backpacks strewn about, discussing. If it were the 1960s, it might easily be a hippie encampment.
But don’t be fooled. Not only does the park begin to fill fast and the conversation become ever more animated, but this movement already spreading across the country (and even globally) looks like the real McCoy, something new and hopeful in degraded times. Of the demonstrators I spoke with, several had hitchhiked to New York -- one had simply quit her job -- to be present. Inspired by Tunisians, Egyptians, Spaniards, and Wisconsinites, in a country largely demobilized these last years, they recognized what matters when they saw it. As one young woman told me, “A lot of people in my generation felt we were going to witness something really big -- and I think this is it!”
It may be. The last time we saw a moment like this globally was 1968. (Other dates, like 1848 in Europe and 1919 in China, when the young took the lead in a previously dead world, also come to mind.) It’s the moment when the blood stirs and the young, unable to bear the state of their country or the world, hit the streets with the urge to take the fate of humankind in their own hands.
It’s always unexpected. No one predicted Tahrir Square. No one imagined tens of thousands of young Syrians, weaponless, facing the military might of the state. No one expected the protests in Wisconsin. No one, myself included, imagined that young Americans, so seemingly somnolent as things went from bad to worse, would launch such a spreading movement, and -- most important of all -- decide not to go home. (At the last demonstration I attended in New York City in the spring, the median age was probably 55.)
The Tea Party movement has, until now, gotten the headlines for its anger, in part because the well-funded right wing poured money into the Tea Party name, but it’s an aging movement. Whatever it does, in pure actuarial terms it's likely to represent an ending, not a beginning. Occupy Wall Street could, on the other hand, be the beginning of something, even if no one in it knows what the future has in store or perhaps what their movement is all about -- a strength of theirs, by the way, not their weakness.
It’s true, as many have pointed out, that they don’t have a list of well thought out demands, but the demand to have such a list is just their elders trying to bring them to heel. The fact is, they don’t have to know just what they’re doing, any more than a writer or filmmaker has to understand the book being written or the film shot. It’s not a necessity. It’s not the price of admission. If there’s one thing that’s obvious and heartening, as my friend, the novelist Beverly Gologorsky, said to me while we oldsters circumnavigated the park, “The overwhelming feeling I have is that no one here is planning to go home any time soon.”
Never have they been more needed. Theirs is certainly a movement, like the ones in the Middle East, inspired in part by economic disaster and aimed at an airless political as well as corporate/financial system controlled by the 1% left out of the signs in the park hailing the 99% of Americans whom Occupy Wall Street hopes to represent. It’s a world set on screwing just about everyone in that vast cohort of Americans without compunction, shame, or even, these days, plausible deniability.
The young face a failing world -- and if you want the proof of just how thoroughly it's failed all of us in recent years, check out TomDispatch Associate Editor Andy Kroll’s post today [at TomDispatch.com, “Flat-Lining the Middle Class: Economic Numbers to Die For”]. Nowhere else can you find assembled such a range of evidence of an American world on the decline, one which doesn’t work and shows no sign of being capable of righting itself.
If, on a planet in crisis, their government has repeatedly failed them, the Wall Street demonstrators deserve a small, hopeful cheer for their efforts. They may not be the perfect size and shape for the movement of everyone’s dreams, but they’re here and, right now, that says the world.
Image by _PaulS_,licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 5:09 PM
Given the corruption that crashed the American economy (again), and the current administration’s unwillingness to seriously address class issues or corporate greed, it’s hard to find fault with Occupy Wall Street.
The “leaderless resistance movement,” which started in New York City on September 17 and continues to attract protesters to Zuccotti Park near Wall Street, is viewed by many, including Noam Chomsky, as courageous and honorable.
“Anyone with eyes open knows that the gangsterism of Wall Street—financial institutions generally—has caused severe damage to the people of the United States and the world. And should also know that it has been doing so increasingly for over 30 years, as their power in the economy has radically increased, and with it their political power,” Chomsky says. “[The protests] should serve to bring this calamity to public attention, and to lead to dedicated efforts to overcome it and set the society on a more healthy course.”
On the Washington Post’s editorial page, staffer James Downie concludes that “as long as the sluggish economy continues to hit Americans—and especially young Americans—hard, expect more and bigger demonstrations like Occupy Wall Street—unfocused, sometimes excessive, but fundamentally justifiable.”
Not everyone who agrees with the protesters’ principles is impressed, however. In an essay posted on Ted Rall’s website on September 26, the political cartoonist, commentator, and author says that “for me and other older, jaded veterans of leftist struggle, [Occupy Wall Street’s] failure was a foregone conclusion”—and that “yet another opportunity to agitate for real change was being wasted by well-meant wankers.”
This is not to say Rall doesn’t believe in the cause. The author of Wake Up, You're Liberal!: How We Can Take America Back from the Right, acknowledges in the first sentence of his critique that Occupy Wall Street “is and was important.” If only because it represents the first major repudiation of the Obama administration by the American left. But, he argues, good intentions are not enough, especially when the stakes are so high.
“Michael Moore complained about insufficient media coverage, but this non-movement movement was doomed before it began by its refusal to coalesce around a powerful message, its failure to organize and involve the actual victims of Wall Street’s perfidy (people of color, the poor, the evicted, the unemployed, those sick from pollution, etc.), and its refusal to argue and appeal on behalf of a beleaguered working class against an arrogant, violent and unaccountable ruling elite—in other words, to settle for nothing less than the eradication of capitalism.”
Rall desperately wants the protesters to be better organized, and points out that a number of those who did get interviewed by the mainstream media lacked a central message and the ability to articulately unpack key issues. To hammer home his point, he implores the kids in the park to “lose the clown clothes.”
“It’s not the early 1960s; you don’t have to wear a suit like the civil rights marchers did,” he writes. “But how about showing up on national TV looking decent, like it’s Casual Friday?”
Rall is a provocateur, and a few progressives have already taken him to task both for his hyperbolic prose and for his failure to support the troops. Fair enough. There’s a lot to chew on in this tirade, however, and when everyone goes back to their lives and Wall Street continues its run toward ruin, it demands a dispassionate revisitation.
Sources: Occupy Wall Street, Ted Rall, Washington Post
Image by Carwil, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010 3:44 PM
In January 2004, the infamous “Hi, How Are You” frog mural in Austin, Texas, was set to be destroyed and replaced with windows for a new Baja Fresh chain restaurant. And Dan Soloman needed to stop it.
The mural, which at first glance appears to be just lazy graffiti, was painted by the musician and artist Daniel Johnston in 1993. Johnston, a schizophrenic, became somewhat of a cult hero, having his songs covered by the likes of Beck and Tom Waits and amassing a large underground following.
Writing for The Texas Observer, Soloman insists “the frog mural represents a lot of things to people in Austin. To me, it’s a monument to a time when there was no point to cynicism, and street protest was the most viable form of activism I could imagine.” And guess what? He ended up saving the frog (also known as Jeremiah the Innocent), because, he claims, exerting change upon your immediate environment is infinitely more productive than attempting to affect change across the world.
“Street protest gets a bad rap these days, and for good reason,” Soloman writes:
Despite hundreds of thousands of marchers during the lead-up to the war in Iraq, despite more than 1 million demonstrators nationwide rallying for immigration reform, despite even more people in London, Pittsburgh and Toronto protesting the G20 summits, the result was: a war with Iraq, a failed immigration bill, and agreements among G20 nations that took no account of the masses in the street.
Ultimately, Soloman and some of his friends saved the mural by approaching the owner of the Baja Fresh and explaining how important the mural was to all of Austin and to the thousands of Johnston fans across the country. After initially refusing, the owner finally agreed to redesign the restaurant around the mural—costing him $50,000 in architect fees and lost revenue.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything that needs reform in our world. But, as Soloman points out, admitting that mass protest usually doesn’t do anything to help isn’t cynicism; it’s just reality:
The late House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said that “All politics is local.” Most of the demonstrations held up as proof that protest doesn’t work have been about big national and international issues. A group in Toronto isn’t going to change what leaders in South Korea and Turkey and Australia decide about the G20; amassed immigrants in Chicago and Dallas aren’t liable to effect change on an issue that’s so divisive throughout the country; a bunch of people with signs down in Texas aren’t able turn heads in the Pentagon.
If I were still in my early 20s, that might sound like cynicism to me. When it feels hopeless, though, I just have to go back to my old neighborhood to see that big, googly-eyed frog to remember that when you keep your focus on your immediate world, you can be a lot more powerful than you’d have thought.
Source: The Texas Observer
Image by tibbygirl, licensed under Creative Commons
Thursday, June 24, 2010 12:35 PM
The good vibrations rocking the World Social Forum, which has already brought over 10,000 spirited activists to Detroit, will no doubt be trumped by expected protests this weekend in and around Toronto at the G8 and G20 summits, host to the world’s financial power brokers—including U.S. President Barack Obama, who penned a letter last week urging member countries not to weaken global economic recovery by focusing too much on debt reduction.
While it’s a good guess the politicians will be droning on about interest rates and trade agreements, various activist groups—working on a wide-range of issues, such as AIDS reduction, child labor, and maternal health—will aim to provide reporters with something a bit more colorful. In anticipation of criminally riotous behavior, in fact, more than 5,000 cops and security personnel are on hand in Ontario. And yesterday morning, some of them got a little action when a Toronto man was found to be in possession of explosives and suspected of planning a summit-related spectacle.
It’s a good guess the alleged perpetrator, reportedly a licensed private investigator named Byron Sonne, was too busy stockpiling common household chemicals to read the May-June issue of This Magazine. In a short “how to” section titled, “Civil Disobedience isn’t for Dummies,” the Toronto-based bi-monthly doled out advice on how to survive a G8/G20 protest in “style (and safety).” Getting arrested before the summit starts was not on the list.
Among other things, activists are encouraged to travel with people they trust; educate themselves on the history of civil-disobedience, as well as current tactics employed by various groups; and decide beforehand what tactics fit your personal convictions. (Y’know, like, are you happiest while singing “We Shall Overcome” or when tossing Molotov Cocktails.)
As for wardrobe:
Pack protective shoes you can run in; heavy-duty gloves; shatter-resistant eye protection; clothing that covers most of your skin; a gas mask or goggles with a vinegar-soaked bandana for protection from chemicals; and noisemakers. Optional: rollerblades and a hockey stick to shoot back tear gas canisters—Canadian-style.
Yeah, that’s right you politically correct American progressives, in Canada sports fanaticism knows no boundaries.
Check out Utne Reader’s current cover story, “The New Face of Activism.”
Source: This Magazine
Friday, September 04, 2009 12:15 PM
Iranian bloggers who went online to protest the disputed election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad owe a debt of gratitude to the spiritual dissident group, the Falun Gong, according to Eli Lake in The New Republic.
Falun Gong practitioners working with the Global Internet Freedom Consortium were instrumental in developing an anti-censorship tool called Freegate, which was designed to hide internet activity from the watchful eye of the Chinese government. All mentions of the Falun Gong are heavily censored in China, because, Lake reports, “the Chinese government views the Falun Gong almost the way the United States views Al Qaeda.”
Iranian internet users were able to use the software for a short time to protest the disputed election results, until the tool’s popularity in Iran overwhelmed the group’s servers and they were forced to shut it down.
Freegate is not the only tool that dissidents use to skirt censorship on the web. Lake also mentions the software Tor, profiled in the September-October issue of Utne Reader, an anti-censorship program that is funded in part by the U.S. government. The Falun Gong has urged the United States to fund Freegate, too, but support has not been forthcoming.
As good as programs like Freegate and Tor are at stymieing government censorship, China, Iran, Russia, and other countries are working feverishly on technology to fight back. Lake writes, “the race to beat the Internet censors is a central battle in the global struggle for democracy—a cat-and-mouse game where the fate of regimes could rest in no small measure on the work of the Falun Gong and others who write programs to circumvent Web censorship.”
Source: The New Republic
, licensed under
Tuesday, June 16, 2009 1:26 PM
This Thursday, the German parliament will vote on a plan to censor its internet. Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s Minister for Family Affairs, recently brought the proposal to the German government in an effort to block child pornography, says political blog netzpolitik.org. She has since been dubbed “Zensursula,” (translated-“Censorsula”) by her growing number of opponents. netzpolitik.org writes:
German politicians already seem to be lining up with their wish-list of content to be censored in future – the suggestions ranging from gambling sites, Muslim web pages, “killer games”, and the music industry, cheering up with the thought of finally banning pirate bay and p2p.
Source: netzpolitik, tech President, Boing Boing
, licensed under
Thursday, June 11, 2009 4:26 PM
To much of the world, Burma, also known as Myanmar, is a closed country. The military dictatorship in power tries its best to keep it that way. Under the regime’s oppressive control, the 2007 anti-government uprising that happened there could have passed without much notice, were it not for the daring work of a few video reporters who risked torture and death to provide some of the only footage of the protests to the outside world.
The film Burma VJ follows a group of clandestine video journalists (VJs) known as the Democratic Voice of Burma as they dodge secret police and try their best to document the uprising. Mere possession of a video camera in the country is enough to get a person arrested by the police, and much of the film is shot by shaky hand-held cameras, hidden inside bags to avoid detection.
In August of 2007, the Burmese junta lifted fuel subsidies, causing a sharp rise in prices on everything from bus fares to food. The film’s main character, known only as “Joshua,” began filming small-scale protests that were swiftly quelled by government forces. By September, thousands of Buddhist monks joined and began leading the protests against the government.
One particularly illuminating scene came when a reporter from the Democratic Voice of Burma tried filming the Buddhist monks protesting. At first, the monks tried to push the journalist away, saying they didn’t want trouble. The narrator said they had mistaken the journalists for secret police. Moments later, the real secret police appeared and tried to arrest the journalists. The monks physically protected the reporters from arrest, and accepted the journalists into their march.
Footage of the protests, including the government’s strong-armed responses, were somehow smuggled out by the Democratic Voice of Burma and broadcast on CNN, the BBC, and other major news outlets. Eventually, more than 100,000 people joined the protests, openly advocating for the junta’s downfall. The images captured the attention of then-President George Bush, who strongly condemned the junta’s "vicious persecution" and expanded sanctions on the country.
The sad truth of the film is that the protests did not work. Government forces became increasingly violent, firing tear gas and guns at unarmed protesters, killing many, including a Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai. The monks backed down, but not before many were beaten, killed, and disappeared by the junta. The government is still in power today, and journalists are still the targets of attack.
One of the few inspirations in the film was opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In the film, protesters marched toward her home, where she had been under house arrest for 13 years. Today, Suu Kyi is making headlines again, facing accusations from the government that she violated her house arrest by sheltering a man who swam to her compound.
If there’s one hopeful outcome of the government crackdown, it’s in the Democratic Voice of Burma. The group claims to have recruited 80 new video journalists, many inspired by the 2007 uprising, who will continue to try and report from inside the country.
You can watch the trailer for Burma VJ below:
Image courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories/HBO Documentary Films.
Source: Burma VJ
Wednesday, October 01, 2008 9:38 AM
The raids that snared eight anarchist activists in St. Paul last month on the eve of the Republican National Convention were based in part on information from police informants who infiltrated protest training camps. The New Statesman reports that such incursions are commonplace in the U.K., with as many as one in four members of direct-action environmental protest groups working not for the cause, but for the law or private “corporate intelligence agencies.”
“If you stuck an intercept up near one of those camps,” one corporate spy exec says, “you wouldn’t believe the amount of outgoing calls after every meeting saying, ‘Tomorrow we’re going to cut the fence.’ ”
The arrested members of the RNC Welcoming Committee learned the hard way that it’s not just eco-protesters in Britain, where new coal-fired power plants are a protest flash point, who are feeling the heat. RNC Welcoming Committee organizers apparently had big-eared visitors in their midst this summer at an activist “action camp” held from July 31 to August 3 in Lake Geneva, Minnesota, where they allegedly discussed the tactics they’d bring to RNC street protests. Police say they talked about Molotov cocktails, paint, caltrops (devices used to puncture tires), bricks, and “materials” hidden inside giant puppets.
The information gleaned by these “confidential reliable informants,” or CRIs, was central to the felony riot charges filed against the eight RNC Welcoming Committee activists. Bruce Nestor, attorney for one of the defendants and president of the Minnesota branch of the National Lawyers Guild, said the information is by nature suspect.
“The charges in this case are supported only by allegations of paid confidential informants,” Nestor said at a press conference, according to Mordecai Specktor in the Minnesota online newspaper MinnPost. (Specktor’s son Max is one of the defendants.) “A number of the attorneys here have experience in investigations with the use of informants in political cases. We are concerned about the potential use of provocateurs, people who purposely plan and bring up discussions of violence, in order to get other people to respond and then report back that those discussions occurred. The confidential informants are paid based on the value of the information they provide. They have a clear incentive to exaggerate and lie about the information.”
Though of course the arrested members of the RNC Welcoming Committee must feel burned by their turncoat brethren, the activists weren’t exactly being secretive about their plans, telegraphing their intentions to “shut down” the RNC in articles, a website, even a YouTube video. When an underground movement uses the mobilizing power of the Internet, it also exposes itself to greater attention and surveillance.
After infiltrating the RNC Welcoming Committee, the spies—two informants and an undercover investigator—allegedly monitored e-mails and conversations and helped police conduct “regular surveillance” of the RNC group. The imposters apparently delivered believable performances as radical activists, which is more than can be said of one British informant who was found out by the members of Plane Stupid, a group opposed to the expansion of Heathrow Airport.
According to the New Statesman, “The group gradually became suspicious because he showed up early at meetings, constantly pushed for increasingly dramatic direct action and—the ultimate giveaway—dressed a little too well for an ecowarrior.”
Monday, August 18, 2008 4:35 PM
Protesting in the nude certainly gets people’s attention, but do the spectators recognize the protestors’ message? And furthermore, do they care? Sustainablog.org writer Adam Williams considers these questions after observing the World Naked Bike Ride in St. Louis earlier this summer. The event, which takes place in 20 countries, protests society’s crippling oil dependency and “indecent exposure” to air pollution. The problem is that it might be difficult for conservative legislators and voters to take the message seriously. “If conservatives are unlikely to respect and appreciate the collective perspective of clothes-free cyclists, then is anything gained by protesting oil dependency in the buff?”
Monday, July 28, 2008 4:16 PM
The folks organizing the Republican National Convention are touting it as “the greenest ever.” The radical environmental activists at Earth First are planning to show up for the event, but not to cheer on the recycling program or the use of flex-fuel and hybrid vehicles. They’re coming to “demonstrate alternatives to both lobbying and voting for environmental action,” according to the July-August issue of Earth First Journal (article not available online).
In other words, they’re going to block traffic.
“The most direct way to oppose this dog-and-pony show is just to stop it,” reads the article under the nom de plume of “the RNC Welcoming Committee.” “Stopping the convention won’t stop the election, but it throws a big fuckin’ wrench in the GOP’s public relations machine, and the GOP needs that machine to survive.”
The authors exhort eco-activists to set up blockades of all kinds. “Anything from a lockdown to a pile of materials, from a theatrical performance in an intersection to a good old-fashioned traffic jam will help create the desired effect,” they write. The ultimate goal? “Denying delegates access to the RNC.”
Their strategy is built around the mnemonic catch phrase “Swarm, Seize, Stay”: “Basically, 3S means: Move into/around downtown St. Paul via swarms of varying sizes….Seize space….Stay engaged with the situation.” The article notes that an “action camp” will be held in southern Minnesota the first weekend of August to prepare for the RNC.
Earth First’s call to arms is certainly part bluster. The authors admit that their movement “suffers from being small and stretched thin,” and their stated goal of stopping the convention is probably but an activist’s dream. But the fact is that Earth Firsters and others of their ilk would love to turn RNC 2008 into a street-protest legend like WTO 1999. The authors even name-check that event: “The World Trade Organization protest of 1999 was successful in no small part due to Earth First!ers bringing proven techniques and skills from the forests into the city.”
Because there’s nothing like burning a dumpster in the street to show that you love the planet.
Image by J. Narrin, licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Thursday, April 24, 2008 1:59 PM
Every year, somewhere between February and mid-April, sweet thoughts of indulgent write-offs and sneaky loopholes tickle the American taxpayer’s fancy. For most of us, these thoughts have their root in a Jeffersonian disdain for federal governance, or plain old-fashioned greed. But for some, tax resistance is a way of making a political statement, a way as old as taxation itself.
The War Resisters League has been advocating war tax resistance and other forms of pacifist action since 1923. The nonprofit has an extensive section dedicated to tax resistance on its website, and has published a handbook on the subject. While it may be too late this year for most of us to make a statement on the war in Iraq by withholding tax dollars, there’s always next year. And perhaps many years to come, depending on the upcoming presidential election.
Thursday, November 15, 2007 5:31 PM
There’s good news for the icy-hearted cynics in all of us: Protests actually work! A new study shows that protests against misbehaving corporations can send a company’s stock prices tumbling—just as long as the New York Times is there to cover it.
Writing for Columbia Journalism Review’s business-media blog, Elinore Longobardi discusses a new study that analyzes how media coverage impacts protests against corporations. The paper, written by sociologists Brayden G. King and Sarah A. Soule, will appear in the next issue of Administrative Science Quarterly.
King and Soule examined New York Times coverage of protests from 1962 to 1990, and discovered that while boycotts didn’t make much difference—nor did the size of the protest—Times exposure caused the defamed company’s stock value to drop between 0.4 and 1.0 percent (on average). The effect took place within one day, and the longer the Times article, the bigger the loss.
The study cites prominent examples from the time period, including protests against Dow Chemicals over its role in the Vietnam War.
The data for this study ends in 1990, but King and Soule are moving forward with additional research through 1995, which will introduce companies like Gap and Nike into the mix.
As for only choosing the Times, King and Soule found that it was the only paper worth analyzing—the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post gave paltry space to protests by comparison.
For more on protest, check out the cover story from our May/June 2007 issue: Protest is Dead. Long Live Protest.
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