The 1980’s popularization of the computer and the birth of the Internet was a quantum shift in communication and an evolutionary step for human society. The Digital Revolution marked the latest stage of the information age. People in distant parts of the world now connect instantly and information flow has shrunk the world. One of the biggest changes recently is the interconnected immediacy of social networking. This is a communication revolution in itself.
The word revolution has roughly three different meanings. The first is political, signifying fundamental change in political institutions, such as the overthrow of a government and replacement with another form. The second describes a fundamental change in technology or society in general, such as the Industrial Revolution. The Digital Revolution brought a shift in how we communicate as well as a sea change in a vast array of technology. And lastly in astronomy, revolution is the orbiting of one heavenly body around another.
Until recently, the Digital Revolution has not been fundamentally linked to serious political change. Yet, it created the foundation for the ubiquitous social media that is now being linked with political revolution on a global scale.
The first signs were the rise of online journalism, where bloggers and crowd-sourcers worked to fill the slack of mainstream media, much of which has been controlled through moneyed interests. In addition, the popularity of social websites like twitter and You Tube has contributed to the eventual decline of many traditional newspapers and TV news. The new digital press is more and more running roughshod over the old printing press and it is gradually replacing much of the existing system of journalism which often filtered and slanted perception toward particular commercial interests.
The people’s uprisings in the Middle East marked the maturation of this digital revolution where it merged with a new current of human passion. In Egypt, we saw social media playing a vital role in people assembling and taking action at Tahrir Square to throw off the Mubarak regime.
Social media facilitated uprisings are spreading, as in China, where active mobilization toward freedom is on the rise. The effect of social media in the arena of social and political empowerment is becoming undeniable.
How has this move toward social revolution come about? One answer is in the inherently democratic and immediately egalitarian nature of digital communication.
“The internet is direct democracy”, Anthropologist, Paul Jorion’s statement might have captured a glimpse of a possible future society. Jorion noted that with the Internet, “there’s no hierarchy and everyone can express themselves”.
Although inequality of access to this technology is a problem, the Internet has opened the door to an incredibly fast changing and relatively unmediated world. The Internet is borderless. It can take one to virtually any corner of any street. The world has become literally a click away. People who go online can have direct communication with those in other countries through social networking on platforms such as Facebook and Internet Relay Chat. This relates a person immediately to events happening around the world and to masses of like-minded people.
“I think the politicization of the youth connected to internet is the most significant thing that happened in the world since the 1960s. This is something new, a real revolution”. – Julian Assange
The first ones to pioneer this unknown new land on the web were hackers and programmers. They have blazed through a wild cyberspace, not bound in the same way by the laws and traditions of society.
Through the wild currents of net-neutrality, the fresh thoughts and ideas of people that are exiled from the mainstream find refuge in offshore digital asylums. In this domain, one can explore and carve out a different identity. In relative anonymity, one with technical savvy can connect, travel and embody wishes and ideals via digitized avatars and move freely beyond prescribed societal roles. Despite increasing Internet surveillance and censorship, many still feel safer finding like-minded people online to share their grievances toward government than through traditional structures.
WikiLeaks put its roots down on this new neutral infrastructure as the first stateless whistle-blower publisher that exists only on the internet. By revealing government and corporate abuse, this organization has inspired people world over to unite in a struggle for justice.
Long before the uprisings in the Arab world, the seeds of revolution have been growing underground. WikiLeaks arose in the winter before the Arab Spring. After a long political chill, it welcomed whistle-blowers and kept that torch of justice burning. For many, alleged whistle-blower Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange became global symbols of a new era, modeling courage, idealism and a commitment to justice, especially for the younger generations. These two were recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and won it hands-down in popular polls. Despite the US government’s war on whistle-blowers, all around the world the trend of dissent and willingness to speak out against corruption is growing.
Another crucial component of the WikiLeaks Winter was the leaderless group Anonymous. Following WikiLeaks’s lead, the online collective came on the scene to stake a strong claim in this growing stateless web culture. Ethical hackers and information activists showed how it is possible to move freely online by breaking down firewalls, collectively sitting in with DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks and defacing websites of corporations and corrupt government institutions. All this empowered ordinary people by showing that it is possible to effectively challenge old power structures.
From the Arab Spring to the American Fall
All civilization has from time to time become a thin crust over a volcano of revolution. – Henry Ellis
2011 has become the year of revolution. The seeds of a global uprising that sprouted in the Arab spring blossomed into the European summer, and now with OccupyWallStreet it has entered a new season in the American Fall. In the light of the law of empires, some see the dual meaning of the word ‘fall’ as prescient.
In this online era, resistance within a particular country and community immediately gains global support. In late August, something was in the air. Just prior to the explosion of OccupyWallStreet, the online global collective Anonymous launched OpBART against the Bay Area Rapid Transit police for their repeated pattern of brutality.
With quick mobilization through the web, what started out as a distinctly local effort quickly got international attention, partly because of the mysterious international allure of Anonymous and the highly charged and sensitive digital atmosphere. Interactive Twitter feeds across oceans brought waves of the hashtag #MuBARTek, uniting Egyptians and San Franciscans in global solidarity against censorship and abuse of power. It was small, but was a shot across the bow just as the 99% movement was finding its spark.
The OccupyWallStreet movement that is now exploding across the world follows the revolving seasons of year-round Internet revolution. “OccupyWallStreet is a hashtag revolt,” wrote Jeff Jarvis, a professor at City University; “A hashtag has no owner, no hierarchy, no canon or credo. It is a blank slate onto which anyone may impose his or her frustrations, complaints, demands, wishes, or principles.”
The Twitter connected and bred action OccupyWallStreet was at first a group of committed individuals who gathered to camp out in the Financial District. People in a half dozen European cities: London, Valencia, Milan and Amsterdam soon joined in the operation.
Egyptian activist Mohammed Ezzeldin came to NY to join in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. Acknowledging the connection between this and the protests against Mubarak and other despots he said:
I am coming from there — from the Arab Spring. From the Arab Spring to the fall of Wall Street …. From Liberation Square to Washington Square, to the fall of Wall Street and market domination and capitalist domination.
Live tweets circulating from the ground as the rally moved downtown were mirrored in cyberspace. From lower Manhattan to Union Square, eyes behind the screen crossed borders and followed the crowd through the streets of New York. Verve and passion were spreading across the globe. Occupy movements started to pop up in various cities in the US and overseas. On Oct 15 global day of rage, people around the world raised their voices in solidarity.
This 24 hour Internet Revolution never sleeps. Through IRC and Twitter, people around the world communicate with one another, taking turns to pass the baton in a relay of revolution. What’s behind this impulse?
2.0 Open Society
We ARE the Internet. You are actually dealing with a collective mind. Controlled by individuals and yet you don’t understand what it means. – @AnonymousIRC
What is striking is how this Internet-enabled revolution is different than traditional protests. It is a reality online as much as in physical space. What happens across the computer and I-phone screens is the tip of the iceberg of a massive movement. Like waves of unknown faces behind Guy Fawkes masks, the underground culture moves as a mysterious tide.
One thing that is unique about online culture is the relative anonymity that comes with the territory of the Internet. By crossing computer screens, people can leave their traditional social identities behind. They become relatively free from the underlying oppressive force of hierarchy based on gender, class and race. This 2.0 open society on the web levels the playing field, distributing the power to people, regardless of political or social standing. With an evolving digital dialogue, a common universal language of justice and fairness can flourish in this online culture. It naturally enables the users to exercise a kind of egalitarian democracy. Many IRC chats have created a Quaker-style dialogue, where the conversation is moderated to check the balance of power and make sure each person has an equal share in the dialogue. In this, values held by many indigenous cultures such as collaboration and sharing are finding a new place, counteracting the pitfalls of a domination and exploitation mentality common to Western civilization.
Learning through the inherently democratic nature of the Internet, the younger generation has been experiencing first hand this new approach to democracy. Yet, outside the screen, democracy has become a myth. Everyday life is now shaped by corporate values of hierarchy, efficiency and profits at any cost. Most political systems have also been taken over by this. A cognitive dissonance is growing between apparent powerlessness over the course of their lives in the outer world and relative freedom on line. People have been living double lives, as in the movie The Matrix, where Neo asks the question, “What is real?”. Now ideals that have been submerged for too long are coming to the surface. It is this global culture that is growing online, that comes into opposition with the Wall Street world. The revolutions spreading around the world are simply a testimony of those who say no to this unjust reality and see the borders dissolving all around them.
The egalitarian use of the Internet is now being translated onto the streets. This movement is bringing back unmediated oral traditions. With open mic and general assembly call and response, people practice face-to-face active listening and a new way of speaking together. Levi Asher shared her first hand experience of the people’s mic.
It’s called “the People’s mic”, and it’s designed to allow a large group to hold an assembly in the middle of a noisy city without speakers or amplification. One of the facilitators explained it to the crowd: first, a speaker says a few words in a normal voice, no more than half a sentence at a time. The speaker will then pause while many people sitting nearby will repeat the same words together loudly, thus amplifying the speaker.
People are saying we don’t need amplifier. The echoing diffuses power from would be leaders and responsibility is shared by all.
Action in the streets reveal what has been incubating beneath the surface. Ideals, compassion, and creativity are the insurgent forces battling against the one-sided development of corporate culture. Naomi Klein remarked how she was moved by a sign at OccupyWallStreet saying “we care about you”. Values traditionally held as the province of religious faiths are now finding their way into revolutionary action.
With the insurgency of these diverse ideals rising from the underground onto the streets, the online network Anonymous has become an Icon of Internet activist culture. In The Real Role of Anonymous in Occupy Wall Street, Sean Captain noted that there weren’t many people wearing masks and those who claim to be associated with Anonymous at the actual site. He described how the role of an online collective lies in its power to affect mass media and raise awareness about the movement.
“Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, … and ideas are bulletproof.”(V for Vendetta). The absence of GuyFawks masks at the protests does not mean their absence in the movement. Ideals behind the mask find their way into the 99% tumblr, and from there go viral. These are ideals that cannot be killed or arrested. They survive through the harsh winter of political persecution without being captured by religion, nationality or ideology. They continue to grow like seeds of hope.
In a recent article on V for Vendetta masks, Rich Johnston, an animation commentator was quoted saying, “The film V for Vendetta ends with an image of a crowd of Londoners all wearing Guy Fawkes masks, unarmed and marching on Parliament. It is that image of collective identification and simultaneous anonymity that is appealing to Anonymous and other groups”.
By blending into the collective of the 99%, people are perhaps becoming anonymous in a new way. In principle, everyone is Anonymous and everyone is the 99% if they but choose to recognize it. The story that each person brings is unique and individual, yet in the majority the stories are tied together with a common thread, forming a new sense of individuality, not in isolation but in relationship to others.
The Digital Revolution was initially a technological one. It is now being humanized by people re-birthing the old ideals of justice into a new era. “The revolution will not be televised” said Gill Scott-Heron in 1970. Decades later with the spread of the Internet, “The revolution will be tweeted”. Now people can see what’s going on. So, what is next?
A Call for Direct Democracy
To petition an establishment is to deny that from us can come fresh political movements through which power is exercised. –@x7o
The New York Times article, As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge around Globe looked for the roots of people’s uprisings around the world. It concluded that the global wave of revolution is a sign of a deep-seated distrust toward the system and that people are “taking to the streets, in part, because they have little faith in the ballot box.”
“People realize that it’s a show; it’s a charade,” author Lawrence Lessig echoes, adding “When you just look a little bit deeper, it’s clear that what’s driving both parties is whatever is the thing that’s going to maximize the money.” Through social media, people’s voices are getting bolder in sharing their distrust of authority.
Imagine: Your citizens can think on their own now. Scary? Didn’t expect it? Just pathetic. WE DO NOT BELIEVE YOUR LIES ANYMORE. – @AnonymousIRC
Independent journalist, Kevin Gosztola described how the OccupyWallStreet movement is challenging the rigged ‘two party’ political system. While the importance of Occupy Wall Street was dismissed and belittled in the media, labor unions quickly recognized its potential. On the second week, Wed Oct 5, they joined the activists for a march.
Recently, unions have lost power and become mostly window dressing for corporate structures and a prop for this semblance of democracy. After having so much of their power stripped away, unions are joining the protesters and bypassing the traditional political system.
Is Occupy Wall Street calling for a direct democracy? People are now starting to challenge the notion of representative democracy when this has mostly become a system of moneyed interests corrupting elected politicians. At first the Mainstream Media criticized the lack of concrete demands of the occupiers and the lack of apparent leaders. Yet, many acknowledge that this is actually the strength of the movement. Out of what appears on the surface unformed and chaotic, consensus is gradually being built and because of the lack of hierarchy, decision-making processes become more democratic rather than top-down.
In essence, Occupy Wall Street is an experiment in direct democracy. In the conventional method of protest, people march for one day and put forward their demands. They then have no choice but to wait for politicians to deliver (which rarely happens). Before the invasion of Iraq in 2002, the global antiwar protest brought millions to the streets. Yet, they were ignored by the media and shut out by the government. The wars based on lies still continue. In contrast, Occupy Wall Street is not a one day event. When asked by the interviewer what he wants to see at the end of this occupation, the protester responded, “As far as seeing it end, I wouldn’t like to see it end. I would like to see the conversation continue.”
It is a new form of sit-in. Through encampment, people are starting to learn to live together, creating an alternative society. Leaderless movements encourage each person to become their own leader and really work with others. Decentralization means power is rendered by the people back into the hands of the individual.
Despite the media ridiculing occupiers, calling them hippies and trying to discredit them, it has been noted that the occupiers have been very articulate. The general public had been led to believe that they were not qualified to participate in democracy. Now it seems they are showing up ready to take matters into their own hands.
“One of the most abundant resources on earth is smart, creative, imaginative people, ” said one of the organizers;
and yet 99.9% of the power of the human race is not being marshaled right now except to find something to eat. So all we need to do is open up that spigot a little bit and we could come up with endless ways to create and produce and distribute. That’s what these assembly movements are about: people sitting down and saying, here’s how we can do this.
Ordinary people’s efforts are dissolving walls, whether it is the facade of opposition of a two party system or hanging onto nationalism. The divide between rich and poor was put up to exclude and divide people. Now action on the streets are decolonizing the space that has long been occupied by what is symbolized by Wall Street. From the Berlin Wall to Tahrir Square, from Tienanmen to the Gaza Strip, the message is resounding across time: We will no longer tolerate walls that separates us. What is happening with this movement is the opening the space for a truly democratic dialogue. In the middle of seeming chaos and anarchy, an open space for imagination of the masses begins to move freely.
Ideals shared and acted on by the 99% are alive and constantly evolving, showing how democracy is a process, rather than an end-product of top-down decisions. Changes are already happening with an underlying shift in how we think about ourselves, our neighbors, and communities.
1st Amendment Right to Assemble includes AT NIGHT, or in INCLEMENT WEATHER. Tents are Human Right to shelter. – @ericverlo Eric Verlo
Encampment in public space and communal living make one rethink the more rigid ways of seeing the Western notion of property and profit driven values. On the ground of Occupy Wall Street, people are learning how to govern themselves. They are collaborating with teach-ins, cooking, and citizen’s media, creating a micro-cosmos of a society that can grow into the future.
Seasons Come Full Circle
Plant forms from previous worlds are beginning to spring up as seeds. This could start a new study of botany if people are wise enough to read them. The same kinds of seeds are being planted in the sky as stars. The same kinds of seeds are being planted in our hearts. All these are the same, depending how you look at them. That is what makes the Emergence to the next, Fifth World. – Hopi Prophecy
From the WikiLeaks Winter to the Arab Spring, from European Summer to the American Fall, seeds that were planted are blossoming and the season is coming full circle. With the spread of revolution, people gain new political power. This is shaking the ground of the prevailing exploitative financial system that is teetering on the edge of collapse. Now, on the edge of cyberspace and the streets, a new horizon emerges.
Breaking the exclusive hierarchy that divides and subjugates, the 99% is creating global solidarity across political and national lines. They are becoming a circle that invites those who have been historically excluded. People gather against monopoly of seeds by Monsanto, addressing environmental issues, racism, and gender inequality, unemployment and fighting to end the wars. Connected by the Internet, people round the globe are demanding: Off with the heads of illegitimate corporate person-hood. The movement continues, growing in momentum. First the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City, then going viral across the nation and the world.
The Occupy Movement is the first Internet Revolution. It is a new form conduced by people birthing higher ideals through technology in a creative way. Yet, at the same time it indicates a quantum shift in communication, economics and social development.
The Internet Revolution is an inner revolution, awakening courage for each to recognize the inner-network that ties us together. The First Nations understood our mutual responsibility and living in harmony through these delicate threads of interconnectedness. Those cultures cherished collaboration, respect for the environment and a different sense of ownership than the Western notion of exclusive property rights. This is an intricate connection that the corporate culture systematically denies and seeks to destroy. Upon this foundation of shared ground, a new identity can be born. The collective of individual consciousness is the 99%, “the We the People” who are meant to uphold the higher law of the land.
Revolution has another meaning. It is the orbiting of one heavenly body around another. Revolution means to bring something back around to a state of harmony, to a natural path guided by the laws of the universe. Every single moment of life is indeed revolutionary, just as this planet goes around its orbit every minute, every second.
In a sense, revolution is not radical as it is often portrayed. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence “… Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…” When human society gets out of the path of harmony and just relation, it is our responsibility to revolt, to bring it back to its rightful orbit by revolutionizing our ways of thinking and being together.
The Internet Revolution is a call for a Global Citizen movement to create a future that honors and sustains this intricate interdependence. We are now here to respond to that call.