Redefining Power; Revolution in the WikiLeaks Era

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In mid-September, Occupy Wall Street began in downtown Manhattan. For over a century, Wall Street has represented wealth and political power. Now, the streets of the financial district that only months before gleamed with the facade of enduring capitalism were flooded by ‘occupiers’, revealing the truth behind the broken promises of equal opportunity and corrupt excess of corporate America.

Here were people from all walks of life, foreclosed and unemployed, students with debts and those who struggle with a pay-or-die medical system. As the people marched with a mixture of jubilation and outrage against the plutocratic takeover of power, the glorified spectacle of the American Dream crumbled in the background.

No one can deny that the Occupy Movement struck a chord with the rank and file of America as it quickly spread nationwide. A couple months in, students at UC Berkeley pitched tents on the Mario Savio steps in front of Sproul Hall. When UC police came to  dismantle the tents, students linked arms, standing up for their right to freely express themselves. Facing them, armed police violently jabbed them with sticks. This contrast became obvious to the world immediately as the YouTube video of the police attack went viral.

Days later, public outcry against the brutal Cal police action built strong momentum for the movement. During the Mario Savio Memorial Lecture, Occupy Cal exploded in numbers. Thousands of students and protesters gathered outside Sproul Hall in a scene reminiscent of 60’s Berkeley. We were witnessing the revival of the Free Speech Movement.

People began to acknowledge that Occupy was the biggest social movement since the anti-war and civil rights protests. The Occupy movement is surely built on past struggles and traditions of activism, yet there is something unique here that was not present in previous movements. So how is this different now than the Civil Right Movement or even the more recent protests against the WTO and G20?

In my article, The Rise of the Occupy Insurgency, the World First Internet Revolution,  I explored the role of the Internet in recent revolutions around the world. Although social media and online connection has had significant impact on the birth of the Arab spring and Occupy Movement, there is something else that sets them apart from all that came before.

There is no doubt that the rise of WikiLeaks, the world’s first stateless, non-aligned media entity triggered deep political changes on a global scale. Their actions exposed the tyranny and systematic subversion of justice that has become the norm within the global political economy. This small non-profit entity challenged the near total failure of traditional journalism that has mostly served entrenched power. Yet, a less noticed aspect of WikiLeaks’s impact lies in its effect on uprisings around the world.

Nov 28th marked the one-year anniversary of the WikiLeaks Cablegate release. The US embassy cables revealed deep-seated corruption and illegitimacy of many Middle Eastern dictatorships. Constitutional attorney and author Glenn Greenwald acknowledged the significance of the Wikileaks US State Dept. documents and the impact of these cables on the recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. In reflecting on the past year, Amnesty International noted the role of the leaked documents in triggering these revolutions:

“The year 2010 may well be remembered as a watershed year when activists and journalists used new technology to speak truth to power and, in so doing, pushed for greater respect for human rights,”

Direct connection through social media and wireless technology helped spread this information and confirmed people’s suspicions, sparking a transformation of pervasive defeatism and despair into collective action in the streets. And further, this influence has stretched into the current Occupy Movement.

By tracing the impulse behind the Occupy movement back to the release of the US Army helicopter gunship Collateral Murder video, Phillip Dorling pointed out how the Occupy Movement is based on the work of Wikileaks:

What is not well known, and has gone unreported, is the key role that WikiLeaks supporters have played in igniting the surge of internet-based activism that has so far resulted in protests in reportedly more than 1000 cities in 82 countries.

Michael Moore at Occupy SF went further to say that the action of alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning triggered the Occupy Movement. America’s most famous whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg also spoke on the first day of Manning’s pretrial:

The Time magazine cover gives……an anonymous protester, as “Person of the Year,” but it is possible to put a face and a name to that picture of “Person of the Year.” And the American face I would put on that is Private Bradley Manning… And, the combination of the WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning exposures in Tunis and the exemplification of that by Mohamed Bouazizi led to the……nonviolent protests, that drove Ben Ali out of power, our ally there who we supported up ’til that moment, and in turn sparked the uprising in Egypt, in Tahrir Square occupation, which immediately stimulated the Occupy Wall Street and the other occupations in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Now from the Middle East to Spain and Greece and the London riots to the current Occupy movement, we are seeing the waves of action for self-determination reaching the West. After the rise of WikiLeaks, the social and political climate has fundamentally changed. What is different in this WikiLeaks era? It is nothing less than a total shift in consciousness. Beneath the surface of events, a new way of thinking is emerging and changing how people relate to one another.

Power Shifts

As noted, there are similarities between the Occupy Movement and struggles in the past. One common thread is that they start as resistance, opposing injustice. For instance, the Civil Right Movement was waged against the racist application of law that denied basic human rights for blacks. The Battle of Seattle tried to stop the undemocratic and exploitative economic structures of the WTO. The Occupy Movement also express deep distrust and anger regarding inequality and the global oligarchy’s rampant looting of the populace. Yet there is something new unfolding.

It’s too early to tell what direction Occupy will go as it just had its three month anniversary. But, in the big picture, there is an undeniable shift in power dynamics. Resistance is a condition that assumes a lack of power. People are no longer simply resisting. During a general assembly at Occupy Oakland, a man spoke of how there is a difference between revolution and reform. He said that the Occupy Movement is clearly calling for revolution. While social movements in the past involved people making demands of their leaders, this one is bypassing said ‘leaders’, because they are seen as irreversibly corrupted by a system that is rotten to the core. This movement has been criticized by mainstream media for lack of specific demands for reform, but many see this as its inherent strength. It is clear that people are saying and doing things that only a few years ago would have been inconceivable. The level of creativity and autonomy of this movement indicates something very new is afoot.

Occupiers are not just sitting and waiting for politicians to deliver change. They are taking action, moving their money to credit unions, feeding one another, creating their own media and sorting out how to live together without corporate or political influence.

What makes the Occupy Movement different is this change in perception about the basic illegitimacy of current government and the sense of the individuals capacity to give direction to their own lives. This combination brought an avalanche of global awakening. Now people are starting to communicate about the root causes of oppression and injustice and bringing new solutions to the table.

The Robber Barons of Wall Street have been destroying the very fabric and economic foundation of the World Economy. Occupy Wall Street is revealing this truth and challenging the American middle class to get up and do something about it. This Occupy movement is also an act of refusal to engage in rigged political games. People are no longer interested in negotiating with politicians as they become more aware of the fact that the whole system is corrupt beyond reform. This trend was set in the Arab World, especially in Egypt after the Egyptians drove Mubarak out of the country and were then still faced the root causes of oppression. The Egyptians and Tunisians started to realize that the problem is much bigger than just their provincial dictators. It is not one country’s problem alone, but is tied up with an international system of financial corruption, much of which emanates from the US and Europe.

In the article Bankers Are the Dictators of the WestRobert Fisk brought out the parallel between uprisings in the Arab Spring and the waves of Occupy movement in Western society. He described how tens of thousands in the streets in the Middle East was a revolt against dictators that control the future of their countries and their people. Similarly in the West, people are fighting against their own dictators:

The banks and the rating agencies have become the dictators of the West. Like the Mubaraks and Ben Alis, the banks believed – and still believe – they are owners of their countries.

The Arab Spring and Occupy Winter have inspired each other. One recent example of this link was when Tunisians launched an all-out assault on US president Barack Obama’s Facebook page. In only a few hours over 50,000 comments were posted on his 2012 presidential campaign page. Most of them were ridiculing the leadership and US foreign policy, while supporting the ‘occupy’ encampment spreading across America. From Tahrir Square to Liberty Plaza, people are fighting for a common dream of organizing society based on principles of sharing and collaboration.

Global Allegiance

The sea of solidarity and support that came from people in Egypt, Tunisia and the southern European countries for the Occupy Movement was a testimony of a global realization of illegitimacy of the current governance structures. Now this allegiance is spreading to every corner of the planet. On Nov 22, South Korean activists joined the Occupy Wall Street protesters to rally against free trade deal between Seoul and the United States. These waves are spreading into countries such as Russia, China and India.

We now know that what is decimating our cities and economies is wholesale fraud by institutions and empirical oligarchs. One inside trader confessed the fact that “Governments don’t rule the world, Goldman Sachs does.” But, what is changing is that a majority of the people are starting to realize what is happening in their country is also happening in Greece, Iceland, India, Egypt and all around the world.

This type of transnational allegiance is also a guiding force behind the loosely tied online collective Anonymous. 2011 was a year when Anonymous came to the forefront of the public eye. Guy Fawkes masks have become powerful symbols that transcend race, color and nationality, embodying a sense of shared morals and ideals popping up on the streets and Internet screens around the world.

… something unexpected is happening….. We are questioning the old assumptions that we are made to consume not to create, that the world was made for our taking, that wars are inevitable, that poverty is unavoidable. As we learn more about our global community a fundamental truth has been rediscovered: We are not so different as we may seem. Every human has strengths, weaknesses, and deep emotions. We crave love, love laughter, fear being alone and dream for a better life.- V

Anonymous is tapping into a future for mankind where people form legion with others around the world first and their local regions second. In this sense, Anonymous is a kind of precursor to a world beyond the nation-state, embracing ‘festive citizenship’. WikiLeaks and Anonymous have this in common; they are founded on the ability to transcend borders. They both commit to free flow of transnational communication and an open source approach to political power. Similarly, the Occupy Movement quickly spread around the world within weeks, creating simultaneous actions in multiple cities. They did this by using open source methods and direct online connection for mutual support.

It is very hard for authoritarians to fight this trans-border movement. It is similar to websites and chat rooms. One can be taken down, but a new one pops up somewhere else to mirror or expand on the original site. In a sense, this is the true force of globalization. On the surface, language and specific solutions might be different, yet people around the world are uniting, standing up for universal rights and a common morality.

After the police brutality in Occupy Oakland, the eyes of the whole world were on one city and it energized the movement. The New York Occupy Wall Street General Assembly pledged to send money and tents while Egyptians in Cairo marched in solidarity. People around the globe watched the livestream of the police raid and eviction of Zuccotti Park and began to see the facade of Western democracy beginning to crumble.

When the Civil Rights Movement took place in the US, it was within the framework of the nation-state. The Battle of Seattle and anti-G20 gatherings protested corporate globalization, yet were always physically held in one city and trapped in an enclosed and blithely insular system. On the other hand, in the Occupy Movement, people are grounded in their locality, but connected globally. One OWS participant said:

… wherever you are in your community is where you occupy. You go to your community, there is Occupy Brooklyn, Occupy Harlem, Occupy the Bronx, Occupy North Carolina…..That’s what Occupy is about. It’s not about Occupy Wall Street, its about Occupy everything.

They are staying right where they are, reclaiming their own cities, enacting general assemblies, while staying in touch with inspiring collective efforts worldwide. Occupiers are now joining foreclosed homeowners to occupy their own houses. After serving in the  military overseas, veterans like Scott Olson are now truly serving their country in the Occupy Movement.

Previously, protests were one-day events with permits and allocated free speech zones. Occupy on the other hand is a continuous process working both inside and outside of the system. For instance, OWS chose a neighborhood park as a place for their residence, and this encampment at Zuccotti park was possible through a loophole in the regulations. During the months they occupied this park they set the model of Occupy as something ongoing and universally applicable. In the article at Global Guerrillas Beyond Zuccotti, John Robb showed how Occupy “developed a recipe for how to set up a temporary autonomous zone (what’s often called a TAZ) … that “is outside of the control of the nation-state and global marketplace”.  TAZ is an open space such as free wifi hub or a mobile temporary community.

With foreclosures and unemployment running rampant, camp sites are popping up around hundreds of cities. The tent has become a symbol for this movement. It represents mobile ideals that take root, rather than a floating thought that comes and goes. The new-found power of collaboration and allegiance is undeniably transforming the sense of self from an isolated being with little to offer the world. Now, individuals are finding new identities as a collaborative beings with the right to share their impulse for self-determination in a direct way. 

Identity beyond Recognition

Police crackdowns on the Occupy Movement have revealed that what used to be public and of the commons is now becoming increasingly privatized. These evictions of the occupation camps are a good example of this. The obvious guidance by Homeland Security officials of anti-Occupy police efforts in the coordinated eviction of camps is also what police and banks have been doing for years: evicting millions of homeowners from their houses by way of legalized fraud. It also reveals at a deeper psychological realm, how the influence of oppressive forces that leads to the breakdown of national identity and the final loss of trust in deception-based and exploitative systems of governance.

Philosopher Kelly Oliver, in Witnessing beyond Recognition looked into identity formation of colonized peoples in Franz Fanon, who was considered to be an important spokesperson for the oppressed. She pointed out how Fanon saw the power dynamics between oppressor and those who were colonized and how it manifested internally in the desire to be recognized on the part of the oppressed. Oliver quoted Fanon, saying that, “the recognition model of identity (is) the particular pathology of colonial or oppressive cultures” (p. 23) and that, “while it seems obvious that oppressed people may engage in struggles for recognition in response to their lack of recognition from the dominant culture, it is less obvious that recognition itself is part of the pathology of oppression and domination” (p. 23).

Some might say comparing current events with colonial times is a bit of a stretch as we now live in a post-modern time and colonization is supposedly a thing in the past. Yet, it is important to see the threads throughout history that are often not so visible.

Western civilization has a dark history of colonizing and subjugating certain groups, races and nations under Anglo-Saxon and Judeo-Christian values. Moving out of the colonial period into modern times, similar dehumanization forces are apparently at work. Now, they are carried through artificial entities called corporations. They are not human, but given the same rights as humans, with hundreds of times the power and few of the responsibilities. This exponentially increasing power is enslaving humanity to the religion of profits at any cost and every-increasing expansion of power and reach. Corporations in this context are systematic oppressors, colonizing public space. The people’s primary identity has become that of consumer and any real power has been stripped away. In this, the old gradations of privilege remain according to standard patriarchal hierarchies of race, gender and class. Oliver continues to digest Fanon’s analysis:

What Fanon realized is that the logic of recognition that is part and parcel of colonialism and oppression makes those in power the active agents of recognition and those without power the passive recipients. (pp. 28-29)

Corporate values take center stage pushing away all other values into the margins. Celebrity culture is really a reflection of this pathology of recognition. Pop stars like Britney Spears and show business politicians like Barrack Obama strive to be recognized within the spectacle of the mainstream spotlight.

In the civil right movement, black people demanded that whites acknowledge their basic human rights. Having allies in sympathetic white people was crucial for that movement, just as with the woman’s liberation movement, support from men was key. In the Battle of Seattle, people from all backgrounds gathered to petition against the global corporatism that was well underway. Granted, in all these cases there were some victories within the system, yet these efforts still labored within the power dynamics of outer recognition models of identity. None can deny that in all these movements, the structures and dynamics of power were not fundamentally changed.

Deepening Fanon’s understanding, author and social activist bell hooks pointed out how it is necessary to shift from a recognition model of identity and to assert one’s own subjectivity, independent from oppressive forces, in order to claim one’s own power:

Fundamental to the process of decentering the oppressive other and claiming our right to subjectivity is the insistence that we must determine how we will be and not rely on colonizing responses to determine our legitimacy. We are not looking to that Other for recognition. We are recognizing ourselves and willingly making contact with all who would engage us in a constructive manner. (p. 22, 1990)

What has happened all around the world in the last year is that people are challenging these hierarchical structures of power that deny a way of knowing informed by their own experience. In the Occupy Movement, people are realizing that recognition from a master (credentialed professional or perceived authority) is no longer necessary and that one can  become master of one’s own life. True power ultimately streams from within and cannot be granted from outside. This shift away from the recognition model of identity is both manifested and fostered by Anonymous and Occupy Movement’s leaderless principles.

Leaderless Principle

This leaderless element has multiple dimensions. On the surface it can appear as a practical question. Compared to the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s, now the old models of dissent have become less effective. Individuals who rise above the crowd stick out and more easily become targets of State oppression. A charismatic leader guiding a movement also had more meaning back then. Once those in power detect the head of a movement, what has been incubating underneath as potential is susceptible to subversion. Before information can be mobilized and ideas fully matured, they can be squashed. With previous models of activism, one only needed to take out the spokesperson to kill the unifying message. We saw this with the assassination of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The movements then appeared to lose energy and direction once the leaders were gone. Now an organism without a head offers great advantage in mobilizing ideas quickly beneath the radar. Most importantly, it helps distribute power in the hands of many people. There is something beautiful and profoundly symbolic about the Anonymous image of the suited man without a head that conveys the transformation of corporate hierarchy into a space for true human community.

Beyond the practical necessity, the structure of having more than one spokesperson indicates a move away from a recognition model of identity. More people are coming to realize that everyone can tap into their own power and fully count themselves in to become their own leaders in concert with others. For instance, take a look at the phenomenon of the People’s Mic. In a corporate system, a microphone represents an amplification of ego and activation of individual power. In most cases, as with the celebrity culture, access to this position is limited to those already endowed by the system with that privilege. The People’s Mic on the other hand is inherently communal by using a sound system of simple amplification of an echoing choral human voice. It decentralizes power and gives space for everyone to equally speak within an immediately empathic feedback loop.

Like retweeting in the direct democracy of social media, instead of one voice dominating discourse, diverse views are invited in, echoed and amplified in authentic resonance toward dialogue. This is a philosophy that works to counter the celebrity worship of the individual and hierarchical distribution of power. It is also another essential aspect of Anonymous culture; acknowledging empathic connection and collaborative effort out of shared ideals, rather than an anointed leader held above all others. Whether consciously or not, this Anonymous ethic has served as a model for the OWS movement. Instead of following false gods like Donald Trump, Paris Hilton and puppet politicians, people can now turn inward or to each other to amplify the source of creative power-the human being that speaks and acts in resonance with his fellow man.

This emerging leaderless culture is a gradual moving away from the desire for recognition at the center and toward the realization that individual power is not conditioned or determined by outside authority. It is a reorganizing social principle that totally redefines power.

Redefining Power

So how did WikiLeaks contribute to this power shift? WikiLeaks, as an activist organization was built on an uncompromising commitment to justice. On Nov 26 the organization was given the Walkley award, the Australian equivalent of the Pulitzer for excellence in journalism. The panel noted the group’s “courageous and controversial commitment to the finest traditions of journalism: justice through transparency”.

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks has become a center of focus in the public eye. Yet, if we look deeply at what is unprecedented about this journalistic and activist enterprise, we can see that this organization is also based on a kind of mutuality similar to the working of Anonymous. It is not really one person leading the charge. One side of their operation depends on a rigorous and innovative approach to technology. Western society has increasingly become lawless when it come to checks on power of those with money. On the other hand, WikiLeaks by applying the best laws around the world has developed an infrastructure and approach that bypasses established national political controls that stifle dissent or free flow of crucial information. The other side of the WikiLeaks equation are those whistleblowers who have the moral courage to step forward and expose injustice. Needless to say, without the technical foundation and  global platform, the organization could not function. But, it is also true that without dissenters inside the system and support from the general public, WikiLeaks success would not have been possible. Neither alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning nor Julian Assange could have changed history without the other. It is the individual’s simple commitment to justice when linked with other’s passion that in this case made the difference, transforming technology in service to our higher humanity.

The source of this power is the courage and commitment to justice demonstrated by a person like Manning. When one accesses this commitment within themselves, fear begins to dissolve, as it cannot co-exist with real courage. When WikiLeaks was met with the  financial blockade by PayPal, VISA and MasterCard, Anonymous stepped forward to defend what they saw as an attack on the principle of free speech. Truly, what they were defending was the courage to stand up and fight such intrenched power. The morals and ideals that are so vital to a healthy society have steadily been eroded. By turning the tide of technology, these morals are now receiving a new breath of life.

WikiLeaks is based on the conviction that when corruption of powerful organizations is exposed to the public, there is potential for great change. Leaks driven by conscience can become a kind of explosive compassion which opens systems that have been closed and contaminated with corruption and apathy. In the past, governments and corporations could hide their actions behind smooth rhetoric and propaganda. Now citizens equipped with cell phones and cameras surround those who oppress and then leak or share the actual footage immediately to the world to witness. It is the basic math of social change that says the more unjust actions are witnessed by a certain percentage of the populace, the more people will realize the true state of governments and powerful institutions.

Continued crackdowns in Egypt and now Occupy police-state responses throughout America are exposing governments with their true colors of oppression. The delusional facade of illegitimate authority covering interlocking patronage networks is quickly crumbling before the eyes of the world. The more police and military attack innocent people, the more the thin veil of false power is exposed. A video of a crackdown goes viral on the internet and in the next few days the crowd multiplies with solidarity across borders. We saw examples of this in Occupy Wall Street and Oakland where after brutal raids, the people are more united and committed and so the protest grows.

What happens when the facade of legitimacy begins to fall? People recognize the real source of power is actually within themselves and they start to find their own moral authority. This is what we are witnessing with Occupy Movements and popular uprisings around the world. Berkeley professor Robert Reich, who was a keynote speaker at Mario Savio memorial lecture, said to the thousands gathered, “Moral outrage is the beginning. The days of apathy are over, folks. And once it has begun it cannot be stopped and it will not be stopped.”

Those in the Occupy Movement are inserting themselves into the public space with this newly claimed power. In the article, A New Culture of Resistance: from WikiLeaks to the SquaresFuturePress elucidated the new meaning of the term ‘occupy’ as being an act of generating creative power as much as one of resistance;

Occupations “also serve as an impulse towards autonomy from these rules in order to partially recreate reality. As a result, most occupied squares became temporary autonomous zones, experiments in collaborative administration that operated in a parallel plane to the system. They actually serve as forces of outward change from within: they are recursive”.

This shift was reflected in the transformation of the word ‘occupation’ itself. It has for so long been a dirty noun, meaning to invade and colonize, as in the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the myriad of US military bases around the world. People have reclaimed this fallen term to occupy, changing it into an active verb with new meaning. The powerful transformation of words affect public sentiment. Geoff Nunberg, the linguist contributor on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross chose the word “Occupy” to be the word of the year. He described how “it is a new meaning of the verb, for a form of protest adapted to the age of smartphones and Twitter…”.

It is clear that technology and information sharing have something to do with making possible the shift of power seen in recent uprisings around the world. Indeed, the expressed aim of WikiLeaks is to free suppressed knowledge, with the idea that what is concealed has a greater potential for reform. Yet, revelation of secrets is not enough. The key element is what happens when freed knowledge is infused with individual willpower. When one becomes an active agent, first perhaps in cyberspace, then evolving intention into physical deeds, information begins to gain new meaning. It is transformed into something that personally affects and moves one emotionally. When this is shared it can fuel people into action in such a way that social networks become creative shields against oppressive forces. Technology, when infused with real human passion immediately connects one with others in common purpose and networks begin to function like living organisms that can then grow and flexibly change shape with the needs of the commons.

One example of this coalescing power is seen in the Internet meme. After the repellent UC Davis pepper spray incident, photoshopped images of campus officer Lt. John Pike pepper-spraying the students become a fast spreading internet meme. From pepper spraying the Last Supper to The signers of the Declaration of Independence, he was all over history and the Internet. In the article #Occupy: The Power of Revolution When It Becomes Memetic, Grant explained how:

What we are seeing is the spread of meme, a meme centered on authenticity, truth, fear, anger, and honest emotion, where the energy formally put into making response videos and remixes is put towards activism.

The power of Lulz is crowd-sourced and re-formed to spice up the information in a kind of culture-jamming ripple effect, bringing on a ‘reingestment’ and reinvestment of human caring. Information transformed this way is contagious, and not only brings public awareness to the incident, but also tends to uplift public morale and belief in the greater good.

Months before the spark of the Occupy Movement was lit, WikiLeaks tweeted:

It is clear that the rule of law is breaking down all over the West. Many are now held for days or years without charge… (1) As such we can drop any pretense of legitimate governance. It is just one wretched, scheming network of patronage and power. (2) It is not reformable, although it might be destroyable. We must create our own networks of trust and authority and live within them. (3)

Revolution in the WikiLeaks era shakes up the indoctrinated idea that people don’t have the power to create their own society. The illegitimacy of the current interlocking regimes of corporate corruption is now undeniable as we awaken to the simple truth that the only power governments and institutions have is that which we grant to them. It is after all, human beings that have created and now sustain them.

This realization of personal power redefines the conventional idea of power. It does not mean to exploit or dominate. It is not the power over others but the ability to connect and collaborate with fellow citizens; to create totally new communities that reflect communal values. This newly gained power cannot come from the top, but streams from inside out.

In mid-October, Julian Assange spoke in front of the London Stock Exchange for OccupyLondon:

What we face today is the systematized destruction of the rule of law. People are being laundered through Guantanamo Bay to evade the rule of law, and money is being laundered through the Cayman Islands and London to evade the rule of law. This movement is not about the destruction of law, it is about the construction of law.

Rather than passive resistance, what we are seeing in these Occupy camps around the world is people beginning to assert their power, bringing the rule of law back into society. With tents carving out a new space, self sufficient organizing is happening on the ground. Powering laptops by bicycle generators, creating libraries and medical centers, encampments have been growing into autonomous open source communities that model sustainable, non-extractive social forms.

After recent police raids and evictions of camps at Liberty Square and the largest Occupy encampment in LA on Nov 28, it is clear that the collective imagination cannot be squashed. The discussion continues as to where and what to occupy next.

The secret of this awaked morality is that individuals coming together can accomplish something that one person alone cannot. General assemblies are forming a new court of public opinion. Mic check is becoming a new check and balance on power. The old authorities are now going on trial in this Court of public opinion. Anyone can get tickets for public speaking events. People are no longer relegated to just being a receiving audience. They can participate and have their own voices heard by together mic checking wherever necessary. Occupy protesters in Washington, D.C., took over a meeting at the Chamber of Commerce and disrupted a speech by BlueCross BlueShield CEO Scott Serota. Students at Princeton also used this method to challenge JP Morgan-Chase. Karl Rove also got mic checked as did president Obama. In Melbourne people mic checked the mayor; “We occupy because another world is possible.”

Revolution in the WikiLeaks era is the awakening of innate power of the individual within a sense of collective responsibility. True significance and power is found when single intent is multiplied by others who gather in the spirit of collaboration.

“Courage is contagious.” The WikiLeaks motto that at first may have appeared naively idealistic, now seems auspicious and prophetic. This spirit has inspired frozen hearts that have been infected by apathy and fear. Who would have expected how fast it would spread? We don’t know exactly where this courage is taking us. But we know one thing for sure. Collective creative power has no more limits than the sky. We live in exciting and historic times when forgotten virtues of humanity once again occupy the heart. When we allow what moves within to guide our actions, we open the door to a new civilization.

References:

hooks, b. (1990). Yearning: Race, gender, and cultural politics. Boston: South End Press.

Oliver, K. (2001). Witnessing beyond recognition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Note: This piece was originally published at WLCentral.

French translation available here at fruncut.org

Posted in Anonymous, Diplomat cables, OccupyWallStreet, Open Source, Revolution, WikiLeaks | Leave a comment

Is #NDAA the Ultimate Power for the 1% and the Death Knell of the Bill of Rights?

Image Credit - -shass.mit.edu

The Occupy movement that spread around the US just marked its 3-month anniversary. The movement was first ignored by the mainstream media, then ridiculed. Over time, with the spreading police crackdowns, it is beginning to reveal the true state of America.

For those who identify themselves as the 99%, this movement has come to represent a reclaiming of the public space, a renewal of community and a resurgence of intrinsic citizen power. At the same time, government and police reactions reflect the very struggles that many working class Americans have been experiencing. For instance, the police eviction of camps is just what police have been doing for the banks, evicting millions of homeowners from their houses through legal fraud. From Liberty Square to Bradley Manning Plaza in San Francisco, brazen police attacks against people gathering peacefully have signaled the position of the current government on the direct democracy that has begun to emerge on the streets.

Peaceful protesters in Occupy camps and marches were met with extreme police crackdowns. From students in Denver, to an elderly woman in Seattle, from Oakland to Houston, people were pepper sprayed, physically assaulted and arrested without reason. These violent scenes can make one for a moment wonder if this can happen in the US.

As Obama is finishing his first term in the White House, his political rhetoric of hope and change that once lit up an apathetic youth in America is now viewed with a sense of betrayal and deep disappointment. With the expansion of the wars in Afghanistan and other countries and the continuation of torture in Guantanamo Bay, those who voted for the clever rhetoric now are beginning to realize that the lesser of the two evil always ends with evil. Yet, there are some Obama apologists who still do not to want to face the truth, making excuses and clinging to the last bit of false hope.

This illusion is quickly fading with the US Government’s treatment of the occupy movement. Obama has shown how he is not interested in the 99 percent, who are his supposed constituents and instead it is becoming clearer that he serves the 1 percent. One can note how similar those scenes of police repression of Occupy camps appear to the political climate after 911. Occupiers were exercising the rights supposedly guaranteed under the First Amendment and now these peaceful citizens are starting to be treated as if they are the enemies of the State. In fact, the Dept. of Defense categorizes certain activity of protest as ‘low-level terrorism”.

During the Bush Administration, the absurd ‘war on terror’ was declared. It was a manufactured fear-based program of the big lies that had to do with Muslims in the Middle East being a threat to people in the US with mythical ‘weapons of mass destruction’. This had a distinctly Orwellian ring to it. Renowned scholar and dissident Noam Chomsky called out this hypocritical Bush-Cheney line by characterizing the US as the actual largest exporter of terrorism. But what has happened since then? Obama was carried into power on vague promises that turned out to be huge lies from the start. He soon became the first president to openly assassinate US citizens and supports the stripping of basic Constitutional civil liberties through arrogant executive mandates and unconstitutional legislation.

The final nail in the coffin of the grand US experiment may be Obama’s immanent signing into law of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that that just passed through congress, (conveniently ignored by the corporate media). During Cheney’s manufactured “War on Terror”, the Patriot Act was passed that basically denied Constitutional rights to certain groups of people. Now with the NDAA, the key difference is it strips the most vital constitutional protection from all US citizens. It takes away Habeas Corpus, so anyone can be detained indefinitely without trial just by being called an enemy of the State. This is the foundation of all the other rights in the first ten Amendments. The NDAA also eliminates the Posse Comitatus Act that prevented the US military from attacking its own people. The balance of the Constitutional protections of US citizens from abuse by the Federal government rests on this one provision; the right to access to timely public court hearing if one is detained. Without this, there is fundamentally no difference between the legal structure of the US and any full-fledged fascist state.

This bill immediately brought up concerns from the Japanese American communities who knew from their own experience how this might be used. Chris Anders, senior legislative counsel in the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office spoke of this in an interview on DemocracyNow:

One of the things that’s been really helpful in this debate is the Japanese American Citizens League has come out strongly against this legislation. And one of the things that they are worried about and that they’ve drawn a direct line from is what happened during World War II, where there was an internment of Japanese Americans based on nothing more than suspicion or just, you know, plain-out, old racism, where there was that internment experience of people indefinitely detained without charge or trial …

We don’t have to go far back in a history to see the consequence of this kind of law. The ‘Patriot’ Act of the Bush-Cheney regime gave the corporate and political elite more power by enacting the ability to claim their enemies to be enemies of the state. All they had to do is to point a finger at someone and the rest would be taken care of by the corporate media, amplifying the image of the target. Though this was largely used for ‘bogie-men’ in other lands for resource grabs and to keep the US populace scared, some US citizens were also targeted.

Politicians embedded the rhetoric of homeland security and painted public perception of a terrorist being a mad Muslim in a cave. This was done by way of fear and three conveniently collapsing skyscrapers. With Colin Powell’s lies about Weapons of Mass destruction, this ‘War on Terror’ took root to become what it really is, a war of terror declared on innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan in a blatant resource grab. The field of fear was ripped wide open and now politicians and pundits get away with inciting murder by publicly calling for abduction or assassination of Julian Assange with no evidence put forward that he broke any laws, let alone there being any charges brought against him. Recently, Republican presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich joined the choir, calling Julian Assange a terrorist, saying that he should be treated as an enemy combatant and that WikiLeaks should be shut down. This is another ominous precedent. Now the NDAA creates a possibility for this kind of action to be taken against US citizens on American soil by the US military.

In a recent article on Salon.com, constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald debunked the myths portrayed by Obama apologists about this controversial bill. He went through it point by point, showing how it expands the scope of the War on Terror as defined by the original 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) and allows its full force to be brought against the American people:

It allows the President to target not only those who helped perpetrate the 9/11 attacks or those who harbored them, but also: anyone who “substantially supports” such groups and/or “associated forces.”

The last ten years have shown that the people who are identified as “substantially supportive or associates” are determined by the president or the army and this is done without even bothering to offer evidence or justification.

So, if Americans are targeted abroad at the president’s wish and those at home are increasingly speaking out against the destruction of the real economy by the very bankers and warlords that have consistently filled the cabinets of the last three presidents, all it takes is the US government calling someone a terrorist, which is a code word for anyone considered a threat to these entrenched powers. Then, that person can be indefinitely silenced. It is in this ability to incarcerate indefinitely without charge, simply by defining or labeling people for political ends that the real danger of this bill lies, not to mention its blatant unconstitutionality. It should be noted that the current makeup of the Supreme Court does not inspire confidence that they will uphold the highest law of the land from this existential threat.

Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one. – Benjamin Franklin

These words are from one of the architects of the Constitution. By allowing this kind of law to be enacted, America may be entering the final descent, totally betraying the very ideals upon which it was founded. The US Constitution was based on the premise that no one can be above the law. Yet, this type of law (the NDAA) and all the precedents set in the last 10 years serve only to gut the highest law of the land and put the privileged 1 percent above the law. This is the final result of what Glenn Greenwald termed a two-tiered system of justice.

During his presidential campaign, Obama’s slogan of “Change you can believe in” caught the hearts of many American people. Yet, he has already stated his intention to sign this indefinite detention bill into law.  Is this the true nature of the “change” that president Obama was promoting during his campaign? This is like Blackwater, the mercenary army, changing its name when it started to get bad reputation. The 2008 election was simply a cosmetic regime change from Bush-Cheney Exxon Mobile to Obama-Goldman Sachs; both parts of one Wall Street-Military-Industrial complex desperately trying to prop up a crumbling fear-based global empire.

Prior to WW2, many Jews in Germany fled their country to the US to seek asylum from the Nazi death camps. It is often said that history repeats itself. Ironically, the country that once was a safe haven for refugees from fascism may now see their own citizens emigrating to countries like Germany because of a total lack of protection from abuse by their own government. That would be a sure sign of an emerging totalitarian regime.

One thing is for sure, a law like this would only be enacted by a government that fears its own people. Perhaps one good thing to come from this is that the wall of illusion has finally come crashing down for those who are willing to see who Obama really is. If people find courage to reject the manufactured fear foisted on them, then like a phoenix, it is possible to find real hope in a new kind of Democracy that will arise from the ashes of this once great nation.

Note: This piece was originally published at WLCentral.

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Occupy Movement, Birth of the Ordinary Hero #OWS

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) began in September and quickly spread, becoming a unifying force worldwide. This movement was initially ignored and ridiculed by the US corporate media. Yet as it grew, it became harder to ignore. Repeated police brutality against peaceful protesters has pulled the Occupy Movement even more into the limelight and galvanized support for it.

A powerful contrast emerged between the militarized police violence and the occupiers’ courage and commitment to peaceful action. As the excessive force on peaceful citizens increased, instant YouTube videos capturing blatant abuses of power with chemical agents and truncheons went viral. The scenes displayed the violence, yet at the same time  revealed the strength of ordinary people. Is the Occupy Movement creating a new kind of leader? Perhaps what we are seeing is a birth of the ordinary hero.

They are everyday people, young, old, foreclosed, students and unemployed, showing how each of us can become our own leaders. Here are some of the faces and stories of these  ordinary heroes:

Kettled and Sprayed

Occupy Wall Street was in its second week when a group started to march from Zuccotti park to Union Square. Two women were kettled in an orange net and maced by NYPD. This disturbing scene was caught on tape, uploaded onto YouTube and widely circulated. Just as the iconic photo of a little girl running from the napalm was a catharsis moment for the Vietnam anti-war movement during the 60’s, similarly this video of two women kept in a cage became symbolic, showing the police working for the 1% and brought public attention to the abuse of power and strengthened the movement.

We Are All Scott Olsen

The participants of these demonstrations cut across backgrounds and orientations and included war veterans. 24 year old Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was struck by a police projectile in downtown Oakland, California during one of the first police reactions. His skull was fractured and he was in critical condition for days. Significantly, the brain damage made him unable to speak. The video clip of that scene went viral and public support emerged around the world. With the twitter meme, “We are all Scott Olsen”, people united around the soldier who was attacked defending his country’s ideals here at home.

That show of indiscriminate force brought thousands more people to Frank Ogawa Plaza in support. On Wednesday Nov 2, the US saw the first general strike since the last one in 1946 which coincidentally also occurred in Oakland. Later, Olson posted a message, thanking those who expressed support.

I’m feeling a lot better, with a long road in front of me,” Olsen wrote. “After my freedom of speech was quite literally taken from me, my speech  is coming back, but I’ve got a lot of work to do with rehab.

Olson is not the only Veteran who was the victim of the Oakland police. Footage showed Oakland police in riot gear stopping Kayvan Sabehgi, another Iraq war veteran who was passing through a street late on the night of the Oakland’s general strike on November 2nd. Officers beat Sabehgi hard and he suffered a ruptured spleen. Photographer Neil Rivas recorded the event. As his camera rolled at one point he shouted at police, “Hey stop stop stop stop … let it go … shoot me I am recording you, shoot me”. The raw footage was shared with the Guardian and revealed to the mainstream public.

The corporate media often refuses to report the news that is inconvenient to those in power, yet brave citizen reporters are everywhere, bringing these crimes of oppression to the public eye.

Occupy with Aloha

The waves of the Occupy Movement spread to the island of Hawaii. On Nov 12, during President Obama’s summit with leaders of Pacific Rim nations in Honolulu, popular Hawaiian singer Makana was invited to provide entertainment. In the midst of the dinner, he opened the jacket showing a t-shirt with the words, “Occupy With Aloha” and sang his new song “We Are the Many” written for the movement. He sang it for about 45 minutes to these world leaders (who appeared to not notice him). He later recalled how he made the decision to do this when it occurred to him that there is something wrong with society if someone feels afraid of singing a song to the very people they wrote it for.

The video clip of him singing in front of President Obama and other world leaders was quickly shared via social media. He demonstrated the importance of speaking what needs to be said without fear to those who serve power , and that this is not only OK but is necessary for one to maintain their humanity.

Mario Savio Steps

During Occupy Cal outside of Sproul Hall in Berkeley, by the very steps that Mario Savio gave his famous FSM speech in 1968, students linked arms as robocops repeatedly jabbed them with batons. The Youtube video went viral and a Colbert Report episode pointed out how police first went after one that appeared to be the most vulnerable, an Asian girl in the front. The video showed that despite being hit she kept her body on the line. Her courageous act really lived up to Mario Savio’s words, as she was literally putting her body upon the gears, upon the apparatus.

Outrage at the attack on these courageous students brought many more people to the campus the next day. Thousands gathered for the Mario Savio Memorial Lecture that had  become a part of the UC Berkeley strike, which was called in reaction to the brutality. Daniel Ellsberg, who was present shared his elation:

Frankly, it’s been a while since I’ve felt as much hope as I feel tonight. I’ve almost been reluctant to speak in public and let people know how hopeless I was—I felt at some times. And that mood has changed tonight. I don’t think it will go away. The young people are recreating the youth movement of the ’60s, and the youth movement changed this country in the ’60s. And we haven’t seen it really like this since then. So I have great, great hope for what’s coming out of this.

84-Year Old Retired Seattle Teacher

84 year-old retired Seattle teacher Dorli Rainey was pepper sprayed in the face during a protest. Rainey spoke in an interview at DemocracyNow:

.. The thing really is not about me getting pepper-sprayed. It is a much bigger issue than that, and I would like everybody to keep that in mind, that while we’re getting pepper-sprayed, other issues are not being heard. And that’s my problem.

The photo of Dorli’s face after being sprayed traveled around the Internet showing the escalating impunity of the police crackdowns. In this photo not only did the world see the merciless thrust of an authority obviously afraid of the people, but also the wisdom of an elder that eloquently speaks for the movement. When we see what was done to her, the outrage goes deeper as it symbolizes an insult to wisdom, to a rare sane voice in a society run by illegitimate, lawless authority.

UC Davis Solidarity

At the UC Davis on Friday Nov 17, campus police raided the campus to take down the tents that students put up after being inspired by Occupy Wall Street. A police officer casually walked up to a handful of students sitting down peacefully with linked arms and pepper sprayed them like he was spraying Roundup weed killer.

The video clip of a supposed protector of the people and of the first amendment abusing his power was all over the mainstream news and really confronted the world with what policing had become. Along with that chilling inhumane act, the footage captured the amazing human spirit in solidarity and deep caring of people who support those students. When police approached them, people began chanting, “don’t shoot students”. Most of all, it showed the moral power and the young people’s discipline in the face of asymmetrical brute force.

Occupy Bat Signal

On the same day of the UC Davis event, a Day of Action had been called nationwide in response to the uprooting of the original encampment at Liberty Square. There was a huge demonstration in New York City, and while protesters were making their way to the Brooklyn Bridge, a series of bat signal projections emerged on the wall of the Verizon Building in Lower Manhattan. The beam rolled through a series of words:

99% / MIC CHECK! / LOOK AROUND / YOU ARE A PART / OF A GLOBAL UPRISING / WE ARE A CRY / FROM THE HEART / OF THE WORLD / WE ARE UNSTOPPABLE / ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE / HAPPY BIRTHDAY / #OCCUPY MOVEMENT / OCCUPY WALL STREET / list of cities, states and countries / OCCUPY EARTH / WE ARE WINNING / IT IS THE BEGINNING OF THE BEGINNING / DO NOT BE AFRAID / LOVE.

Boingboing interviewed one of the people behind this operation. Representing the crew, Mark Reed described the creative process. He spoke of the Occupy Movement as a response to all environmental and economic crises:

Our leaders aren’t responding to any of that in a way that is commensurate to the crises we face. And that one sign has always spoken to me. We have to throw off our despair about the future world we might be facing, because if we come together as people and humanity, we can change it. And what Occupy Wall Street makes me feel is that for the first time in a long time that might be possible.

These powerful messages projected on the wall were shared instantly through Youtube around the world. This showed the creativity of the new leaders as a force that could bring us into a more human future.

World Citizen Meditation

The new face of leadership does not have a single nationality nor citizenship of any particular country. They are citizens of the world and no border can stop the waves of popular action for justice. Pancho Ramos Stierle was arrested when he was meditating at the Oscar Grant Plaza during an early morning raid on Occupy Oakland encampment. He spoke of how he responds to people who ask where he is from. “I say, ‘Well, I’m from planet earth.’ ‘And where is your citizenship?’ ‘I’m a citizen of the world.”

After his arrest, thousands of supporters launched a campaign for his release. Within 24 hours, 6,600 signatures were collected on a petition.

These stories are just the tip of the iceberg of an emerging citizen power. What are we seeing in these new faces? Anytime we hear news and watch the video of police crimes against fellow brothers and sisters, we discover heroes. They are not like the leaders that claim to represent the people like politicians and government officials, but they are one of us. Perhaps we are seeing true strength made of courage, compassion, creativity and wisdom. Every day, people take the risk of getting arrested and engaging in civil disobedience. People are beginning to unite, feel for each other and realize that an assault to one is an assault to all. When action unfolds in solidarity in the face of insanity this  awakening becomes a powerful force that no military or police can destroy.

Before the emergence of these ordinary America heroes, the trend had already been set in the Middle East and Europe. On Nov 16 after the police cleared Zucotti Park, writer and activist Arundhati Roy spoke at the People’s University in Washington Square Park:

Few of us dreamed that we would see you, the people of the United States on our side, trying to do this in the heart of Empire. I don’t know how to communicate the enormity of what this means.

The fire of self-immolation was lit in Tunisia, leading to people’s uprisings in the Arab Spring. Recently peaceful protesters were killed in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. In Syria people continue to fight against brutal dictatorial repression. People the world over all over are rejoicing to see Americans finally joining these heroes.

Every drop of pepper spray, every rubber bullet that is used to intimidate opens up a ribcage and awakens the tender spot inside that remembers how to feel for a fellow man. Disturbing photos and videos of police brutality break our hearts. When it comes close to home, that pain makes us stronger, inspires humanity to unite and meet oppressive force with love.  Every minute, every second, even now at this very moment somewhere in the world, a leader of a new global generation is being born.

As the movement continues, we see new faces of ordinary heroes that are leading into the  future. History will remember them not as those with teargassed faces, cracked skulls, or lost speech but as those with courage and moral conviction who stood up for their grandchildren. The world will come to know that this is only the beginning of the beginning.

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The Rise of the Occupy Insurgency, The World’s First Internet Revolution #OWS

Image Credit – Raina Dayne, occupytogether.org

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.

WikiLeaks Winter

“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.

#OWS participants realized that the online and offline worlds aren’t separate after all. Now the underground current is bursting into mainstream consciousness. – @virtadpt The Doctor

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.

Posted in Anonymous, Democracy, OccupyWallStreet, Revolution, WikiLeaks | 16 Comments

#OccupyWallStreet; As the Dow Falls, the Face of a New Nation Rises

Image Credit - Anonymous, clclt.com

From the Arab Spring to what some already are calling the American Spring, a months-long underground incubation finally burst onto Wall Street on Sep 17. Under the hashtag #OccupyWallStreet people mobilized to join the global uprising of courageous dissidents.

So who are these occupiers gathering at Liberty Plaza? The mainstream media hasn’t given the larger public a chance to ask this question. At first, most major news outlets totally ignored what was happening in lower Manhattan. Political commentator Keith Olbermann called out this media blackout. Anthony DeRosa of Reuters noted how people’s efforts were “mostly received with a mix of muted support and mockery” and he urged the media not to dismiss it.

When the established media covers a story, they often use a broad brush to cover up the faces and views of those who are characterized with words like ‘protesters’ and ‘activists’. They attach the same old images of uneducated, naive youth or potentially violent masses.

Last Saturday a peaceful march headed from lower Manhattan to Union Square. It was turned violent by New York police. More than 80 people got arrested including journalists. The New York Times reporter Brian Stelter on his tweeter presented this scene as a ‘battle’, insinuating that it was a fight between police and protesters.

In the article, Brian Stelter and the Pathology of Objectivity, New Jersey based journalist Michael Tracey called on this use of the word battle, noting that it implied both sides were violent, while the violence came only from the police. When Tracey confronted Stelter on his choice of words, Stelter defended his profession’s creed by stating that he was simply performing his job and maintaining his ‘neutrality’. Tracey pointed out that it is not neutral to use a word that portrays a group as violent when they weren’t. He concluded that “this is just another symptom of the ‘objectivity’ malady” that many journalists subscribe to.

The corporate media’s treatment of Occupy Wall Street has been revealing. Whenever citizens are described as ‘protesters’ in newspapers, it carries an emphasis as if they are unusual, even radical and that their actions are somewhat deviant from the norm of ‘acceptable’ behavior. By doing this, the media tends to differentiate the majority of people from those identified as protesters and activists and tries to maintain a divisive and predefined image of ‘ordinary citizens’.

This is similar to the racial profiling that took place after 911. With the collapse of the World Trade Center, people of Muslim descent and those with similar physical features were quickly marginalized by the newly assigned association with concocted fears of terrorism. Cornel West, in a DemocracyNow! interview spoke of how this new racial profiling for the manufactured War on terror is “niggerization of the public’, something that was done for centuries mostly to African-Americans.

At the recent San Francisco BART protest, BART police detained journalism students and homeland security officers were present. The buzz on twitter started to question: “Journalism student = terrorist now?” -@SpencerTDeVine. Indeed, when did a local protest become a national security issue?

Ordinary citizens have apparently become a threat to the State. Something similar is happening in the streets of New York where journalists were lumped together with the protesters and arrested. During Occupy Wall Street, a boy was arrested for chalk writing and police brutality escalated toward protesters. The YouTube video of police corralling women with a large net and using pepper spray on them with no provocation was widely circulated by way of social media.

Though police and politicians haven’t come out explicitly to say activists are terrorists, the actions speak loud enough. Indeed NYPD even admitted that the aggressive tactics last week were a practice in anticipation of possible London style riots.

It appears that anyone associated with these ‘activists’ are branded with an inflated radical label and are targeted for containment, harassment or arrest. Only last year, the F.B.I targeted a group of activists in the Midwest and without judicial approval went to their homes and seized computers with the allegation that those peace and justice activists were under suspicion for aiding foreign terrorists. Late breaking news about the assassination of two US citizens in Yemen reveals that anyone including Americans can now be targeted for extrajudicial killing. But is it true? Are they really extreme and their actions unreasonable? How did America get to this point?

In the article, “America”: Consumerism and the End of Citizenship Professor Elizabeth Dore and John Weeks described how the economic sphere shapes every aspect of life and that US citizens are expected to function only as consumers, workers and taxpayers. These consumers, including the press watch passively and distance themselves from those who have been labeled ‘protesters’. This is just a trained automatic reflex. In the eyes of these spectators, the activists’ refusal to accept the programmed economic and social reality that is handed down to them can appear rather irrational.

But who are these people that are being marginalized? Whenever we ask questions trying to see the faces of fellow citizens, all we see is media distortion. Now, alternative media and citizen’s reporting are bringing a new, more immediate view of these people on the ground.  David DeGraw, on his Report from the Frontlines describes how:

The #OccuppyWallStreet 99% movement is a decentralized non-violent rebellion against economic tyranny. It is a leaderless movement that has been dependent upon tens of thousands of individuals taking it upon themselves to take action and fight back against their own personal financial hardships, in defense of their family and friends who are desperately struggling to make ends meets.

People from all walks of life are gathering at Liberty Park with diverse stories to tell. A mosaic of changing faces gradually emerges. Those who had been portrayed as violent and uneducated are now peacefully assembling. They are exercising their freedom of speech. Those who were perceived as being on the fringes of society are now connecting and collaborating.

Matt Stoller, a former congressional policy adviser described how Occupy Wall Street is a church of dissent, and not a typical political protest with concrete demands and clear leaders;

It is a group of people, gathered together to create a public space seeking meaning in their culture. They are asserting together, to each other and to themselves, “we matter”.

When focus is given to a perceived lack of concrete demands, it is easy to miss what is unique about Occupy Wall Street. Beneath the surface, there is a lot of self-organizing happening. By working together in the park near Wall Street, these people are creating a new space to mingle, share their stories and together envision an alternative future.

It is like a dress rehearsal for an egalitarian democracy. What young people have been practicing in the open space of the Internet is now unfolding in the streets. With assemblies based on the consensus model, people are learning how to rely on themselves rather than leaders or representatives, speaking and listening to one another. This encampment is in a sense reestablishing ownership of the public commons. These actions show people what is essential about being a citizen instead of simply passive consumers. They have been inspired by the Arab Spring model and now are inspiring people around the country and the world.

“I have some several hundred heroes in Wall Street, and I don’t even know their names. #occupywallstreet – @x7o

“Nothing has given me more hope since the anti-globalization movement then what I have experienced at #OccupyWallStreet this week. Much love” – @jeffrae

Are those gathering at Liberty Plaza representing the very thing that once made the United States a beacon of light in the world? Once it was the founding fathers who were called terrorists, engaged in a fight to overthrow the monarchy of the King George and claim their own significance.

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” said George Orwell. On Sep 17 thousands flooded into the Big Apple to confront the Wall Street robber barons.  These people are not just a few bad apples as some media outlets like to portray them. They are the 99 percent majority that will “no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1 percent”. Despite aggressive police presence and tactics, each day the crowd is growing. Some police even started to join. Over 100 officers refused to go to work in support of Occupy Wall Street.

The bull in front of Wall Street stands symbolically in the middle of all this. For the obscenely rich 1% of citizens who run Wall Street, this Bull represents the call to worship  the almighty bull market. A bear market is when markets are in contraction (the Dow going down) and a bull market is when it is going up. For them the bull represents never ending profits for the rich in an ever-expanding, unsustainable plunder-based economy. The masses have been converted to this belief in the Bull. They have invested into the  American dream, which has now turned out to be a ponzi scheme. Yet, Goldman Sachs and their ilk know that they will be making the ultimate killing when the market goes down.

At the onset of Occupy Wall Street, the police were on the side of this small minority, guarding the bull. It is a symbol of corporate occupied civic space. PayPal, Amazon and MasterCard, the three corporate stooges initiated the financial blockade of WikiLeaks. In the same way, Yahoo hedged their bets with Wall Street, rather than with the citizens by engaging in censorship of the protests. Now a rising tide of truth from the tweets and the streets are calling bullshit on what this Bull has come to represent; the vortex of a massive casino economy that is sucking the life-blood from the world.

Who are those people, the strangers standing in solidarity to confront this beast? In this crowd of unknown faces it’s not easy to identity political affiliation. Faces are changing each moment, moving with diverse colors and shapes. What comes to the surface is the courage, solidarity and compassion shared throughout history and across borders. One may begin to discover in the faces of those who gather; the unemployed, foreclosed, and students burdened with lifelong debt, ones own face. When the people take to the streets in frustration and anger and unite for one another, what has become a beast will reveal its true being.

 This is a point of no return looking over the ledge. Hoping we can fly cause we’re getting pushed over the edge. I am in the sky like an angel … (joe DOE, Point of No Return/Emergency)

As the Dow falls, the face of a new nation rises. The world may begin to recognize that both the 99% and the 1% are one people enslaved by the same shackles of greed. The true nature of the Bull is our own strength within. Our vitality, creativity and collaboration is the only real wealth there is in the world.

The American Spring is here. It is spreading across the nation and this is only the beginning.

Posted in Democracy, OccupyWallStreet | 1 Comment

Police State vs. Democracy: Culture Jamming as Creative Resistance #OpBART

Image Credit - twylah.com

In the last few decades, there has been a trend toward increasing authoritarian control and limits on rights to free speech. Police have been more militarized and repressive in their approach. Should this be of concern for citizens? One example of this abuse of police power occurred recently in San Francisco. The online collective Anonymous launched OpBART and got involved with what started out as protests against recent killings by BART police.

Police brutality was not the only thing brought to the surface by these protests. Various efforts on the part of BART officials to shut down independent witnessing of these events revealed larger issues.

On Thursday, Sep 8, during the NoFare protest initiated by No Justice-No BART, police detained protesters including journalists within the Powell station. Among those arrested were journalism students who were there as part of a class assignment. Not only did the police cite journalists, they took away their press credentials and told them to leave or risk arrest.

This sounds familiar. A similar story unfolded during the 2008 presidential elections. Amy Goodman and others of DemocracyNow radio program were arrested while covering demonstrations at the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn. The police took away her press pass and handcuffed her. In that police action, the first amendment lost its meaning. On the streets of Minnesota and outside the fare gates of BART stations, rights of free speech and press have been squashed.

The creation of so called ‘free speech zones’ is one of the hallmarks of this trend toward excessive power. In the SF BART protests, we saw the shifting boundaries of free speech. The group engaged in a series of actions under the name OpBART. At the first operation, protesters on the platform were arrested. Toward the end of OpBART 2, some people were arrested for blocking traffic. Last Thursday, the police attempted to exert control over a group of about 40 people, handcuffing them without fair warning or apparent justification during the peaceful demonstration outside the fare gates.

Prior to these arrests at Powell on Thursday, police told protesters that they have to keep their action outside the fare gates, implying that inside the fare gates no free speech is allowed. Then, even when the protesters complied, the police themselves blocked the fare gates and proceeded with a tactic of dubious legality called kettling. It might as well be called ‘cattling’. These tactics amount to privatizing a public space by corralling the protesters in a predetermined fenced-in zone and temporarily imprisoning them without charge. In this way, the civic sphere is squeezed away along with the physical freedom and Constitutional rights of those with a grievance against their government.

Josh Wolf, local journalist and film maker documented this unfolding event of First Amendment rights being stripped away from US citizens. BART spokesmen repeatedly used the language of safety to justify their actions, yet if one looks at the reality this is hypocritical and inaccurate. BART demonstrators have never hurt or threatened people, while BART police have a history of violence and fatal shootings.

Beyond the legal ramifications, what does this event reveal? I have been closely following the OpBART phenomenon. From the onset, the operation was portrayed as protesters vs. BART, especially as the protests had been colored by Anonymous. This ‘us vs. them’ characterization is natural, as the act of protest is about resistance and challenging the powers that be. Yet, after every Monday protest, this divide seemed to have only grown. Both inside and outside the fare gates, protesters are no different than BART’s other paying customers that the transit agency claims to be serving. Yet, it seems that ordinary citizen’s desire for their voices to be heard is perceived as a threat. When did those concerned citizens become the enemy of this police force and the government?

As a result of BART needlessly shutting down stations and escalating the situation, the  commuters have become casualties of this battle. Public perception is the larger battleground and this is likely the reason that journalists who tried to document the scene were targeted during NoFare protest. The Bay Citizen article revealed how BART officials themselves actively engaged in a media campaign to sway public support, trying to paint themselves as the good guys and protesters as the bad guys. BART authorities repeatedly used the rhetoric of protecting public safety and the tired refrain of unreasonable protesters disturbing the commute.

Let’s review the sequence of changes in public perception with these events: At the first OpBART in August, BART chose to shut down the stations. It was BART’s decision. Yet, for commuters, the story became “their commute was disrupted due to protesters”.

The following Monday on OpBART 2, people already frustrated by this apparent multi-scene drama saw protesters as nuisance. The actions of those who were engaged in OpBART 2 did not help to alter this fixed mindset. BART once again decided to shut down stations. The crowd marched through downtown without much apparent purpose and this appeared to some as misdirected. Words such as hippies and kids with no jobs were quickly attached to OpBART. During OpBART 2, when protesters marched down Market Street, I saw a bicycler coming through the crowd who yelled, “Get the f*ck out of here”, showing his contempt toward the group. During OpBART 3, agitated commuters were said to be there to counter protest, which turned out not to really be the case.

Twitter user @DamonBruce voiced:

“Dear BART protesters – let hard working people get home to their families on time. Thanks, ‘The Normals'”.

The public began to act out on the constructed image of the protesters, who in the eyes of many commuters were radicalized and marginalized to appear different than BART and media’s characterization of ‘normal riders’.

Some protesters saw these unfavorable images, being built within the public. The Twitter account, Anon Street Medics (@AnonMedics) proposed more focused action before  OpBART 3 and the impulse for the NoFare protest was to improve this perception, to indicate to the public who the protestors really are and how the group is standing up for the general public and are not trying to close the stations or block the gates.

Yet, the Thursday NoFare event was kind of a climax of this polarizing fight. The police shut down Powell Station and suspended the first amendment especially for the press who were present. How would it be possible to effect this already narrowed perception? The key lies in understanding how perception works.

We are often not conscious of the process of perception. Usually things outside impress us without our involvement and views are easily colored. Performing artists understand how to work with audience’s perception. They know on stage they only have a couple of minutes in performance to influence their perception.

The protesters were working against already formed perception about them in the mainstream media. They entered a landscape that was already set on BART’s terms. Chanting is easily framed as disruption to order, no matter how true or important the message might be. Placards and masks are easily portrayed as a sign of unsophisticated rebellious acts.

What maybe needed is for this group of concerned citizens to create their own rules, to shift the ground of perception and create their own stage.  Then they can insert themselves onto a new space, rather than simply counteracting the BART police state stance of violence and confrontation.

So how can people change the trend of increasing authoritarian control? Culture jamming might offer another creative direction. Culture jamming was coined in the year 1984, as a method employed by anti-consumerists and activists to interrupt and shake up the dominance of manufactured mainstream corporate values. The phrase meant that “public frequencies can be pirated and subverted for independent communication, or to disrupt dominant frequencies” (Disrupt Dominant Frequencies). It is used as an artistic way to expose unquestioned assumptions of modern daily life.

During OpBART 1, a group called the SF Guerilla Opera aided the operation, turning the platform into a stage to act out the scene: “Can you hear me now?” Their act engaged a playful artistic space to show what is happening to our rights. This type of stunt was a good example of culture jamming in a politicized scenario.

By turning the street into a theater, one has a chance to convey a message by changing the context, shaking up public perception. For example, what if a bunch of protesters with Anonymous masks engage in a creative performance in numerous BART stations at exactly the same time dancing the Tunak Tunak Tun. Non-confrontational and spontaneous artistic acts might change things enough in the moment to disarm the guarded defense of BART police. Such unexpected creative action opens up previously closed perception.

Culture jamming is employed in order to contrast the unconsciously held dominant position in the public space and to challenge mass conformity to it. What emerges in the public space is a new mosaic that creatively changes the landscape of the mundane rush hour. By using Anonymous masks as a new meme to subvert the herd of commuters, demonstrators can jam the frozen picture and quietly bring questions that have not asked about the BART’s actions to public attention.

Joy, zest, and surreal action contrasts with militarized BART police, making their heavy-handed action look ridiculous and unnecessary. During the NoFare protest, it was reported that Homeland Security Agents were present, invoking the question ‘When did this become an issue of national security?” People can start to realize BART’s overreaction and how things have been taken too far.

When normalized reality is shaken up, the manufactured line between us and them is dissolved and the public may begin to see the protesters not as people to be feared, but more like themselves. And, perhaps the protesters who were made out to be the enemy of BART can begin to see human faces behind uniformed police.

Beneath the pretense of authority armed with lethal force, the BART police officers are also ordinary citizens. They have families and perhaps are just taking orders. Yet, it is the system that divides people. The police are placed into the position to enforce the law or control the citizens who have become masses in their perspective.

When differences are emphasized and people fail to listen to one another, confrontation, though necessary to a degree, only pushes each group into a defensive position. The more activists push, the more defensive police get and then the wall becomes thicker.

“No Justice No Peace Disband the BART police” chant continues.

The facade of the portrayed battle crumbles and the true battle is revealed, as one between democracy and the forces that try to push society toward a police state. Culture jamming is an avenue for creating the surreal within the mundane and can facilitate compassionate and creative communication. Instead of face to face confronting, those who act out of a creative impulse work discretely to alter perception.

What would happen if joy and celebration that activists bring to the space becomes contagious and commuters and even police will join these actions outside of the fare gates and streets? “United as one, divided by zero. We are Anonymous, We are legion …”  The Tunak dance becomes anonymous action, joined by anyone, at any time in free will to participate, with no allegiance to anything, police, activists or commuters. No side is taken, just working for the shared lulz.

When that happens, people are united as citizens, not divided in systemic roles that we play in society: police, commuters and protesters. Culture jamming is creative resistance, opening up potential for a new dialogue. Then those who have suffered or died might get a hearing for a greater justice. OpBART goes on. I would love to see collective culture jamming starting a new trend that can break the hypnotic trance of power that keeps us unfree.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

The Effect of WikiLeaks in the Stadium of Democracy

Image Credit - a-w-i-p.com

Americans love sports. They love watching football and baseball games. I live in the SF Bay Area and I depend on BART rail transit almost everywhere I go. Even though I have no interest in sports and don’t know much about them, I know when the games are on as I experience immediate changes in the familiar scenery of my commute.

Whenever there is a game the station is transformed into a kind of zoo, or maybe like a shopping mall. The train is packed with people wearing uniforms and Giants hats. They are filled with excitement, finding kindred spirits sharing cheers for their team.

I must say this is a rare time for me to see this kind of passion in American people. Other than at sports events, people are rather subdued. Most Americans I know don’t seem to pay too much attention to what is happening in Washington. With massive bailouts going to Wall Street and harsh budget cuts, many don’t seem to care or even know how those policies impact their lives.

American people have passion. I see it. They get up out of their couch to go watch the game and support their teams. I wondered what would happen if this zest that I see was directed into the civic arena. What would be possible if all those people that jammed the train go out to the street and express grievances toward the actions of their government?

Perhaps something might change. Grumbling of the masses on the street could break down the elitist walls of Capital hill and force Congress and the President to finally hear the voices of the people. I cannot foresee the future and I have yet to see this passion for sports be translated to real civic action, to demand fundamental system change. Yet, I must admit there was one time I saw excitement toward politics got closer to matching the rabid sports fever.

With the chants of “hope and change” and flags of “Yes we can”, something similar to American’s love for sports was called forth during the 2008 presidential election. It was as if the whole country was transformed into a football stadium, with people waving red or blue flags cheering their favorite quarterback.

The presidential candidates are like football players with powerful and fashionable uniforms designed by Nike, Exxon, Starbucks and Monsanto, dressed up by millions of campaign donations from the moneyed elite as they enter the stadium. The name of the game is “American Democracy”, where each party puts on a show to prove how strong and fast they are to score points to win the game.

But nothing seems to change when the government playoff win goes to a different team. People are simply watching the game and never actually participate in it. Indeed the stadium is closed and the game appears somewhat rigged. Behind the gate, we are given the role to cheer and watch. It is not a fair game and really like a show between the two parties as no other colors are allowed to play, despite the fact that participation by other parties would not technically be breaking the official rules by entering the stadium.

The whole logic behind this exclusion from the game is the idea of ‘representative democracy’. One has to be qualified to be ‘chosen’ to represent people. The idea simply is “You are not capable enough, we will play it for you”.

But the truth is those players do not represent people. The game is a kind of show business sponsored by corporations. What the taxpayers got are wars for profit and oil during the Bush administration and the largest transfer of wealth ever from the poor to Wall Street and banks under the current Obama presidency along with even more wars.

After being exiled from the field, the domesticated masses obediently watch the game and wave flags. Most people never dare to think of participating in the game or calling the whole arrangement into question. Anyone that doesn’t toe the line is dismissed as a pariah or spoiler like Ralph Nader, is called irrelevant like Ron Paul, or too naive and uneducated like idealistic youth.

In the middle of 2010, audience madly cheered for ‘hope and change’. Soon the euphoria wore off and many were feeling betrayed by that new quarterback that had promised to tackle and fight for them. Then something happened.

A little known organization called WikiLeaks suddenly emerged into the stadium and grabbed the teams and the audience’s attention. The WikiLeaks founder, a white-haired mysterious dude managed to enter the field and interrupted the game. He is no Goldman Sachs, no Obama-like charismatic politician, no Uncle Tom for the Ivy League elite. He was not a powerful manufactured celebrity groomed for consumption (Heck, he was even homeless!).

But this happened before our very eyes. He got hold of the ball and ran in a totally different direction. The Collateral Murder video showed what modern war really looks like on the ground. People worldwide began to see a new horizon; the goal was justice and to reveal the true enemy that stands in the way of this goal.

Image Credit - Asher Wolf, http://yfrog.com/klghwihj

The real awakening with WikiLeaks was that ordinary people can enter the stadium of the media and politics and even change the game. Many simply realized that the gate to the field is broken down with transparency. They saw the goal on the citizen side wide open. No one had been protecting it and corporations had an open field.

Julian Assange threw the ball in the air. Now the ball passed the midfield. Security guards for the apologists for power such as the US officials, the New York Times and the Guardian are trying to tackle him and get him out.

Attempts to prosecute and silence WikiLeaks have continued. Assange is now under house arrest in London without charges. Alleged whistle-blower Bradley Manning has been in jail without trial as if those who control the game are trying to intimidate the audience. There is clear desperation in the attempts to hide the fact that the gate is now open. The message is –“Look at what happened to those who dare to enter the field, you will be next”.

But it seems the rules of the game have changed. No matter how the establishment tries to put on a facade of control by attacking those who are now in the stadium, the gate is already opened. More people are finding their way into the public arena.

This generation is burning the mass media to the ground. We’re reclaiming our rights to old history. We are ripping open secret archives from Washington to Cairo. We are reclaiming our rights to share ourselves and our times with each other, to be the agents and writers of our own history. We don’t know yet exactly where we are but we can see where we’re going.  – Julian Assange

The online collective Anonymous and its affiliates are catching the ball that is still in the air. These actions are changing the rules of the game. In spite of this, many people are still behind the gates like sheep eating grass in a familiar comfortable lawn, not realizing that the cage is open and they are free to move.

Others feel the excitement of this newly acquired freedom and wonder what to do from here. WikiLeaks invited all who feel shut out from democracy into the stadium. They showed the real game that is yet to be played, the battle for Democracy between Corporations VS United Citizens around the world.

The economic and political events seem to be saying outwardly that justice is losing and greed and abuse of power is winning. Is it too late? -too early to say. WikiLeaks released material pushing the ball across the center-line. We need to move it forward. First those who are willing to do the research and journalistic work need to do the heavy lifting of the material to tell the stories. Then lawyers and those who are driven by justice need to dig into the evidence of crimes and create a case. All the while artists around the world sing and speak freely to enliven the cultural sphere, cultivating compassion that makes it possible for us to share the suffering of the world. All this together can bring justice into the court of public opinion.

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” – Thomas Paine

With social media networks like twitter, citizens around the globe now can pass the ball of justice and collaboratively move toward a shared goal. The world has already changed. The force to build a true democracy cannot be stopped.

Posted in Democracy, US Politics, WikiLeaks | 1 Comment