Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Digital Age Rebellion (and Some Enemies)

Vermont's Oct. 15 solidarity rally takes the message to UVM.  Click for Slide Show.
MAVERICK CHRONICLES, 10/14-15/2011: Tracking the Occupations: substance, style and  a victory in Liberty Park. THE VERMONT WAY: Class Struggle in the Company Towns. NEW MUSIC TRACK from Taco Land. The Plot Thickens: cooptation, surveillance and the movement.  PROJECT CENSORED: Manipulating Social Media. VTDIGGER: State Hospital closing is putting staff and patients at risk.  Stories and thoughts by Greg Guma

PLUS October 15 Updates: Going Global (see story on worldwide protests below) and Vermont Occupy Rallies.

You don’t see this kind of thing every day: the political establishment caught off-guard, unsure of how to respond to a burgeoning grassroots uprising.  Difficult to define, dangerous to ignore, impossible to predict, even the name raises prickly questions. Occupy.  The Occupy Movement.

But occupy what, for how long? Some say everywhere, indefinitely. Meanwhile, some pols and a large swath of the labor movement have signed on – at least until someone goes too far. Is this a Left-wing Tea Party or a US sequel to the Arab Spring, an Internet-enabled popular revolt? Here’s my pre-10/15 coverage of Vermont developments: Vermont Labor Backs the Occupy Movement.

Funny about Money

Jesse Guma, intrepid correspondent for Reporting Satire, gets into a radical mood in this exclusive, on-the-scene tour of Occupy Wall Street politics. This analysis isn’t for the irony deficient, but it does showcase some of the diversity and scope. It also ridicules a “media circus” that seeks to exploit and diminish at the same time.

And not so funny…

Late Thursday, Mayor Bloomberg made a move to end the occupation. Claiming that he only wanted to clean the park, he told protesters that they would have to be out by 7 a.m. Friday morning. He would allow them back, he promised, but without tarps or sleeping bags. And no lying down.  If accepted, such rules would severely limit any permanent presence . Duh?

The intention looked clear: bring the occupation to an end. But when morning came the clean up was postponed, averting a possible showdown with protesters who had vowed to resist being forced out. Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway said the owners of the private park, Brookfield Office Properties, had put off the cleaning. Actually, more than hour beforehand supporters of the protesters had started streaming into the park, creating a crowd of several hundred chanting people.

The previous night Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights wrote a letter to the property owners, the city and the police making clear that "closing down Occupy Wall Street violates the First Amendment and is flatly illegal." Friday morning, he described the protesters' General Assembly decision making process and organizing that brought out thousands to defend the park, as well as the "roar of joy" that went through the park before dawn when it was known that Bloomberg had backed down.

He noted that the protesters had done a massive cleaning of the park: "The health emergency was a pretext to destroy something all Americans should be proudest of. ... You can eat off the ground in this park." So, a victory. But not before this beat down by police the night before. It's graphic and shows where things can go:

Going Global (10/15 Update)

By Saturday morning, people were rallying around the world. The protests began in New Zealand and rippled east, touching off demonstrations in most European capitals and other cities. This coincided with a Group of 20 meeting in Paris, where ministers and central bankers from the big economies were holding crisis talks.

The worldwide spread of the protests was, at least in part, a response to calls by Occupy Wall Street demonstrators for more people to join them. This also prompted calls for similar occupations in dozens of US cities.

While some rallies have been relatively small, tens of thousands of people snaked through Rome’s city center. Some protesters wore masks and helmets, set fire to cars, smashed the windows of stores and banks and trashed the defense ministry offices. Police fired a water cannon. Demonstrators threw rocks, bottles and fireworks.

In Asia and the Pacific region most rallies have been peaceful so far. In Auckland, New Zealand, 3,000 people chanted and banged drums, denouncing corporate greed. About 200 gathered in the capital Wellington. In Sydney, about 2,000 people, including representatives of Aboriginal groups, communists and trade unionists, protested outside the central Reserve Bank of Australia.

Hundreds marched in Tokyo, including anti-nuclear protesters. In Manila a few dozen marched on the US embassy waving banners that read: "Down with U.S. imperialism" and "Philippines not for sale."

In Paris protests coincided with the G20 meeting. In the working class neighborhood of Belleville, drummers, trumpeters and a tuba roused a crowd of several hundred that began to march to city hall. A group of trumpeters played the classic American folk song "This land is your land."

The Rome protesters call themselves "the indignant ones." They include unemployed, students and pensioners. In imitation of the Wall Streeet occupation of Zuccotti Park, some have camped out across the street from the headquarters of the Bank of Italy.

In Germany, which hasn't been very sympathetic to southern Europe's debt troubles, thousands gathered in Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig and Frankfurt. They called themselves the Real Democracy Now movement. Demonstrators also gathered peacefully in Paradeplatz, the main square in Zurich, Switzerland’s financial center.

In London, several hundred people gathered outside London's St Paul's Cathedral for "Occupy the London Stock Exchange." Thousands were also protesting in Greece, Vienna, Sweden and Helsinki.


Watching history unfold lately – especially with the labor movement joining what has so far been a youth-and-Internet driven movement – I was reminded of earlier struggles for economic justice.  On October 18, 1935, for example, Vermont workers called a strike against Vermont Marble in the depth of the Great Depression. So, here’s another excerpt from The Vermont Way: Restless Spirits and Popular Movements. This one looks at the rise of company towns likes Proctor and Barre, the family that ran Vermont Marble, and two strikes that led to the first ban of sit-down strikes: Boom and Bust in the Quarry Towns


Tribal Style and Fighting Words

The style and process of the Occupy movement has been part of the allure, at least so far. Spontaneous and relatively leaderless, the protests have provided a platform for people who don’t usually seek the spotlight to express their anger, support, ideas and hopes. Following a model established at Occupy Wall Street, amplified sound has been largely avoided. Instead, each speaker says a few words, then pauses while the audience repeats them, often in unison. There’s a choral effect and a sense of togetherness, especially near the core of a crowd.

As Hendrik Hertzberg described it in The New Yorker this week, “There’s something oddly moving about a crowd of smart-phone-addicted, computer savvy people cooperating to create such an utterly low-tech, strikingly human, curiously tribal mean of amplification – a literal loud speaker.” 

In this and other respects, Occupy differs from the Tea Party Movement that emerged two years ago, although early Tea Party outrage also centered on federal bailouts of banks. Where the Tea Party has tended to attract an older, predominantly white following, however, Occupy is youth oriented and multi-cultural.  Skepticism is expressed about leaders in general, but with an anti-corporate rather than an anti-government thrust.

Last June, as part of a “day of action” in New York, a group first attempted to occupy Liberty Plaza – also known as Zuccotti Park – a strategic space close to Wall Street and the New York Federal Reserve. Although that attempt failed, a People’s General Assembly was formed. For the last month the park has been the site of an ongoing encampment, serving as a nexus for deliberative democracy and proposals for action. It’s certainly no surprise then that Mayor Bloomberg, while sounding vaguely sympathetic, attempted to shut it down.

According to David DeGraw, a leading Occupy Wall Street organizer, “The uniting factor is that most of the people here realize that America has been taken over and is currently occupied by global financial interests. They have seized control of our government, economy and tax system, and have rigged our political process against hardworking Americans.”

As in New York, the goal in Washington, DC is to remain in Freedom Plaza for several months. But the agenda is more pragmatic; developing and pressing for sustainable legislative solutions to promote universal healthcare, economic justice, and the end of the Afghanistan War.

Nevertheless, in a recent article about the DC branch of the movement, activist and writer David Swanson talks in epochal terms about a permanent state of people’s occupation: “We intend to make it possible for anyone to visit D.C. with free accommodations. Just bring a sleeping bag and agree to work with us to pressure Congress, the White House, K Street, the Pentagon, and all the lobbyists and profiteers for peace and justice. We have free food, we have free drink, we have free trainings and seminars, we have tents, we have peace keepers, we have a big victory under our belts, and we welcome all peace makers for they shall inherit Freedom Plaza. We own it. It is ours.”

With fighting words like these, inspiring as they may be, there’s bound to be a pushback.

Musical Interlude

Before moving on, here’s C’est la Vie by Taco Land. Give it a listen as you read.

The Plot Thickens…

As you might expect, the establishment is a bit uncomfortable and looking for ways to get ahead of the curve. For conservatives, it's simple – denounce the whole thing as an anti-American 60s throwback, a sign of slacker entitlement if not moral decay. But many others are perplexed and looking for a game plan.

On, Glenn Greenwald considers a nagging question: Can OWS could be turned into an activist wing of the Democratic Party? His conclusion: Not likely. Still, on TruthOut Steve Horn claims that “the liberal class is working overtime to co-opt a burgeoning social justice movement.” Here’s his take, MoveOn and Friends Attempt to Coopt Occupy Wall Street Movement.

But the most unsettling recent development may be this: Corporate-aided surveillance is up. Just as the nuclear industry hired private security firms to watch, discredit and infiltrate anti-nuclear groups beginning in the mid-1970s, expect banks and other financial enterprises to defend their interests – aggressively. Fortunately, there are also some strategies to stop it.

Sourcebook for the Media Revolution

Censored 2012 is here, an annual collection of the top censored stories of the last year, edited by Mickey Huff and the Project Censored staff, all in one handy volume. They call it a sourcebook for the media revolution. We certainly need one.

Former Project Censored director Peter Phillips kicks off this year’s edition with a look at the NATO/US/military industrial media matrix of managed news and propaganda. The Top 25 Censored Stories aren’t just announced this year; they're housed in Censored News Clusters that analyze the architecture of censorship by looking at topical connections of the most commonly underreported stories. 

A Truth Emergency section looks at propaganda theory and practice: censorship, framing, spin and other tactics that shape the public mind in democratic cultures. The final section is international, focusing on human rights and the right to know, a collaboration between Media Freedom Foundation/Project Censored and the Fair Share of the Common Heritage.


It’s #2 on the new list and certainly relevant to the digital uprisings underway: The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda. But hey, don’t worry. They promise not to do it here.

A California corporation has been awarded a contract with US Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop an “online persona management service.” This will allow a single soldier to control up to 10 separate identities, hypothetically based all over the world.

The "multiple persona" contract is thought to have been awarded as part of a program called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), first developed in Iraq as psychological warfare against the online presence of al-Qaida supporters and others resisting the US military and political presence in Iraq. The effort proved successful. Now it is being used elsewhere in the Middle East and beyond – with assurances that nothing will happen here at home. You see, it would be unlawful to “address US audiences” with such technology, and of course, no self-respecting spook would do that.


Officials at Fletcher Allen Medical Center said last week that mentally ill patients from the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury are putting staff at the Burlington hospital at risk. Fletcher Allen officials say the current situation is risky for both patients and staff, especially if potentially dangerous patients who were previously under state care can reject treatment. With thanks to VTDigger Editor Anne Galloway.

Other Online Collections:
AlterNet  *  Common Dreams  *  ZNet  *  Global Research

So, see you on the (virtual) barricades...
Music was part of the mix on Saturday at City Hall Park.
Calling for a fair contract outside Fletcher Allen.
Post a Comment