Memes are now a staple of protests.
Can you tell me which generation it was that said “Don’t trust anyone over 30”?
There’s a vast and growing apparatus of intimidation designed to deter and control citizen protests. The most that’s allowed is to assemble with the permission of state authorities and remain roped off in sequestered, out-of-the-way areas: the Orwellian-named free speech zones. Anything that is even remotely disruptive or threatening is going to be met with aggressive force: pepper spray, mass arrests by highly militarized urban police forces, and aggressive prosecutions. Recall the wild excesses of force in connection with the 2008 RNC Convention in Minneapolis (I reported on those firsthand); the overzealous prosecutions of civil disobedience activists like Aaron Swartz, environmentalist Tim DeChristopher, and Dan Choi; the war being waged on whistleblowers for the crime of exposing high-level wrongdoing; or the treatment of these Wall Street protesters.
Financial elites and their political servants are well aware that exploding wealth inequality, pervasive economic anxiety, and increasing hostility toward institutions of authority (and corresponding realization that voting fixes very little of this) are likely to bring London-style unrest — and worse — to American soil; it was just two weeks ago that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned that the unemployment crisis could trigger “riots.” Even the complacent American citizenry — well-trained in learned impotence and acquiescence to (even reverence for) those most responsible for their plight — is going to reach a tipping point of unrest. There are numerous weapons of surveillance and coercion that have been developed over the last decade in anticipation of that unrest: most of it justified in the name of Terrorism, but all of it featuring decidedly dual-use domestic capability (illustrating what I mean is this chart showing how extensively the Patriot Act has been used in non-Terrorist cases, and how rarely it has been used for Terrorism).
In sum, there is a sprawling apparatus of federal and local militarized police forces and private corporate security designed to send this message: if you participate in protests or other forms of dissent outside of harmless approved channels, you’re going to be harmed in numerous ways. As Yves Smith put it this week:
I’m beginning to wonder whether the right to assemble is effectively dead in the US. No one who is a wage slave (which is the overwhelming majority of the population) can afford to have an arrest record, even a misdemeanor, in this age of short job tenures and rising use of background checks.
This is all designed to deter any meaningful challenges to the government and corporate institutions which are suffocating them, to bully those who consider such challenges into accepting its futility. And it works. In an excellent essay on the Wall Street protests, Dennis Perrin writes:
The dissident children were easily, roughly swept aside. Their hearts are in a good place. Their bodies a minor nuisance. They’ll stream back to prove their resolve. And they’ll get pepper sprayed and beaten down again. And again.
I admire these kids. They’re off their asses. Agitating. Arguing. Providing a living example. There’s passion and feeling in their dissent. They’re willing to be punished. It’s easy to mock them, but how many of you would take their place? … .
Yet I have doubts. The class war from above demoralizes as much as it incites. Countless people have surrendered. Faded from view. To demonstrate or occupy corporate turf doesn’t seem like a wise option. You’ll get beaten and arrested. For what? Making mortgage payments is tough enough.
Given the costs and risks one incurs from participating in protests like this — to say nothing of the widespread mockery one receives — it’s natural that most of the participants will be young and not yet desperate to cling to institutional stability. It’s also natural that this cohort won’t be well-versed (or even interested) in the high arts of media messaging and leadership structures. Democratic Party precinct captains, MBA students in management theory and corporate communications, and campaign media strategists aren’t the ones who will fuel protests like this; it takes a mindset of passionate dissent and a willingness to remove oneself from the safe confines of institutional respectability.
Time-lapse video by John Caelan from the website The Swamp Post mapping global protests from December 18 2010 to March 7, 2011.
See Middle East protest time-lapse video and read the original post at Global Voices Online.
Awesome. There are a lot of little signs bunched in there.
The world just got a little smaller…
Watch while you can. Al Jazeera English is being streamed, but a media clampdown may shut it down. Police are said to be on the way to the Al…