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The Future of Protest In Panopticon Nation 566

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-the-world-is-a-stage dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "James Fallows writes that you don't have to idealize everything about the Occupy movement to recognize the stoic resolve of the protesters at UC Davis being pepper sprayed as a moral drama that the protesters clearly won. 'The self-control they show, while being assaulted, reminds me of grainy TV footage I saw as a kid, of black civil rights protesters being fire-hosed by Bull Connor's policemen in Alabama. Or of course the Tank Man in Tiananmen Square,' writes Fallows. 'Such images can have tremendous, lasting power.' We can't yet imagine all the effects of the panopticon society we are beginning to live in but one benefit to the modern protest movement is the omnipresence of cameras (video) as police officials, protesters, and nearly all onlookers are recording whatever goes on bringing greater accountability and a reality-test for police claims that they 'had' to use excessive force. 'What's new is that now the perception war occurs simultaneously with the physical struggle. There's almost parity,' writes Andrew Sprung. 'You have a truncheon or gun, I have a camera. You inflict pain, I inflict infamy.'"
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The Future of Protest In Panopticon Nation

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  • by Quila (201335) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @05:52PM (#38141494)

    The blacks and Tank Man couldn't be sure the government wouldn't kill them on purpose. They faced down the very real threat of death for participating in their movements.

    For the OWS movement, any deaths caused by the government will be accidental.

  • by Phoenix666 (184391) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @05:56PM (#38141556)

    We all know the 1% (or "powers that be," if you prefer) are tracking us now and will continue to expand the scope and depth of how they track us.

    But we in the 99% (or "little people/hoi poloi/peasants," if you prefer) have access to most of the same technology at an affordable price point. There is no technical reason we cannot track them as much or more than they can us, especially if we use our vastly superior numbers to crowd-source the most difficult part of tracking: making sense of the deluge of data.

    If we repeat what we did with searching for Steve Fossett's plane using Google Earth crossed with FoldIt and SETI@home we can develop a real-time picture of exactly what the 1% are doing, where, and when. That's a tremendous amount of intelligence we can leverage in many ways.

    So, for example, if we map radio transponders used by our friendly neighborhood shock troo, er, police then we can equal the spying they're already doing on peaceful protesters (Google "NYPD spying protest groups." What would they do if we knew exactly where they keep their LRAD cannons and pepper spray depots and stage sit-ins at the entrances before they can deploy? What if every single Lt. John Pike gets followed home by the protesters who surround his home, quietly sitting and linking arms?

    Or, more to the point, what if we made sure that the puppet masters never have a moment's peace and that they know we all know them exactly for the scum they are?

    That, I believe, is what needs to happen next to break the back of this beast.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @05:57PM (#38141562)

    I am posting in anon-mode for reasons that will become obvious.

    As terrible as police brutalty is, and as unjustified as the pepper spray incident obviously was, many of us UCD students are still not really on-board with the protesters now occupying our campus. While there are many students, a large percentage of the protesters are outsiders who have come from Berkeley, LA and further. They are camping on our lawn and drumming up support for various causes that our mildly conservative campus is not fully in support of (Davis typically serves the people from the central valley of CA). Our quad is now a mesh of ragtag tents, a pipe-frame geodesic dome, and dozens of media vans. Personally, I just want to do my homework and hopefully graduate so I can move out of california and find a job.

    Is tuition high? Yes. Should taxes be more equitable? Yes. Is blasting reggae music till 11:30 PM right next to our library going to effect those changes? Probably not.

    To end on a quip; protesting for the right to protest is like having sex for virginity.

  • panopticon (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @06:11PM (#38141770)

    The pervasive presence of cameras does not, by itself make a panipticon. The theory of the Panopticon is that the prisoners self regulate behavior because they are unaware of whether they are being observed, because the guard in the tower is hidden. While omnicient surveilance is a big concern, it is more often the visible presence of police at protests that keep people's behavior controlled.

    The interesting thing about this is that protestors' behavior is more beholden to their chosen audince than the authority figures. There are a mass of bystanders who could obviously physically step in and stop the cop from spraying their freinds. Its easy to do, but protestors are performing an act of nonviolence and no one wants to deviate from that performance.

  • by InitZero (14837) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @06:12PM (#38141774) Homepage
    My father was a college student and newspaper photographer in Ohio circa May 1970. His photos of student protest and civil disobedience [capecentralhigh.com] remind me of what I'm seeing with the Occupy movement.

    A year or more ago, I commented that I didn't think the Tea Party would have a long-term affect because they weren't motivated enough to burn down an ROTC building nor were the police scared enough of them to hit them with tear gas.

    Agree with them or not. Understand them or not. The Occupy movement is going to leave a mark upon this country because they are willing to have skin in the game.

    Cheers, Matt
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @06:45PM (#38142180)

    The blacks and Tank Man couldn't be sure the government wouldn't kill them on purpose. They faced down the very real threat of death for participating in their movements.

    Not sure about the blacks, but it's not true with Tankman, even though I understand your general sentiment.

    I grew up in China, and was a freshman in college when Tankman emerged, so in a sense I was his contemporary. For better or for worse, the CCP had maintained a very effective propaganda up to that point, that the army and the people were a family, hence the name PLA, or "People's Liberation Army". There was a popular saying and it roughly translates: the relationship between the army and the people is like fish and the water. And this relationship went both ways, in that your average Chinese citizens genuinely admired the army, and the army genuinely loved the people.

    With that historical backdrop, I don't think Tankman had any fear of bodily harm or death at that particular moment, standing in front of the tanks. At the same time, I don't think the lead tank driver had any intention to shoot or run over the man. As a matter of fact, if you watch the entire video clip, you'll see the lead tank tried to maneuver around and pass the man, unsuccessfully. Essentially, you have these two kids (Tankman and tank driver), young, idealistic, naive, nothing personal with one another, and completely oblivious of the horror that's about to unfold merely a few hours later -- much like myself at that point in time.

    But again, the Tankman image is so powerful and (unintentionally) heroic that I suspect all the nuances and intricate undercurrent are forever lost especially to the western audience, much like many other iconic images in history.

  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @07:04PM (#38142404)

    The unwise, reactionary, direction-less types who tend to attach themselves to any major movement are the biggest problem the Occupiers currently have. Do you not notice how the media reports with glee the rapes, murders, etc. that occur on the Occupied territory? That's exactly what they want -- for you to be no better. If you want to be effective, don't give it to them.

    Your problem is, and I have this information directly from people who participated in this very same activity in the 1960s, is that the unwise, reactionary, direction-less types, as well as those looking to party, do drugs, and hook-up with the opposite sex, are 99% of your protest numbers. Without them, the true reactionaries would be seen as too small a group to even care about. So they have to invite everybody else in in an attempt to show numbers that they don't truly possess. Running a fine Kitchen and giving out lots of free stuff at the Comfort Tent gave OWS the appearance of numbers far beyond the true reality of the dedicated.

  • by maxx_entropy (869755) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @07:18PM (#38142546)
    The Ninth Circuit has already ruled on this sort of situation.. the courts will and must revoke the police's qualified immunity against claims of excessive force. Let the lawsuits begin: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-9th-circuit/1332957.html [findlaw.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @07:25PM (#38142638)

    The Davis situation has some important differences with other Occupy incidents.

    First and foremost, there is a strong presumption (strong enough to stand in any civil court in California) that the individuals involved had a legal right to be where they were. They were not being accused of trespassing, nor were they being accused via any specific form of due process of any crime at all. They were technically "in or near their domicile", the common area around a residential section of their campus. To some degree they have the same rights as you would have, on the sidewalk in front of your California home. Because of this aspect, there are as many Fourth Amendment considerations as there are First Amendment questions.

    Next, also somewhat important, is that the officer (Lt. Pike) was acting on his own initiative, contrary to orders to _not_ use force. At least this is according to official statements made today by people speaking for the university. While he may enjoy immunity from any _criminal_ accusations, he may not have _civil_ immunity because he was acting as an individual and not following orders of a law enforcement organization. He was using force against individuals who were not under arrest, not under suspicion of any particular crime, and certainly without any warrant or the will of any judicial magistrate. It remains to be seen if the departmental policy documents this procedure for the use of pepper spray and whether it was consistent with that policy, even if justified.

    But it does not matter. It will be a long road for the university officials to defend the premise that an order to vacate that particular area was lawful in the first place, because they cannot show that the individuals had no right to be there, whereas the protestors can show that they did.

    Perhaps most important of all, the UC Davis Board of Regents are not stupid enough to allow any civil cases to escalate, since it's easy to see how they could be forced into explaining all of this to the very same Ninth Circuit panel that decided for Lundberg vs. Humboldt. If they allowed it to get to that point, and then if it could be shown that anyone in a position of authority knew or should have known about that standing case law as it applies in California, the door is open to not only unlimited civil damages (think millions per victim) but also to conspiracy charges against the people who made the decision to do this attack.

    Smarter armchair lawyers than myself are obviously thinking about this, and are already doing damage control. I notice that soon-to-be-former Lt. Pike is wisely speaking to no-one other than his own lawyer, and that the people who speak for the university are making it clear that Pike was disobeying orders. If they fail to throw Pike under the bus, they have a HUGE problem in that orders were given which are not at all lawful in their jurisdiction. The school's directors are assuredly praying that none of these individuals have rich, well-connected, activist parents.

    This may not end as badly for Pike as some of you are obviously hoping. He might turn out to be a pinhead who didn't understand what he was stepping in. Ignorance I can forgive, to an extent. But if he was ordered to do what he did by someone who knew or should have known the things I outline in my post above, then release the hounds.

    My bet is that it will end quietly with undisclosed settlements offered to each victim. Like I said, the UC Davis board are not fools, and they know that trying to defend against civil litigation from any of these students will be a losing proposition. The Davis incident is quite unlike any of the other OWS protest violence incidents, primarily because none of those incidents can be construed to have occurred _where the protestors lived_.

    I doubt Lt. Pike will be held personally responsible for financial losses to the University but I do not believe he has any sort of total immunity, especially if the University admins are telling the truth about him being ordered not to use force. If they are lying, they are F'd. If they are telling the truth, Pike is F'd. Either way, the institution is F'd, and there are going to be some very happy lawyers getting a piece of the action.

  • by rastilin (752802) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @07:34PM (#38142746)

    Did you see the video? They were very scary weren't they? Sitting down on the ground like that with their arms pinned and not moving. So scary that the officer felt the need to prance around spraying them while his mates turned their backs to the protesters.

    It's a problem because in a first world country, people expect better than to have violence used against them for not running scared when the officers arrive. Police are supposed to work together with people to keep the community together; not come when those in power call them to put the hurt on people who're being difficult.

    That's the crisis. What makes it worse is that the officers involved were so relaxed that they don't appear to be worried about the protesters at all; they used pain just because it was easier.

  • by Burning1 (204959) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @07:54PM (#38142954) Homepage

    You may be thinking of the Cracked.com article: "5 ways we ruined the occupy wall street generation [cracked.com]." Good article, and definitely worth a read.

  • by causality (777677) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @08:01PM (#38143018)

    You can read some Henry David Thoreau and understand why he would have preferred to remain in jail instead of having a well-meaning but less-principled individual pay his poll tax for him.

    Thoreau's essay (search for "Civil Disobedience" online) is excellent and should be required reading of every high school student in America.

    (Preferring to remain in jail is a little less impressive when it's only overnight, until Emerson comes to bail him out in the morning. Kinda like how his whole self-reliance theme is a little less powerful when he's squatting on land owned by Emerson. But still, considering the essay that came out of the overnight stay in jail, and its subsequent influence, it was pretty awesome.)

    I especially loved and appreciated the part about the level of consciousness from which the State's response came. I don't remember the description exactly, but he wrote about the way it was his thoughts, beliefs, principles, and meditations that they found so intolerable, yet they took out their vengence on his body by locking it up. He said they did this just as boys who, unable to get back at their enemy, will abuse his dog. The jailor shut and locked the cell door, imprisoning his body, but his meditations went right through and out the door behind him.

    This was not someone you could intimidate by the usual methods and he did not need violence to achieve that status. This is what I admire.

  • Maybe. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @08:02PM (#38143036)

    Your problem is, and I have this information directly from people who participated in this very same activity in the 1960s, ...

    Maybe. But I think the situation may be a bit different today.

    ... is that the unwise, reactionary, direction-less types, as well as those looking to party, do drugs, and hook-up with the opposite sex, are 99% of your protest numbers.

    There are probably better places to "do drugs" that a place with, literally, dozens of cops standing around you. Who can come in at any time and knock your tent over.

    The same with "hook-up with the opposite sex". Not to mention that the ratio is rather slanted to males. Unless you're a woman looking for a guy ... in a cold tent ... in a public place ... with lots of cops around. And while I'm sure that those women do exist, I think we've wandered into fantasy territory.

    The party people, sure. As long as there's a party. But there are other parties out there. In warm places. With a lot lower police presence (because the cops are all at the protest).

    Running a fine Kitchen and giving out lots of free stuff at the Comfort Tent gave OWS the appearance of numbers far beyond the true reality of the dedicated.

    Again, maybe. They've claimed that the cops were pushing the homeless and regular vagrants to the protest. So there is at least some people there who would not be called "dedicated" to the general cause.

    On the other hand, not many people would choose to live in a cold tent in NYC if they had any other options. So those who aren't "dedicated" are indicative of the overall problem.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @08:40PM (#38143356) Homepage Journal

    Here's an interesting article by Norm Stamper, Seattle Police Chief during the WTO protests in 1999 ("Battle in Seattle"). Since then, he has professed great regret for his reaction and has unequivocally apologized for his orders and the actions of the police force. Anyway, he addresses the increasing militarization of the police in the US and explains why it is such a bad idea to stop being part of the community and start being the "them", as in oppressors, at least with respect to solving day to day crimes that actually harm citizens.

    I know Lt Wardanian of the UIC police here in Chicago. He's a very good man. Also somewhat uncomfortable about the militarization, but aware of the pressure to "professionalize" the campus police, which means "buy military hardware".

    The big military contractors see local police forces as an opportunity - a new profit center. The first municipal PD to get heavy into the military drag was Los Angeles, and there were demonstrated ties (money) passing from the big military contractors to LAPD brass after Rodney King. That disaster of a police chief Darryl Gates was the guy on the take, and no, as chief, he was not a union member.

    Can you imagine? The reaction of Gates and the LAPD brass after the Rodney King incident and its aftermath is to give its officers more deadly hardware? Also, to end any efforts to engage in "community policing" or for that matter, any involvement with the communities and their leaders at all. The tenure of Chief Gates is a blot on the history of Los Angeles, and so naturally has been emulated by police chiefs nationwide.

  • Re:Ooooo, Infamy. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lotana (842533) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @02:53AM (#38145754)

    I wish to have mod points to mods to raise the parent post even higher. It is good to see that there are at least some people here who see the difference between justice and revenge.

    It is appauling to see to what height of bloodthirstiness people work themselves into. My opinion is that this is a result of very conservative culture and the sheer feer that Americans subject themselves to (Especially since 9/11). They are afraid of their government, corporations, foreign cultures and different religions. From what I read on Slashdot and elsewhere, quite a sizable percentage of the population own and train in the use of firearms because they fear to walk on the streets unarmed due to the perception that criminals are everywhere and house invasions to be commonplace. This gives me the impression that Americans are frightened of even each other.

    And the result of all that buildup of fear is disproportional lashing out at any perceived threat. An analogy would be like a person with mild arachnophobia finding a very scary, poisonous-looking spider in the evening in his bedroom. He can try to capture it to release it outside, but he is too frightened of the possibility that it might get back in again. So he would thoroughly kill it just to be able to sleep comfortably.

    When you are greatly afraid, why would you trust mental health facilities to rehabilitate the sexual offender, when permanently isolating, driving him to suicide or execution would bring a guaranteed removal of the threat?

    Very sadly even much less hideous crimes result in backlashes. Apperently even if you never hurt anyone but get caught in the act of using illicit drugs results in you being sent to prison. I also find it shocking how prisons are not viewed as a place of rehabilitation but as a way to inflict vengence. I base that on the attitude of how prison rape is viewed not a problem, but as a source humour and almost endoursement since it is people who are accused of crimes that are the victums.

    Of course everything above is just my personal opinion and how I explain to myself the reason for such harshness of the American justice system. Another explanation I found was in a freely available, easy to read book by Bob Altemeyer called The Authoritarians [members.shaw.ca]. Trouble is that you really can't tell if it is just another biased opinion.

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