How the police took Occupy’s privacy away
|November 16, 2011||Posted by Sophy Bot under Politics|
With just a few hours remaining until its forceful eviction, the scene at Occupy Wall Street bordered on the serene. An unusually mild November evening had brought protesters out of their tents and into the open, blissfully unaware that the New York Police Department was actively preparing to descend upon and shut down the Zuccotti Park encampment. Despite weeks of preparation involving hundreds of offices in New York and other occupied cities nationwide, the protesters never suspected a thing. While their own preparations were being carried out on wide open networks and public websites, the police operated entirely behind closed doors. They had what the protesters did not: a private network and the element of surprise.
Since its inception, the Occupy movement has relied on the internet and social networks to spread its message and to coordinate logistics. The #occupywallstreet tag has exploded in popularity on Twitter, thousands of people have joined hundreds of groups on Facebook, and dozens of cities worldwide have echoed the protest locally, creating their own websites and forums along the way. Information was spread far and wide and communication was instantaneous, but all of it was as much in view of the authorities as of the protesters. A recent U.S. court decision involving the Twitter accounts of WikiLeaks supporters shows us that even what seems private online – direct messages on Twitter, for instance – can now be released without the need of a warrant. The message is clear: we, the public, cannot use social networks for our own private communication. By joining Twitter, the recent court decision announced, we have forfeited the privacy of any communication carried out therein.
The troubling part of what happened at Zuccotti Park last night is not that the authorities were able to widely communicate in private – that is, of course, an absolute necessity – but that we, the public, have no ability to do the same. It harkens back to the days when distributing subversive pamphlets was illegal and authorities could legally crack down on any group meetings where such forbidden topics were discussed. The Occupy movement has carried out all of its communication in the public eye. The police have been involved, the government has been involved, Wall Street has been involved; everybody was invited to participate in the conversation. Now that the police have evicted the Occupy Wall Street encampment – the only place where protesters were able to have private group discussions in a face-to-face setting – the movement is in need of a private place to continue the conversation online. Whatever the reasons for the eviction itself, by forcing individuals out of the only physical setting that allowed for private group discussions, the ability to have such discussions was effectively eliminated. Until we are able to privately communicate in a group setting online, there needs to be a physical counterpart to any protest or movement.
What the police shut down last night was not a campsite. It was a vital communication hub that now needs to be replaced.
Photo credit: Nick Gulotta