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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Police relationship with Occupy will generate media

In half an hour, the New Zealand police will move in on the Occupy protestors in Dunedin. Given until 8pm this evening to evacuate the Council land or face eviction, in some ways the end of the protests is inevitable. On the other hand, the relationship between Occupy protestors and the police has been one that has functioned as a flash point on debates over the limits of democracy and free speech.

At the beginning of September, Anonymous announced via Youtube video the beginning of the first phase in a non-violent war. This would involve, they said, a wave of global protests beginning in October that drew attention to Anonymous as an organization, to abuses of human rights everywhere, regardless of religion, race or creed, and that they would begin hacking low level targets. This lasts until December, when two more successive phases will be initiated that no one knows about yet. Anonymous, together with the Canadian based Adbusters, formulated and launched the idea of the Occupy protests. There was an emphasis on non-violence, and with the patterns that they had seen in the Arab Awakening no doubt knew that the predictably heavy response of authorities would bring more people to the streets as the images circulated. They were right: first the notorious pepper spray incident and then the 700 people arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge.

However, the democratic organization of the protests proved elusive for mainstream media to interpret, and they were initially met with a media black out, then scorn and bemusement. Yet still they grew, with 928 meet ups sparking overnight on Meetup.com. To date, there have been protests in too many countries to list, but some interesting ones include Jakarta, Taipei, Tokyo, Serbia, Bosnia. The Egyptians have sent bloggers over to the Wall St protests and there is an intense international exchange going on. The global spread of the protests should tell you that although to many they seem incomprehensible (as in the oft-repeated journalistic tone of scorn on why [insert journalist] is better than the protestors, or the equally hilarious [insert journalist]'s list of proper demands they should adopt), they have real global uptake. And in the beginning it was none other than New York's Mayor Bloomberg that was fueling that to his detriment.

While these were largely interpreted as being a bunch of slackers, they are actually seen in the tech industry as being early adopters and the movement is interpreted as driving people off Facebook as the protestors adopt other forms of technology. Polling by the Huffington Post indicates that the protestors are on point within about 5% to mainstream American views. This explains why they've had support from two Nobel Peace Prize winning economists (Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman) and scores of academics. When former Clinton advisor Naomi Klein was arrested, she was told that if she joined the protests again she would be recognized by facial recognition technology and tracked by CCTV for the rest of her life if she joined again. Bloomberg, under the auspices of the NYPD, has actually managed to arrest half of the democratic candidates for the mayoral race in 2013, which shows that it has little sign of slowing down.

What the Dunedin Council and police must bear in mind tonight is that whatever they do will be streamed and circulated worldwide. There is a reason why protestors in Tahrir Square have occurred in support of Occupy Wall St, why in Libya one can find messages such as 'Today Libya, tomorrow Wall Street" and why Tunisians have been going onto Barack Obama's Facebook over the last few days and leaving pro-revolutionary messages that have been Americanized. Like it or not, the protests are generating international interest and observation that means it will get picked up internationally, in the same way that the Occupy protests being broken up in Australia made such reputable international newspapers as the Washington Post.

I really hope the Dunedin City Council and Dunedin Police are aware of how viral the images could potentially go when we have just spent $400 million on our tourism industry via the Rugby World Cup to position New Zealand as a great location.


At 1/11/11 10:07 pm, Blogger Lady said...

It's perhaps a test of the impartiality of social media as much anything else. No wonder then that the protestors are taking up other platforms instead of Facebook then. Thanks for a great article Phoebe.

At 2/11/11 7:32 am, Blogger AAMC said...

If you haven't already read this article Phoebe, it may interest you... in relation to the beginning phase of #OWS


At 2/11/11 8:39 am, Blogger Gosman said...

Seems like the Police are taking the cautious approach you suggest.

At 2/11/11 9:19 am, Blogger Raph NZ said...

Occupy protesters around the country often have a list of possible donations. Simple things like A4 paper or food can go a long way.
Great work Phoebe.


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