Late last night in New York, the cop TV show “Law And Order: SVU” was apparently filming an episode in an Occupy-themed set, constructed in a NYC park, complete with tents, a kitchen and library. Occupy protesters got word of it, spread it through social networks and converged a flashmob on the set to disrupt the filming.
This movement is the passion and life of those who believe in it and its message. It’s something that people have fought for, believe in, suffered for, gone to jail for, been tear-gassed for and had their lives inspired and changed by. Those who originally set up tents in Zuccotti Park and all of those who have followed in their footsteps worldwide do not appreciate being appropriated as cardboard caricatures in a cheap TV stage for a show whose main purpose is to sell advertising to passive TV viewers. And that’s even if the plot were to accurately portray the movement, which you know it won’t. Let them come up with their own stories, not glom on to ours. This action was perfect dose of instant karma to the TV producers who came up with the idea.
The video below has some great mic-check moments. I especially love the ones where announcements are made that “the people’s kitchen is now open” and “the people’s library is now open,” the latter followed by someone saying, “oh, so that’s where the books went” in reference to the extensive Zuccotti Park encampment’s library that was trashed by the cops.
One commentator notes that the joke may be on the (real) protesters if the whole thing was actually a set-up and they were being filmed secretly for part of the show. That would make the event a Candid Camera-type reality TV show filmed about protesters disrupting the set of a fiction show about protesters who disrupt bankers with the whole thing being disrupted in the end by (real?) cops…who are then filmed and broadcast on Youtube. One more layer of this and my head will explode.
What makes this event interesting goes beyond the layers of humor and irony, to the speed with which it happened. I’ve only seen this one video, but it may have been livestreamed and it was live-tweeted, as most protests are now. Back in the pre-social media era (like, less than ten years ago), a few people may have phone-treed and emailed and organized a small, last-minute turnout. Now, the response is instant and the reach global.
The speed with which information can flow and ad hoc responses be organized has led—or should quickly lead—to a qualitative difference in social movement structure and strategy (i.e. a new paradigm of action and organization), not just a quantitative one (i.e. mere rate of spread and mere number of people who might be involved). We’ve only barely begun to scratch the surface of what is possible with these new forms of technology and the corresponding horizontalist, networked culture, both of which are arising and feeding each other simultaneously. We won’t fully utilize the potential until we learn to adjust our thinking forward.
It is a truly exciting time to be an activist, as new opportunities are evolving on a weekly basis. The original flash mobs were little more than pranks, but pioneered the form. Most Twitter content is unremarkable but the platform’s instant, global connectivity is now being leveraged to foment insurgence and free imprisoned journalists and dissidents. (For example, see this blog for a detailed analysis of the campaign to free Mona Eltahaway which could not have happened as it did a decade ago.)
Every organizer in history, from Sun Tsu or Alexander The Great to civil rights-era protesters or ’80s-’90s-era forest-protection activists have fantasized about the ability to have real-time visual communications.* In ancient times, this was something people consulted oracles and prayed to dieties for. Twenty years ago, it was a Star Trek sci-fi fantasy that only the leaders had. Today we all have it in our hands and everyone can now be the eyes of the world.
This changes everything. Pay attention. Think way, way out of the box, ‘cuz that’s where we’re going.
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*My activism started with ancient forest protection blockades in the mid-’80s. Oh, how we would have died to have a smart-phone with a satellite uplink to livestream logging protests, blockades and tree-sits from miles back on dirt roads in remote areas of the National Forest! No one should be doing that sort of thing now without that technology.