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Excerpt: "The protest movement is on the move again, but there are also ominous signs that the state surveillance apparatus is mobilized. ... The police state is locking in around Occupy NYC in new and quite terrifying ways."

Portrait, author and activist Naomi Wolf, 10/19/11. (photo: Guardian UK)
Portrait, author and activist Naomi Wolf, 10/19/11. (photo: Guardian UK)



Alert for the Occupy Movement

By Naomi Wolf, Guardian UK

04 May 12

 

Occupy Wall Street: Take the Bull by the Horns

 

o, Occupy got it together for May Day – at least, in New York City. You would never know it, though, from mainstream news: those reports were full of what I call the "erectile dysfunction" narrative, the default narrative in American new coverage of mass protest. "Why Occupy May Day Fizzled", as CNN had it: flaccid efforts, always in "drenching rain", that may be well-intentioned but have no staying power.

But if you click onto the new site Occupy.com – or if you actually went to the rally held in the late afternoon in Union Square – it was a very different story: thousands of euphoric protesters, a massive sound stage, edgy hip-hop artists who had created Occupy anthems that were euphorically received by the crowd, and representation by dozens of community groups and unions in Manhattan. In other words – if built on further – a power base. Maydaysolidarity2012.org showed a coalition of what must be 30 unions and community groups, ranging from the Domestic Workers United, to New York Immigration Coalition, to Veterans for Peace Chapter Three, to the journalists' union, the National Writers' Union.

It seems Occupy has spent the winter changing its strategy – and building coalitions with existing community groups on the ground. This has paid off handsomely, at least as far as the May Day rally demonstrated. Because they had organized with a real city power base – the unions, without which Mayor Bloomberg can't function, and which his "designated successor", Christine Quinn, needs to have on her side – there was a world of improvement in their reach and effectiveness.

The media outreach was better, though far from perfect. They were able to get out messaging about news stories the media has ignored: reporting on Barcelona's General Strike of 29 March, which, a flyer claimed, "brought much of Spain's economy to a halt". Occupy asserted that Spain's electricity consumption dropped 24% on that day. They published a weekly "The Occupied Wall Street Journal" May Day edition, which had an actual schedule of the day's events on the front page, and retailed news "from the front lines": Occupy UC Davis, it reported, "permanently closed a campus branch of a US bank after a two-month student-led blockade" – which I hadn't read elsewhere. Atlanta Jobs with Justice, Communications workers of America Local 3204, and Occupy Atlanta together "prevented 255 layoffs" at AT&T it claimed, after a 42-day-long tent occupation; and it asserted that Occupy Century Aluminum – "A group of retirees who occupied the site of their former West Virginia workplace" for 75 days won reinstatement of healthcare benefits.

The People's Bailout, it continued, "a series of singing protests", disrupted about six foreclosure proceedings in Brooklyn and Queens, and 79,000 people signed a petition publicizing the situation of a grandmother facing eviction – forcing JP Morgan to broker a settlement with her. If these news events, which have not been reported widely outside of Occupy media, are accurately portrayed, then this movement is effective, creating targeted actions, and growing. It explains the massive reaction by banks, telecoms companies and their allied police forces in major cities throughout America.

You would not know it from news coverage, portraying Occupy members as scruffy, stoned and vague, but the intensive activity of third-party security contractors reported on by Bloomberg News, not to mention DHS and NYPD infiltrators who are sharing their intelligence with banks, would have passed on to corporations these summaries of a genuine threat to business as usual.

The problems remain, however. One is messaging. Some of the claims of Occupy literature are outlandish, or at least unlikely: Spanish "strike participation ran between 80-100% in most industries." Really? No links or sources are included, which would enable a reporter to check the assertion. And even "The Occupied Wall Street Journal" is maddening if you are trying to tell the story of Occupy's evolution: while editors are listed by name, and there is the eternal infuriating general email box, there is no designated press contact with whom a reporter can follow up. Nor are there any links to back up the assertions in the text of all these achievements.

Potential news stories were many: had Ustream been censored, as one Occupy protester told me, with segments showing NYPD rudeness or unprofessionalism removed? If so, when? Whom could I contact about that story? What proof was there? No one "speaks for the group", still, or even takes personal responsibility for the news it generates, so there is no one designated to answer reporters' questions and help send real news about Occupy into the general news stream. I would warn, again, that this structure is a recipe for marginality: how can I report on these important-sounding events allegedly taking place across the country if no one will show up to verify them?

You can "find the movement online": the newspaper lists sites ranging from Occupy.com to Occupytogether.org to occupiedmedia.com to occuprint.org. But as I combed the advance crowd the day before looking for someone, anyone, to tell me the goals of the day to come, no one was designated and no literature specified what those goals were. No press release had gone out, that I could find, detailing the impressive list of 30 community groups and unions that had come together – a big news story in itself. This lack of press communications and vagueness of messaging still create a situation in which Occupy media too often talks to itself, making unverifiable claims, and failing to capitalize on the important achievements it may well be generating in building these coalitions and taking these actions.

So I interviewed a random Occupier, which is the preferred way they like reporters to work. Marc Lombardo is charming, bearded, 29-year-old school teacher from northern California: he has been staying in McDonald's restaurants until they closed, then sleeping on the street, compelled by his desire to be present for this event. He has been talking Occupy to high-school students – and getting a big response.

What did he want out of May Day? He wanted an end to capitalism, which he defined as a money value system alone, without people's values included. He wanted an end to "the new Jim Crow", author Michelle Alexander's term – "the drug laws which lock up black and brown kids". He wanted people to have access to meaningful work and sustainable economic models: he mentioned the Brazilian farmers' collective, Sin Tierra.

"My hope for tomorrow," he said, "is that we shut this city down." He mentioned the historical origin of May Day in America, designated as a day of commemoration in the 1880s, he and many Occupiers noted, not by communists but by US labor groups in Chicago that were fighting for the eight-hour day, and for the weekend. "It is an historic day," he said. Referring to the fact that few know this backstory, he added, "We are reclaiming the history that has been stolen from us."

Well, it was a historic day: Union Square had sixties lefties such as independent blogger Danny Schechter (the "news dissector") present, and media personality Laura Flanders, and renowned "Shut Up and Sing" filmmaker Barbara Kopple. But media heavyweights were joined by people across economic lines. I was suddenly hugged in the crowd by a lovely young African-American woman: I realized that she had bagged my groceries and chatted with me about politics at my local discount grocery chain. Many young African-American men and women were there with signs protesting "stop and frisk" – the NYPD's controversial racial-profiling policing tactic – as were union members ranging from administrative assistants to immigrants' rights workers' to the old standby from the 1980s, CISPES, which protests US policy in El Salvador.

It was a joyful, diverse, euphoric gathering. But all this was also taking place in a police state, which it was calling into being by its very potential. I counted dozens of marked and unmarked police vans along 13th Street, and all of Fifth Avenue was a phalanx of police cars: a show of force. After the unions marched down 14th Street, in their red T-shirts, literally hundreds of motorcycle-riding NYPD cops followed them in silent rebuttal. Throughout the crowd, you could see contractors using a new technology: a device that looked like a phone with a sliding keyboard, but which they used to sweep the crowd in a horizontal motion.

The police state is locking in around Occupy NYC in new and quite terrifying ways. The day before, I had stopped by Union Square and chatted with NYPD officers. As I was interviewing Sgt Mimkin – having a peaceful chat about whether or not the constitution gives NYC residents the right to go home undisturbed (it doesn't, FYI, but I was happy to be having that debate) – and even though I had identified myself as press, his fellow officer lifted up one of the handheld devices, held it about 10 inches away from my face, and snapped its mechanism. After I spoke with the officers, as I was interviewing Mike Lombardo – across the park – various undercover agents or contractors kept approaching with telephoto lenses, taking pictures of us. It was intimidating to protest, and intimidating to engage in reporting.

It did not end there. I noticed a white van flanked by NYPD across the street. A bucket ladder hoisted a white man in his thirties. He had a kind of camera device attached to a white horizontal plastic console and was sweeping the park with it. "What is that truck?" I asked Sgt Minkin.

"A bucket ladder," he said, without turning around.

"Don't you have to secure the park?" I asked. He didn't answer.

I went across the street, and the man was out of the bucket, now surrounded by five or six white men with short haircuts. The van was marked "EMG security" and had 1-800-345-7711 listed on its side. I identified myself as a reporter.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Light post survey," he said. I saw that they were holding maps of the park, with all the light posts identified. A white box, I saw, was affixed to many of the light posts.

"Your plates say, 'Indiana energy'," I noted. "How does an Indiana utility have access to New York City infrastructure?" He moved away.

I followed and kept asking. "I don't understand. Isn't it another jurisdiction?" Finally, he said: "Look, I am a contractor. Time is money. If you have questions, ask Con Ed."

Later that night, I asked a contact at the ACLU what he thought I had seen. "I know one thing," he replied. "They are not Indiana Energy. That was probably face-recognition technology."

If so, or if it is another security technology, this raises possibility many serious questions: if third-party contractors are engaging in some kind of new-tech surveillance and using NYPD utilities as a framework, how can reporters oversee it? If they are private contractors, a FOIA request won't reveal the program.

Face recognition is being developed by the military and the Department of Homeland Security – in contracts with third-party contractors. In itself, such technology could be defended, theoretically, as part of a security network, but if it has no public oversight, it could also be linked to protesters' entire electronic profiles and used in a way that could – especially if Cispa passes – cripple electronically anyone caught in the data stream. Not to mention the fact that such new technologies have not been tested publicly for possible health consequences.

On May Day, the marchers partied; NYPD watched. The cameras, visible and possibly not visible, recorded. Banks sent out their armies: the NYPD is, according to BORDC's Shahid Buttar, the seventh largest army on earth, and there is no effective oversight of its leader Ray Kelly at all. The sides squared off.

Is May Day's Occupy turnout a chimera – a groundless gesture to be hedged in by rapidly escalating new surveillance technologies and punitive new laws? Or is it a new beginning – a base, finally, to be built into a massive electoral lobby, built out of "the people's coalitions", with sound messaging, reporter follow-up, and clear legal and political strategies?

As I type, listening to the police helicopters that still hover over lower Manhattan, I can only hope it is the latter.

 

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-13 # cassandrapt 2012-05-04 06:57
Naomi - Please address recent reports (Commentary Magazine - ugh!) that terrorists are linked to the Occupy Movement.
 
 
+25 # Milarepa 2012-05-04 07:01
Naomi, surely your tireless work will bear fruit. Thank you.
 
 
+16 # DPM 2012-05-04 08:28
Perhaps it is time someone or some organization began surveillance on the top .10%, building dossiers on them. Who they are, their families. Where are their businesses, homes, planes and boats. Auto license plate numbers. Their travels and whereabouts. Finances and partners. Then...PUBLISH the information!
Just a thought, "Uncle". See you at the Occupy rally.
 
 
+2 # Max Demian 2012-05-04 08:56
Perhaps, Naomi Wolf, the would-be confirmation contacts are avoiding being targets of the government by retaining some anonymity, and that's why they aren't giving links to proof for their assertions. So, who's side are you on? Ostensibly you are on the side of Occupy and the protesters, but such criticism doesn't help. It's possible you're right, of course, that some of these "Occupy organizations" are making stuff up, but I doubt it because I have NEVER found protest organizations to make stuff up; and, if anyone is making anything up, it's most likely "controlled opposition" and/or agents provocateur organizations seeking to discredit the movement. You know better than to underestimate the more and more totalitarian corporate-fasci st, policing opposition. But having said that, if you're at all right about irresponsibilit y of some in the movement, perhaps it will get them to clean up their act; though I still think that if they are trying to be anonymous, I don't blame them at all for doing so, and I believe they are probably doing the right thing in that regard, considering the increasingly repressive nature of the corporate-fasci st police state opposition.
 
 
+7 # Citizen Mike 2012-05-04 10:34
Police brutality and surveillance are the tools of Tyranny and when they are used, the forces of the Establishment publicly identify themselves as tyrants.

This is for the best. Let them reveal their nature clearly so the public can see it all! Remember, in a public space, anyone, including the press and the authorities, are free to photograph and record anything, but we are all quite open and have nothing to hide.

I do not mind being known as one who opposes tyranny.
 
 
+8 # HowardMH 2012-05-04 10:58
Go 99ers Go. You are the only hope left for most of the people in the US who appear to be too stupid to even understand how bad they are being screwed by the Top 400 richest in the US who have totally bought and paid for ALL of the politicians at the state and federal level.

Go 99ers Go!!!
 
 
+5 # lorenbliss 2012-05-04 11:12
The problems Ms. Wolf has covering Occupy are not expressions of its naivety but rather of an anti-journalist , anti-media bias that often morphs into contempt and hatred.

A journalist whose career spans 50 years, I was one of Occupy Tacoma's original activists and a key member of its Media Work Group. But the work group was repeatedly sandbagged by the hostility of our fellow OTers.

For me the parting moment was when OT's General Assembly refused to give us permission to disseminate press releases without first obtaining word-for-word GA approval. As a result, our job became impossible. The prolonged process of passing OT censorship – and that is exactly what it was – caused us to repeatedly miss print and broadcast deadlines even for vital announcements of demonstrations. Many of us, self included, soon withdrew in dismay.

OT's hostility to journalists was compounded by chronic refusal to distinguish between alternative journalism and Ruling Class Media. The same closed-mindedne ss is apparent in some of these comments. Apparently Occupy has embraced our indigenous Moron Nation hatred of intellectuals as a legitimate form of post-modern deconstructioni sm and is melding it into a new anarchism that, ironically, is a mirror image of Ayn Rand Libertarianism.

Fortunately for the Revolution, Occupy's new embrace of organized labor suggests the potential of real growth beyond such self-destructiv e folly.
 
 
+11 # seeuingoa 2012-05-04 13:30
I have three pillars of hope in these
crazy times where the world is turning mad:

Naomi Wolf
Chris Hedges
Matt Taibbi

let´s give them all support we can.
 
 
-6 # barbaratodish 2012-05-04 17:52
Naomi Wolf: Generating more fear, because she and others mistake fear for vitality! And all those who give me thumbs down (I guestimate 100 shortly) you are all addicted to fear. Find your lost (that is if you ever had it TO lose it in the first place),sense of HUMOR! lol
 
 
+6 # sheila Cee 2012-05-04 19:01
BIN LADIN WON! WE have been told that he attacked us because they hated our freedoms. If that's the case, they have already won because we no longer live in the land of the free.

We now live in 1984 only it's worse.
 
 
+3 # wrodwell 2012-05-06 13:08
Hiring private security contractors is a stroke of genius by the repressively inclined. Security businesses will go to any lengths to get taxpayer funded contracts in order to make tons of money by any means necessary. It's all part and parcel of the phenomenon I call Carnivorous Capitalism: the Military/Indust rial/Security/P olitical Complex. (A recent notorious recipient of the largesse of this 4-headed monster is the former Blackwater firm that garnered billions in contracts during the War in Irag and as part of their contracts, could not be prosecuted for war crimes.) The private security industry, which includes privately owned prisons (?!), becomes virtually sheltered from scrutiny and regulation, all in the name of "Big Business". It has become America's True Religion worshipped unequivocally by a coterie of True Believers. We've succeeded in inculcating fear in ourselves in a way that Al Queda never thought possible. (It almost makes one nostalgic for the Cold War Era.) Using 9/11 as a low cost investment model - $250,000 - Bin Laden's "investment" has ironically generated mega-exponentia l fear-based capitalist windfalls and probably holds the world record for investment vis a vis returns. Big Security is marketed as the Big Antidote much like the Big Pharma prescription drug commercials on TV. And like those "prescriptions" the "treatment" can be not only dangerous to your health, it can kill you.
 
 
0 # Max Demian 2012-05-10 12:45
I'm in complete agreement with you on this except for one thing: Al Q'aeda is the CIA, and the CIA is al Q'aeda [or, more accurately, "al-CIA-duh(!)" ]. So, they are one of the primary U.S. government agencies bringing about the totalitarian fascist police state in "America", while making the rich richer, and the poor poorer. It's all by design, as you make clear.
 
 
0 # tristanlear 2012-06-04 12:02
they're putting up cameras for the RNC down here in Tampa too: http://occupytampa.org/rnccams.jpg
 
 
0 # RHytonen 2013-07-20 09:22
Quoting tristanlear:
they're putting up cameras for the RNC down here in Tampa too: http://occupytampa.org/rnccams.jpg

Squirt guns.
Black Paint.

Laser Pointers.

Approach from the side.
 
 
0 # RHytonen 2013-07-20 09:14
To a tyrannical, constitutionall y illegally oppressive "government," Democratic, constitutionall y protected behavior and activity ARE "Terrorism."

But that does NOT make it so.

During my 25 years in Manhattan, a wise British friend and fellow musician once observed, "You can put a cat on an oven, but that don't make it a biscuit."
 
 
0 # RHytonen 2013-07-20 09:18
The growth of public recognition of a truth whose time has come, is vulnerable to neither attempts at overwhelming government repression, nor to the fluctations of attendance at specific events. Nor are those an indication of anything but its inevitability.
 

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