Posts tagged News
Posts tagged News
This week, unions won remarkable victories in Chicago and Quebec against the right-wing agenda of gutting public education. In Quebec, the right-wing provincial government had imposed a huge increase in university tuition, almost doubling it. This prompted student unions to organize massive months-long strikes which ultimately brought down the province government. In response to this pressure, the new Parti Québécois government immediately repealed the tuition increase.
In Chicago, the Democrat mayor Rahm Emanuel has been attacking public education and the Chicago Teachers Union since taking office, attempting to extract extra unpaid work from teachers, privatize schools, increase class sizes, strip schools of libraries, art and music programs and further expand standardized testing. After fruitless negotiations, 90% of the Chicago Teachers Union voted to strike. Enjoying massive public support, the strike was a success; the teachers forced major concessions from the mayor and his school board.
By Liana Kallman
Though we, the people may like to pretend that it is we the people who make the decisions in our country, the implementation of our laws is in the hands of a select minority: the police. This means that the way a police officer chooses to understand and enforce the law is a key part of how our country is governed. This may sound like an overstatement of the job description of a police officer, but it really is the police force which chooses and defines how our laws are enforced or ignored. For this reason, the police are among the many groups that are to blame for the injustices perpetuated by our justice system, most notably the phenomenon of the mass incarceration of men of color.
This perversion of justice arises directly from the selective implementation of “stop and search” or “stop and frisk” policies. In the fourth amendment to the Constitution, civilians are granted “the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…” The controversy lies in the interpretation of ‘probable cause’ for a search or seizure. While the Supreme Court did address the interpretation of this ambiguous phrase in the case United States v. Brignoni-Ponce (1975) by ruling that race can be used as a factor in deciding whether to stop and search or frisk an individual, the court left it up to the police to determine just how significant a factor. Judging by the statistics for stops and frisks in New York City last year, race is more than just a factor that goes along with “suspicious activity.” It is the deciding factor. Despite the fact that black and Hispanic people make up less than half of the population in New York City, eighty seven percent of all stops were performed on minorities. In fact, there were more stops performed on young black men in 2011 than actual young black men living in the city. Similar statistics can be found across the country; For example, in Volusia County, Florida only 5% of the drivers are minorities yet eighty percent of all stops and searches are performed on minorities. These statistics show an enormous racial bias in the way stop and searches are executed, leaving no doubt that racism against young men of color is a defining feature of our criminal justice system.
I’m unsure of how to describe the 2012 National Student Power Convergence. As I try to encapsulate the five vivid days I spent in Columbus I find myself writing long, rambling paragraphs. Yet each attempt at prose appears too trite or crude to describe the intense feelings of solidarity and love that I have emerged with. After 5 days of almost non-stop debate, discussion and learning I can only begin to describe some of my thoughts from the conference. I must also admit I am a painter and a revolutionary far more than a writer. With more time and distance I’m sure my thoughts will develop further, but for now I just want to try to lay down some general ideas.
I decided to attend the convergence without any extreme conviction. Several years of student activism had moderated my once lofty expectations of grandiose student projects; and while I agreed with the aim of the convergence, I was skeptical of what the results would be. However as the conference opened I gradually realized something dramatically different was happening. Somewhere around my 10th complex political discussion my earlier skepticism began to collapse. I found myself surround by 200 of the greatest and most passionate youth organizers I have ever met. Furthermore instead of embracing the individualized narrow solutions endorsed by mainstream liberalism, the vast majority of us saw and understood the connections between our different struggles, and targeted capitalism as our common enemy.
Beyond political discussion it was as though many of the rules that normally govern our interactions had fallen away, people engaged with one another without effort: making new friends, volunteering to help cook, clean, and generally assist the conference almost without a second thought. On a large scale I experienced what I had before found only in smaller communities: solidarity.
The conference didn’t seem so much like a group of different ecological, labor, education, civil rights and LGBTQ activists interacting; but rather of one vast group of revolutionaries, some specializing in one aspect of the struggle, others in another, all unified by a common purpose and learning from each other. The effect of this sense of common cause was incredible. While I have long academically connected the many separate struggles against our common oppressors, here for the first time I really had the opportunity to work closely with people from a huge variety of backgrounds.
The diversity of perspectives made the creation of democratic spaces an important feature of the convergence. A huge part of this process was the need for each of us to identify and check our individual privilege; being a white, strait, male this meant that I had to make a significant shift in the way I approached large group conversations. Instead of constantly talking, I started to work on limiting my verbal contributions until others had had their say, allowing new voices to join the conversation. Often the insights I had were voiced by other comrades, who added further perspectives. While at times I found this process personally frustrating, in general it created a more equitable and open space for conversation, ultimately engaging more people in the issues being discussed. I realize that to some people these are not particularly striking revelations, but I think many privileged people, myself included, often don’t consider the dynamics of the spaces they are fostering.
By now, most of the people reading this have heard of the European Crisis, the terrors of Sovereign Debt, and of the measures being taken to keep the European Union whole. However, this has been going on for so long that it may be good for us to overview the crisis, its causes, its effects, and its solutions in a compact form.
The European Union’s origins lie far back in the postwar era. The European Coal and Steel Community, an economic industrial union, was created in 1952. Shortly after, it was joined by the European Atomic Energy Community and the European Economic Union in 1957. These organizations had two purposes: first, to help rebuild Western Europe building upon and superseding the Marshall Plan, and second, to create strong enough economic ties between the nations to prevent another world war. The unstated political goal behind it, though, was to eventually make Western Europe a supranational power bloc, independent of both the Soviet Union and America.
Over time, the three economic unions merged into one collective body. The Maastricht Treaty established the European Union in 1993. The EU is a combination of supranational organizations (some elected by the people, some appointed by member governments) and international agreements between the different heads of state. The Lisbon Treaty, put into effect in 2009, gives more power to the Parliament and diminishes the effect of the Council of Ministers (the arm of the governments of Europe), and makes the European Central Bank (ECB) an EU institution. Moreover, Lisbon gives the European Council (not to be confused with the Council of Ministers) an official role as the policy-setting body that has no actual legislative power, but acts as a way for the different heads of government to be given an official capacity as a collective “head of state.” It has a single monetary policy, free travel, and universal economic laws.
In short, it’s complicated. The modern EU is not a ‘true’ federation, but a confederation, larger in economic power, but still politically similar to the government America had in the immediate post-revolution period. Due to the fact that interstate disputes and economic collapse were threatening to destroy the United States in the 1780s, the Articles of Confederation were abandoned for a stronger union, and now it seems that the EU may follow the same path and become the United States of Europe– or, just as likely, disintegrate.
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It has been one year since 50,000 UK students converged on Central London for a demonstration against rising fees and funding cuts. The November 10th 2010 demonstration was a defining moment for a nascent student movement that has since led the way for resistance to the Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition government.
Last week Wednesday, the students returned to central London 10,000 deep and took the Occupy London encampment at St. Paul’s Cathedral as their base camp. The low turnout was attributed to the failure of the National Union of Students (NUS) to officially back the demonstration – it did in 2010 – and police intimidation.
Fresh off the London uprisings in August, new London Met chief, Bernard Howard-Hogan introduced ‘total policing, which included the authorization to use rubber bullets on demonstrators (announced the day prior to the demonstration) and the mailing of threatening letters to organizers and participants.
On the same day, the national electrician’s union held a day of action in response to a 35% cut in wages. The electricians marched from worksite to worksite calling on fellow workers to join them – successfully shutting down a major rail project. When the electricians tried to join the students the London Met surged ahead to kettle them off with horses and swinging batons. The officers searched the electricians and collected their names and addresses under the authority of controversial section 60 of the Public Order Act.
However, a few electricians that slipped passed the shamelessly oppressive British state authorities joined the students at St. Paul to join in chants of ‘We are the 99%’ and ‘Students and Workers Unite and Fight’
This show of unity between workers and students is significant as trade unions and students gear up for the public sector general strike on November 30th. This is the second general strike in the UK this year – 1 million workers walked out of their jobs across on the country on June 30th this year. Organizers anticipate that 2.5 million students and workers to participate this time around.
To say that students set the tone for trade unions and working people across the UK is hardly an exaggeration. After the November 10 2010 demonstration, student organizers of the Education Activist Network and the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts held rally after rally during the winter months – each time turning out more than the last, each facing more police oppression, each time calling on workers to join them.
Then, on March 26 of this year, the trade unions responded and the largest crowd since the anti-Iraq War protest of 2003 took to the streets in numbers exceeding 500,000.
That students in the UK are leading the reaction to the austerity measures of the coalition government is not surprising. From the 2009-2010 to 2010-2011 academic year, students faced a 9000 USD increase in tuition, in addition to the capping of the number of undergraduates admitted. With the release of the Browne report in 2010 and the more recent HE White Paper it is certain that the current government seeks to dismantle the once affordable system of public education.
The students of the UK have rightly called this strategy the Americanization of British Higher Education. The introduction of student loans, for-profit institutions, frivolous capital investment projects and the division of places of learning into first and second tier institutions – the former which only the rich can afford to attend – is precisely the path that American higher education have taken over the last three decades.
American observers of the European student often remark with bafflement that the latter responds with such vehemence to ‘modest’ increases in tuition. This is almost always accompanied by an air of condescension as the American observer explains that the choice of a degree is like a choice of a cell phone and the European student must wakeup to the reality of market forces driving higher education.
They claim that debt is inevitable, education is not free.
Michigan students from the Class of 2010 graduated with an average of $27,828 in student debt, and promptly entered a job market with the highest post college unemployment in decades. The debt ceiling deal saw major cuts to education and an unfavorable restricting of loan repayment.
The President told American students he ‘heard them’ when the issue of debilitating student debt was raised by the occupy movement, but he then proceeded to pass off the extension of old and ineffectual policies as bold reform.
Sorry, Mr. President, we’ll stay in the streets.
The students of the UK (and now Italy, Chile, Puerto Rico and now Canada) have shown us another way. What began as a string of wildcat occupations at the Universities of Sussex and Middlesex in the spring of 2010 has since grown into a full-scale student and worker rebellion.
It is time for the American student to consider that, along with another world, another education is possible – one that is meaningful, critical, and free.
Since the last issue of The Harbinger, the Occupy Wall Street movement has become a national issue. In every major metropolitan area, a “sister occupation” has taken hold in some fashion. The setup of each of the protests is roughly the same: a core group of protesters sets up a visible camp in a public space to provide a constant presence that “occupies,” or reclaims the location for the use of the majority. Larger general assemblies and demonstrations are held on weekends or after work when employed supporters have time to participate. Though there have been severe cases of police brutality in such locations as Boston, on the whole, most of the Occupations, especially those in smaller cities, have had good relations with the police. However, in recent weeks more and more occupations are coming under larger and more violent police intimidation.
At the beginning of the protests, the Occupy Wall Street crowd was made primarily of anti-capitalists, libertarians, and the usual protesters that appear at anti-establishment gatherings. However, due to the severity of the Global Recession, other citizens have joined in the protests: not just young anarchists, but middle aged union men, Democrat white collar professionals, and progressive parents. Despite the fact that this is a socialist zine that you’re reading, it is important not to think of the protesters as a bunch of maniacal, radical leftists as the corporate media often tries to portray them: there are many progressives, liberals, libertarians and even conservatives who have joined the movement, and the socialists and anarchists are but one part of a disaffected populace that wants change.
All Occupy groups are based on direct democracy, where there are as few representatives as possible and everyone has a direct say in the proceedings. These groups draw from Anarchist consensus methods created to ensure that the majority of a group could not drown out a minority, with each protest determining the rules on their own rather than from some central source. However, most protests do share a number of common characteristics, including particular hand symbols and the now famous “Human Microphone.” The use of hand symbols is so that everyone in the group can hear the current speaker but still respond or object to what they are saying. The “Human Microphone,” though, is a recent development: after the NYPD forbade megaphones at the protest, the Occupiers there developed a system in which the people closest to the speaker would repeat what they said, and would then be repeated again further out. Rather than create a ‘cult-like’ mentality, the Human Microphone allows people as a whole to fully control what is said at any meeting: you don’t repeat what the speaker is saying if you don’t like it, and it makes the listener active in the speech itself.
On the whole, there are four major issues that have given rise to the protests. Though all are interconnected and must be solved as a group, each is best understood on its own first.
1.Government is controlled by the rich (the 1% in the OWS vernacular) who use lobbyists, legal bribers, etc. to dictate US law and policy. This makes our laws favor the elite and their profits more than the vast majority.
2.Banks and corporations use these favorable laws to recklessly gamble money and give executives huge bonuses, while shunting all risk onto the populace. We see nothing of these larger profits (adjusted for inflation, average wages have remained relatively flat over the last 25 years– and not just for the working class).
3.This disconnect from both political and economic self-determination has made the USA a country where the voice of the working class and middle class does not matter to the socioeconomic elite– in effect, we have become an elective oligarchy. To prevent the people from realizing this, they use corporate media to divide people on petty social issues and partisan politics. There is a growing feeling of malaise and disconnection from society as a whole in the majority because of this.
4.Also, high unemployment fits in there somewhere.
The Occupy movement is, essentially, a rediscovery of each other as political entities outside of corporate or party-authorized social gatherings. As a whole, the majority of the country – the 99% – must find a solution to these problems not dictated to us by the ones who benefit from this status quo.
As there are several hundred Occupy demonstrations in the United States alone, a summary of the last month will inevitably be incomplete. However, we will attempt to give a list of notable events and overall trends in the various movements.
New York: On October 2, 700 people were arrested for traffic violations while marching across the Brooklyn Bridge. Many of the protesters maintain that they were deliberately redirected towards the bridge by the NYPD, while other observers say there was a communication failure on both sides of the police action. On October 15, 23 people who were closing accounts at CitiBank as a group were detained by the police. There have been unconfirmed reports that there were undercover police who acted as instigators in the incident. On October 16, appx. 6,000 demonstrators marched through Times Square.
East Coast: On October 10th, Occupy Boston was deliberately crushed by the city. In a stunning display of police action, the first to be arrested after beatings there were US Veterans. The entire camp was thrown into garbage trucks afterwards. A jar filled with toxic chemicals was thrown into the Occupy Portland (Maine) camp at 4 AM on October 23, though nobody was harmed. The thrower has not been found. On October 24, state and local police refused to do a crackdown on Occupy Albany ordered by Governor Cuomo (D) and the Mayor of Albany. Philadelphia has had one of the more peaceful relationships between the protesters and the police. On November 15th, after a week of national police crackdowns, the Occupy New York camp was raided. in the early hours of the morning police shut down the subways and Brooklyn bridge, gave the protesters 20 minutes to clear out, and then marched into the camp. Protesters have since relocated to Foley park, and remain adamant commitment to the movement.
Midwest: Despite some repression by police, Chicago was the first of the protests to successfully march in the financial district. Cincinnati’s occupation initially had major difficulties as there were no publicly owned parks to set up tents in.
West Coast: Occupy LA has had one of the most friendly police presences in the country: however, ABC news created a false alarm that clouded October 26. On October 25, Oakland was the first protest to be attacked with rubber bullets, tear gas, and flash/bang grenades. A recent veteran was severely injured in the attacks. The first general, city-wide strike in the United States since 1937 was held in Oakland in response to the police brutality, and in the evening a foreclosed community center was occupied by more radical elements of the protests. They were then attacked by the police. Another veteran was harmed in Oakland by State troopers this week as well. Oakland has been given widespread international attention too: a solidarity protest was held at the American Embassy in Egypt, among many others.
South and Southwest: Despite being in the heart of conservative territory, there have been several successful Occupation movements in Texas as well as Arizona. Occupy Atlanta, GA has had a continuous, large, presence since near the beginning of the movement, but is now under threat of expulsion. On November 6 their assembly went to neighborhoods to prevent foreclosures from happening. Occupy Nashville was attacked by SWAT teams on October 28. A curfew law was created by the state legislature that was enforced only on the protesters despite applying to all social gatherings, and judges in the State Courts of Tennessee have suspended it for now.
Police have increasingly begun to crack down on protests nationwide, claiming that the settlements are anything from dangerous to unsanitary. The real reason is all too clear, as it has grown, the occupy movement has become a credible threat to the power structure. Now we begin to see more clearly the true nature of the American state, suppressing peaceful protesters to protect the interests of an elite minority. The American government has learned nothing from the Arab spring, and think that they can simply force us back into obedience, but we know that their is no suppressing an idea who’s time has come. For every camp they destroy, let 3 more spring up; for every protester arrested let 10 stand up to take their place. Our time is now.
The actual effect of public protests in modern American politics is a debate that continues in many political circles. On one hand, we have the fact that the Iraq War Protests – the largest protests in the history of the entire world – were ignored, by both politicians and the media. But in contrast, we have the Tea Party’s manufactured populist outrage, which, as good television of crazy people, was covered much more and listened to by conservatives despite the much smaller crowd numbers. And a world away in the Middle East, we see the end result of what should happen when massive protests are ignored and repressed: revolution. Even in Morocco and Jordan, whose monarchies still reign supreme, the will of the people has at least been listened to in a politically-empowering, even if seemingly token, fashion.
Of course, we in the First World like to think of ourselves as politically superior, more mature and democratic in how we govern ourselves. And even without factoring in public disconnect from the Middle East, the socioeconomic state of the most powerful nation in the world is extremely different from that of states from Tunisia to Syria. Tahrir Square is not present in the USA, nor will it be for the foreseeable future.
However, both the Muslim dictatorships and the First World democracies have a common illness: the global recession. Beginning in late 2008, banks dealing in mortgages and subprime lending (read: lending to people who can’t possibly pay it back) collapsed in a financial crisis that expanded worldwide and affected all areas of the world economy. While an initial resurgence of Keynesian Economics, which is based on government investment to stimulate demand, was seen, it was in many cases conservative in scope and soon replaced by Neoliberal economic doctrine. The key way for a government to revitalize an economy, the Neoliberals think, is to sell off public institutions to private businesses, lower taxes (specifically for the wealthy in practice), and institute “Austerity Programs” that lower funding for public institutions.
This conservative response to the crisis has in Europe dragged out or stopped recovery in most cases and has put the Eurozone’s fate in the hands of France and Germany, now unwilling to bail out the economies of the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain, all holding immense sovereign debt to France, Germany, and their citizens already). Numerous protests have occurred over the last 3 years in European countries on these policies, most notably in Greece and Spain. Despite this grim news across the Atlantic, conservatives and short-sighted businesspeople in the US have ardently supported such Austerity programs in the United States, and after 2010 have gotten most of what they wished. After all, Austerity is good for businesses.
In light of this, many activists, frustrated at the political deadlock and regression that has caused this recession to directly attack the livelihoods of the vast majority, have started an “Occupation of Wall Street” that began on September 17th, Constitution Day, and will continue for “a few months,” in their own words. Though the group originally planned to camp on Wall St. itself, at the request of the NYPD they moved their sleeping bags to Liberty Plaza Park. The purpose of this protest, as vague as it might be, is to call for a change to corporate influence on government. However, this goal is compounded by the lack of central planning and the chaotic assortment of groups: The protest is made up of Leftist organizations, counterculturals, hipsters, 9-11 Truthers, and the odd group who thinks that the Fed should be abolished in order to save free-market capitalism. In addition to all this, Unions and worker’s rights groups have given support if not full involvement. With all these disparate and oftentimes conflicting groups, the protest has taken on an every-group-for-itself feel at times, though in recent days an attempt has been made to consolidate basic beliefs.
Despite these problems, there are some other good sides to these protests. As social media has become even more important to democratic mass action in the past 3 years, this is the first time a major multi-day protest in the US has utilized social networking for such a large undertaking. In addition, this is also not just an event tied only to NYC: multiple sister movements are present in many major US and Canadian cities, as well as in almost cities that hold prominent financial institutions, London, Tokyo, and Stuttgart among them. And whatever the quality of the protesting, major news networks and papers have devoted more than a glance to coverage of the Occupation.
And it appears that in the last day, the NYPD have considered them a greater priority, too. After a few days with a handful of minor arrests, the police have suddenly begun a rampant crackdown. Current reports by both protesters over Twitter, the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), and media have reported that in the last day alone approximately 80 people have been detained and then arrested, one of them an IWW member with a severe concussion that has left them hospitalized. It is currently unknown to the author whether such extreme action as netting and then pepper spraying young women is needed, but evidently the Blue Brotherhood has decided that it is a necessary action to keep the peace. Whatever the case may be, they have suddenly changed the protest’s public perception from that of farce to tragedy.
The beginning incoherence of the protests could have been prevented. A protest is not the beginning of the movement; it’s the last thing that happens after months of organization, activism, and community outreach. Without the boring preparation ahead of time, the protest risks having no backing or participation by the common citizens needed to make a protest successful. The second problem is that of organization; while the direct democracy committees exhibited at the protest are admirable, the core point of the movement should have been hammered out long before the protest. This doesn’t imply that there needs to be a ‘Vanguard’ or a single leader- just that the more prominent associated groups should have worked out a common plan before hand. Organization is key for any political movement. However, despite these critiques we at the Harbinger fully support the spirits of both the Wall Street Occupation and its sister protests worldwide, including the upcoming Occupy Lansing movement.
Engineer and executive chairman of Google Eric Schmidt once said, “The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had”. While Schmidt likely meant this in a negative connotation, the statement rings true. The Internet is not entirely without regulation by government entities, but compared to the rest of society the amount of authoritative interference in its general operation and the activities of those using the internet is hugely disproportionate its level of use and importance to governments and their institutions, corporate entities, and everyday people. This lack of authority, or at least stringently enforced authority, makes the Internet a place of unparalleled freedom in a world increasingly constrained by the rules, laws, and general wills of those in power. However, the deepest extent of said liberty requires knowledge of computer science and the workings of the Internet that are unknown to the average person, but here is where the true power of the Internet shines, the free, or relatively free, flowing of information. This very same information is readily available to anyone who seeks to find it. One must simply type the correct search phrase into Google to come upon numerous tutorials, ranging from text files to YouTube videos to podcasts of Harvard computer science classes, detailing the vagaries of computer science and the inner workings of the Internet itself. There are few, if any, other stores of so much knowledge that are so easily accessed. It is here in this free exchange of knowledge, information, and opinion that the key to the Internet’s power lays, and by no means does this freedom extend only to computer science.
This freedom, in combination with the anonymity provided by the Internet, was initially used mostly by people posting comments on imageboard sites and videos. Soon however people began to see the potential for the absolute free sharing of ideas to challenge entities normally too powerful to so overtly speak out against without some form of retaliation. The lack of government and corporate authority on the Internet equates to a lack, or limitation, of the influence these entities have on the Internet and its users. Under the protection of anonymity provided by usernames and proxies, people can say almost anything they please without having to fear major retaliation. No arrests, no torture, no social exclusion, nothing to fear. Equipped with the right amount of computer savvy any person or group can be virtually equal to any government or corporate entity, with few exceptions.
One of the first prominent examples of this was Project Chanology, a massive protest against the Church of Scientology by anonymous internet users, the vast majority of whom were regulars of the imageboard 4Chan. As most of its users posted anonymously, 4Chan had become the prototype for Anonymous. Users frequently acted together anonymously, albeit for pranks, but this ability for people from virtually anywhere in the world to quickly, easily, and anonymously band together for a common cause has been put to new and noteworthy uses. In December 2010, the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, which publishes submissions of secret and classified media from anonymous sources and relies on donations to function, was under intense pressure to cease its activities by the US government. When WikiLeaks ignored the calls or its silence, corporations such as Amazon, PayPal, BankAmerica, PostFinance, MasterCard, and Visa ceased to allow donations to be made to the website. In response, Anonymous, working under the name Operation Payback, launched DDoS attacks against these companies, and the Swedish Prosecution Authority. On December 8th a coordinated DDoS attack brought down the Visa and MasterCard websites. The next day PayPal, whom had also suffered minor shutdowns as a result of Operation Payback, announced that they would release all of the funds that had been collected for WikiLeaks in the account of the Wau Holland Foundation, but would not reactivate the account. On the same day a 16 year old male, an IRC operatior under the screen name Jeroenz0r, was arrested in The Hague, Netherlands in connection with the attacks on MasterCard and PayPal. This was not the only police action taken against suspected members of Operation Payback. In late December the FBI began to raid suspected participants. Nor was this the last actions of the Operation itself. In early 2011 Operation Payback brought down Zimbabwean government sites after the Zimbabwean President’s wife sued a newspaper of 15 million USD for publishing a WikiLeaks document that linked her with the trade of illicit diamonds. On January 27 five males between the ages of 15 and 26 were arrested in early morning raids in the UK on suspicion of involvement. But while authorities may catch a few members of an online group, it is hopeless to attempt to catch them all. over the past few years Anonymous has been largely immune to international repression, actively promoting freedom, especially freedom of speech through online and offline protests and direct action.
Anonymous’ direct action most often takes place in the form of hacking the websites of organizations, both government and corporate, that they deems to be oppressive. This act of hacking as a form of direct action has been labeled hacktivism. The very same forces that allow Anon to be such a significant force also apply to hacktivism. Unlike most other forms of political protest, hacktivism can traverse boarders, rarely if ever puts the hacker in immediate danger, has the capacity to allow an individual or small group to make a significant impact, and of course more readily protects one’s anonymity. The actions are limited only by the hacker’s skill and the limits of their software. The most common forms of hacktivism are the defacing of websites, denial of service attacks, and anonymous blogging. Other more complex forms include the creation of software or websites whose specific function or goal is to further freedom. Examples include the WikiLeaks website and the encryption software PGP, which plays a huge part in maintaining the anonymity of internet users. While Anon may currently be at the forefront of hactivist activities, it was not the start of hacktivism. The first documented instance of hacktivism was the defacing of government websites in October of 1989. DOE, HEPNET and SPAN (NASA) connected VMS machines world wide were penetrated by the anti-nuclear WANK worm. WANK stands for Worms Against Nuclear Killers, worms are malicious software that self-replicate and spread inside the target system. The websites had their login screen changed to display:
This political defacement of websites is bears similarity to the spray-painted political messages on buildings.
There is some controversy surrounding hacktivism as some link it to cyberterrorism, but one must always remember that what is terrorism to some is freedom to others. Those who raided plantations in the US in the antebellum south with the intention of freeing slaves were considered terrorists by many of at that time, despite such a notion being repulsive to many today. Whether one views Anonymous and its hacktivist activities to be positive or negative, one cannot deny the potential power of such ideas and actions. As government and corporate entities begin to work toward “securing” the Internet and limiting the freedom it now provides, it is best to be skeptical. Be watchful for this being done under the guise of “protecting children” or “keeping your personal information safe”. While there are real risks to the internet, hackers have always shown that government controls inevitably affect the general population more than those the computer savvy individuals they were intended to target. With its immense potential to change the way our democracy functions, to make the internet into yet another realm where we choose control and security over freedom would be a travesty.
Despite the best efforts of authorities the “Arab Spring” has rolled into a People’s Summer. Since the first cracks appeared in the Middle Eastern patchwork of autocratic regimes last December, the people have reinvented the region in a way not thought possible just a year ago. Two governments (Egypt and Tunisia) have fallen, a third (Libya) is desperately fighting a losing battle for supremacy against NATO backed rebels, and eleven other regimes are facing sharp resistance from popular demonstrators.
But how has the US responded to this dramatic shift? Far from the soaring rhetoric about freedom and democracy that usually accompanies any US foreign policy, the American government’s approach has been cautious and conservative. The US government’s response to the Arab Spring casts in sharp relief the difference between their supposed ideals and the imperialist attitude which pervades their actions.
The Obama administration has waited an exceedingly long time before making statements of support for any of the protesters. Tunisia’s Dictator Ben Alli, an ally in the “War on Terror,” received US support right up until his overthrow. When asked who the US supported in the Tunisian uprising Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke volumes with her statement of, “We can’t take sides.” It was only after the overthrow of Ben Alli had become a fact that the United States voiced open support for the revolutionaries. Similarly in Egypt, a state long on the US payroll (receiving 1.3 billion in military aid annually) the American government was continuing to call for a Mubarak led reform process just five days before Mubarak finally bowed to the will of protesters and began talking of leaving office.
As the protests expanded to touch almost every country in the Middle East the United States’ cynical tactics came into ever greater prominence. Gaddafi’s Libya, another US ally in the “War on Terror” under President Bush, had recently fallen out of favor in Washington for demanding a greater share of oil profits from US corporations. After just 8 days of revolt Obama condemned State violence in Libya saying, “The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable.” The US has since led a NATO backed intervention on the side of rebel forces. Similarly Syria, a long time enemy of US/Israeli interests in the region and ally of Iran, has faced firm rhetoric and sanctions. Though initially calling for a movement for reform under President Bashar al-Assad, Washington has recently accepted that a lack of popular support has made the Assad’s family’s decades-long rule untenable. In mid August the US joined other world governments in finally condemning the regime and calling on President Bashar al-Assad to resign.
However while taking these tougher stances on Libya and Syria, and reluctantly endorsing the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions after the fact, the US government has also made several key omissions to it’s democracy loving agenda. Most notably in Saudi Arabia, one of the regions most oppressive governments and also a key US ally with massive oil reserves. The Saudis were carefully ignored in Obama’s March 19th speech about the Arab Spring, as were Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (each countries that have supported US hegemony in the region). This policy of selective blindness when it comes to repression has continued up to the present. Each of these countries has faced its own political pressures calling for reform, and have engaged in similar repression seen elsewhere in the region. While Libya’s crack down was “outrageous and unacceptable” Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Bahrain, crushing pro-democracy protesters, was largely ignored. As the US condemned Syria’s killing of protesters, Jordan’s killings have been hardly reported.
At some points hailing the democratic spirit of the people, at others calling for patience and faith in despotic regimes with a history of decades of repression, Washington’s position on the Arab spring seems at times contradictory and illogical. In reality what we see today is an imperial power grappling with an empire gone awry. When reality finally forces them to accept that their loyal allies have been overthrown, the US has tried to appear supportive of the revolutionaries. A great example is in Libya, where the the US and its allies have for all intensive purposes chosen the new ruling faction, the National Transitional Council of Libya (TNC). Western powers have dealt exclusively with the TNC and recognized them as the legitimate rulers of Libya, all despite the lack of any real signal that the Libyan people actually endorse their policies. In return the TNC has publicly promised to reward those countries that assisted it, presumably with the oil contracts and strategic military bases that western powers are now cueing up for. By championing pro western elements of the popular forces the US hopes to maintain their hegemony in the region. Indeed, key elements in several of the revolutionary states remain on US payroll, including the Egyptian Military. But while the US attempts to shore up its faltering empire something has fundamentally changed in the consciousness of the people.
Dictators that the US has supported for decades are now deposed, and the US and its ally Israel are beginning to find the very people they have for decades helped to oppress attempting to seize power. US domination of the Middle East can not survive an election, as the people of Egypt and Tunisia are making increasingly clear with their overtures towards Palestine and rejections of IMF neo-liberal loans . And so the US is trapped by its own rhetoric: attempting to appear to be the champion of liberty it claims to be, while at every turn trying to roll back the democratic tide that has swept over millions.
By Ian Matchett