Insurgent Anarchism; An Idea Whose Time Has Come – Part III
Another world is already here. Civilization is rebooting itself! Across millions of screens and borderless online networks, peer-to-peer creativity of the people is opening the world to a new horizon. Inter-networking of egalitarian human connection is beginning to break up the hierarchy of transnational corporate structures and dissolve centralized power. Now, people are accessing unfiltered information and directly linking to much of the global population. Yet, this newly opened fountain of freedom is increasingly being threatened.
Over the last few decades, public space has been privatized by the power of corporations and government collusion. With corporate owned prisons that disproportionately incarcerate brown people for profit and pay-or-die healthcare systems, profit motives are taking over public services.
Today, all communication is transitioning into the digital sphere. The trend toward privatization of information systems is moving online. Corporate-designed law concerning copyright and property is trying to catch up and take control of the wide open common ground of the Internet, to reverse the freedoms now experienced by millions. “We are convinced that democracy and innovation require net neutrality. Net neutrality for us is a founding principle of the Internet” spoke Jérémie Zimmermann in its defense at an EU Commission. He outlined how it guarantees this decentralized interconnection within the Internet:
It is net neutrality that guided the growth of this interconnection of networks that we call the Internet. It is net neutrality that is the key to the universality of this network. When no discrimination is applied regarding the emitter, the sender or the type of data transmitted, then you can ensure that every user can participate to the very same network as its peer. Everyone is a peer on the network as long as there is neutrality.
This neutrality is constantly being threatened. Legislation such as SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) and ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) were in essence desperate censorship bills put forward to ban free sharing and control the flow of information. They were camouflaged as intellectual property/copyright laws. Internet freedom advocates expressed deep concern that the passages of these bills would drastically alter the nature of the Internet and its neutrality.
The culture of sharing which has been flourishing online is now under attack. For instance, Pirate Bay co-founder Gottfrid Warg who was associated with peer-to-peer file sharing was arrested in Cambodia and deported to Sweden. Initially, his arrest was alleged to be for an outstanding one year prison sentence in a Pirate Bay case, yet later the story unfolded that it concerned a breach of data security, with suspected involvement in the hacking of a Swedish IT company. Warg himself denied involvement. He is now in Sweden being detained incommunicado and without charge. In another case, Kim Dotcom, the founder of MegaUpload that promotes file storage and viewing was taken into custody by New Zealand police in response to US charges concerning copyright infringement through his file-sharing website. His assets were frozen on warrants later proven to be invalid. This case reveals the imperial power of the US, whose claim in court was that they have jurisdiction over any company in any country, even if it is not operating in the US. And most recently, the police raided the Swedish company PRQ that was founded by Pirate Bay co-founders on the principle that anyone should be able to anonymously publish anything that is not directly exploitative of others.
The other side of this attempt to control the Internet is the issue of increasing surveillance. Corporations and governments are enacting censorship by transforming this technology into the most complete surveillance system in the world. Now, mass surveillance is not limited to oppressive regimes like China. WikiLeaks Spy Files mapped out a massive secretive spying industry with an orchestrated global intelligence network that has the capability to spy on an entire population. For instance, all communication that come from Latin America to Europe goes though an interception point in the US. Surveillance is penetrating into Western societies at a level that George Orwell could not imagine.
There have been many attempts to dismantle the decentralized architecture of the Internet and replace it with centralized filters that would facilitate censorship and increase the power of surveillance. What are the motives behind these efforts to control the Internet?
Secrecy and the One-Way Mirror of Surveillance
The efforts of governments to enact surveillance always reveals fear and distrust of the population and a pathological urge to control. This distrust of citizens was expressed by Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, the founder of modern corporate advertising. Bernays (1928) put forth the idea that “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country” (p. 37). To Bernays, democracy requires centralized control of the masses. This has become the foundation of modern representative democracy. Half a century later, his vision of invisible governance is now finding its full expression in a world order created not for the people, but for the elite 1%. This hidden controlling force behind modern corporate governance weaves each person into a social fabric that subjugates individual will to brute economic forces and leach-like profit motives.
In an insatiable growth-oriented consumerist society, people are generally persuaded to unconsciously operate as a cog in a machine to carry the will and the agendas of a few people colluding behind closed doors. Work, for the majority of people has becomes a mere passionless duty, a necessity for survival. If people were asked if they would truly choose the work they are doing now, how many would answer yes. It is not that people are unwilling to work, but work has become something obligatory. There is a whole spectrum of involuntary control of the will, from outright exploitation as in sweat shops and sex slaves to ‘middle class American’ living pay check to pay check to keep up with the burden of mortgage or student loan payment. Motivation here is always given from outside, with incentives from violence and survival to money and recognition rather than genuine love for what we are doing.
Now this web is tightening as the culture moves toward the inevitable collapse of a debt-based monetary system and the final phase of deep corruption and derivative destruction. David Graeber, the author of the book Debt: The First 5,000 Years spoke of how debt operates as a powerful moral force in our society. He pointed out how in this culture, the notion of debt as sin is internalized and used to maintain a system that progressively enslaves people without them fully realizing it. He distilled the concept of debt by showing how it is an involuntary contract in society. For instance, if one wants to secure access to healthcare and a ‘decent’ job, they must get into overpriced higher education by way of predatory student loans. Graeber talked about how in an equal relationship, money is simply a promise that people negotiate with one another. Instead, creditors now have inordinate power over people and debts are being used as a tool for control.
What has unfolded in the last decades in the US and throughout the globe is a process of insidious enslavement to outer governing forces with a system of resource plunder, war and debt-based subjugation. Subjugation is the act of denying one’s autonomous will and allowing a hostile takeover of ones life purpose. From exploitation of workers through cheap labor, massive predatory loans through the IMF in developing countries to saddling people with sub-prime mortgage fraud in western countries, millions worldwide have effectively become indentured servants to abstract commercial interests. Ordinary people and their grandchildren are having their futures stolen by being enslaved to a controlled and manipulated derivative economy. The human will itself is ‘derived’ from its humanity by way of a contract ‘until the debt is paid off’.
Edward Bernays’ idea of governance was in essence a model for creating in the masses an unconscious bondage to those who rule. It transforms human relationship into power based slave-master dynamics and makes individuals obey orders coming from outside. Compared to outright forms of subjugation in the old model of slavery and genocide of indigenous people in colonial times, Public Relations has rendered the use of coercive force almost invisible.
Historian and activist Howard Zinn wrote:
In modern times, when social control rests on “the consent of the governed”, force is kept in abeyance for emergencies, and everyday control is exercised by a set of rules, a fabric of values passed on from one negation to another by the priests and teachers of the society (1970, p.6)
‘Consent of the informed’ is openly denied by military force in authoritarian regimes, while in a democracy it is manufactured through propaganda and control of communication and information. Linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky described how political decision-making processes require what he called “manufacturing consent” within the populace for governments to justify foreign acts of aggression (Herman & Chomsky, 1988). One part of engineering this consent involves constructing the perceived legitimacy of authority and engendering public trust in it. With the creation of experts, more and more people give up their responsibility and participation in vital aspects of their lives. Doctors claim to know more about our bodies than we do. Therapists want us to believe that we need to have them in order to solve life problems. Concerned and informed citizens who call for alternative energy are not allowed a voice in the halls of power, but corporate nuclear scientists advice on energy sources are always heard by Congress. Rather than public service, politics has become a career designed to please corporate masters.
Trust in ‘expert’ authority forms individuals to be susceptible to impulses from outside. The agendas of others are processed at face value by the people who unconsciously accept them as their own. This perceived authority prepared the ground for Bernays’ vision of democracy. The invisible web of illegitimate governance relies on maintaining public faith in the legitimacy of the system. How has this been accomplished? The answer lies in secrecy and control of perception of the real actions and the rhetoric of those who claim authority.
Government and corporate leaders conceal their true motives and the nature of the system by keeping information secret from the public or manipulating perception through Public Relations. With catchy words and friendly faces, they deceive the public to hide or justify war crimes and corruption. For some time, journalists were seen as filling the role of revealing these actions as a check and balance on corruption of government. In the last century, with the corporate consolidation of the news media and its dependence on ad revenue, journalists began to serve and guard the powerful commercial interests. Those in power depend on people not knowing the origin of the impulse that governs their own will. The ideas of democracy and individual freedom are promoted to create a false sense of independence. Within this constrained notion of freedom, individuals are led to think they are making independent choices about their lives, when in reality this is not the case.
The past hundred years has seen a steady relinquishing of consent to corporations in most areas of life. Important decisions are made behind closed doors that hide the faces of those who govern. Unless one is inside the exclusive club of ruling elites, it is unclear who is really in charge. Citizens have effectively been shut out from participating in shaping the direction of society with little recourse in the legal arena or even the traditional avenue of the court of public opinion.
Now, mass surveillance brings this subjugation and control to another level. In addressing this phenomenon in this society, author and attorney Glenn Greenwald articulated how it has lead to conformism and suppressed creativity. He shared cases that showed the effects of being watched in a total surveillance environment. For instance, experiments showed how students in the presence of cameras altered their behavior. He noted how this kind of surveillance is like a one-way mirror behind which those who surveil conceal their identities, actions and intentions. The result of this in my view, is the masses on the other side of the mirror are silently deprived of their power to shape and guide their own society.
Those who cultivate critical and independent thinking in this situation tend to hold their thoughts privately. Now this surveillance works to take down the final defense of private thoughts. Recall how in George Orwell’s 1984, freethinking that does not comply with establishment discourse was considered ‘thought crime’. “Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.” said O’Brien looking down to Winston Smith (Orwell, 1949, p. 211). It is total control, the elimination of individuality through making sure corporate values and views insidiously penetrate into virtually everyone.
We are all inside; everywhere we look, all we see is the reflection of corporate values and fears that penetrate from the other side of this one-way mirror. The force on the other side defines and seizes autonomy of the individual. The Internet revolutionary Julian Assange called on the world to confront this invisible international network. In the manifesto, Conspiracy as Governance, Assange wrote:
When we look at authoritarian conspiracy as a whole, we see a system of interacting organs, a beast with arteries and veins whose blood may be thickened and slowed until it falls, stupefied; unable to sufficiently comprehend and control the forces in its environment.
Bernays’ conception of controlled governance is realized in our modern so-called ‘representative democracy’. In the transnational corporate age, this has morphed into a de facto indenturing system for a growing portion of the population. It fits with Assange’s view of an authoritarian conspiracy that works in secrecy to seize power and control whole populations. This beast-like conspiracy hides its true face under the manufactured PR mask of Western institutions such as G8, NATO, WTO and the hidden hand of the central banks. They ultimately provide the US political cover for a centralized network of transnational coercive action; corporate exploitation, surveillance and control.
The week-long NATO protest in Chicago exposed the gap between the official rhetoric and real actions of what is disguised under the rhetoric of US European alliance. Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies spoke at a debate on DemocracyNow! about whether NATO is needed. She pointed out how its function is “primarily political cover to United States operations….” and that “this is designed to make it appear to be a multilateral operation in Afghanistan”. In a nutshell, NATO is a military operation primarily carrying US interests, yet this fact was concealed from public. Their so-called military intervention is often presented as humanitarian and multilateral in nature. What has been presented as a democratic process is in reality power dominated deal making, where there is no space for citizens to engage.
Within this climate of increasing secrecy and control, the whistleblowing site WikiLeaks rose to public prominence. WikiLeaks helped to shatter this one-way mirror of total surveillance and revealed the true face behind the mirror. They took the courageous step of shifting the culture of fear and secrecy in the direction of an open and just society by means of radical transparency. Speaking recently from the Ecuadorian embassy in an address to the UN General Assembly, Assange spoke about a young American soldier in Iraq:
He believed in the truth, and like all of us, hated hypocrisy. He believed in liberty and the right for all of us to pursue happiness. He believed in the values that founded an independent United States. He believed in Madison, he believed in Jefferson and he believed in Paine. Like many teenagers, he was unsure what to do with his life, but he knew he wanted to defend his country and he knew he wanted to learn about the world. He entered the US military and, like his father, trained as an intelligence analyst. In late 2009, aged 21, he was deployed to Iraq. There, it is alleged, he saw a US military that often did not follow the rule of law, and in fact, engaged in murder and supported political corruption. It is alleged, it was there, in Baghdad, in 2010 that he gave to WikiLeaks and to the world, details that exposed the torture of Iraqis, the murder of journalists and the detailed records of over 120,000 civilian killings in Iraq and in Afghanistan. He is also alleged to have given WikiLeaks 251,000 US diplomatic cables, which then went on to help trigger the Arab Spring. This young soldier’s name is Bradley Manning.
This alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower was attributed to have written in a chat log:
We’re human… and we’re killing ourselves… and no-one seems to see that… and it bothers me…“i want people to see the truth… regardless of who they are… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public…
When one acts from their conscience, it activates a will that was once subjugated. Being true to ones conscience means to challenge illegitimate authority that entangles and captures the will. One can then connect with authentic feeling and individual thought and this frees one from the invisible force of illegitimate governance. What shattered this one-sided mirror is the conscience and courage of ordinary people, of whistleblowers and dissidents inside the system who choose to act freely.
A sliver of light for a moment shines through a world that had been drifting into a dehumanized dystopia. In that light, we see what we have fallen into and at the same time a glimpse of who we can become. By facing the truth of murderous wars that benefit only corporations and deeply corrupt governments, the conscience of the ordinary person who strives to change wakens us to who we really are.
It is an inherent part of being human; a deep tie to all others, the sense of compassion and value of sharing and collaboration. Noone can stop the connection that has begun online. Evidence shows how blocking torrent sites have no effect. When sites such as the Pirate Bay were blocked, the number of sites offering torrent services actually increased. The WikiLeaks Cablegate release revealed that attempts to enforce anti-piracy laws in Bolivia have been a failure. Analytic firm Musicmetric reported file sharing continues regardless of industry efforts to prevent it and showed that this was embraced by recording artists as just another way of doing business. No central power can stop a P2P fueled desire to share information and create connections our human nature.
WikiLeaks’s Anarchistic Roots
What makes WikiLeaks so sensational has been their success in challenging centralized control. Wikileaks stated its mission by saying they are here to open governments and achieve justice by means of transparency. From the outset, this whistleblowing site appeared to be guided by similar anarchistic principles that founded the Occupy movement, particularly in its status of a stateless entity with no allegiance to any country or media network and its stubborn unwillingness to accept the validity of outer authority. Assange’s philosophical roots in the Cypherpunk movement revealed deep-seated anarchistic principles, which lie at the foundation of the basic idea behind WikiLeaks.
In a 2011 CBS News 60 minutes interview, Assange was asked by Steve Kroft if he was a subversive. He responded by saying he is sure this is what Hillary Clinton is thinking. He shared that WikiLeaks is subverting illegitimate authority and the real question we should be asking is whether the authority in question is truly legitimate.
Legitimate authority is important. All human systems require authority, but authority must be granted as a result of the informed consent of the governed. Presently, the consent, if there is any, is not informed, and therefore it’s not legitimate.
This nuanced attitude toward authority has been shared by anarchists both past and present. Anarchism is not inherently against authority or government itself, but only when it is illegitimate.
Russian revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin, widely viewed as the father of anarchist theory said:
The liberty of man consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognized them as such and not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic will whatever, divine or human, collective or individual.
Contemporary anarchist David Graeber clarified a misconception about anarchy and its resistance to acknowledging authority: “To be an anarchist is to be critical of authority and always examine it critically to see if it is legitimate … you don’t worship authority as a thing in itself.”
Graeber also described how the consensus process is by default a basic rule of anarchy; “If you can’t force people to do things they don’t want to do, you’re starting with consensus one way or another.” The core idea behind this is that no one can govern others without the consent of the governed. This was also one of the formative passions at the heart of American Constitution. The Anarchist is simply not convinced that representative democracy or the other typical forms of government are capable of actually serving this principle.
Anarchism’s honoring of self-governance and the demand for consent of the governed was also acknowledged by Julian Assange. Citing Madison’s view on government Assange said:
… people determined to be in a democracy, to be their own governments must have the power that knowledge will bring – because knowledge will always rule ignorance. You can either be informed and your own rulers, or you can be ignorant and have someone else who is not ignorant rule over you.
For Assange, the power of knowledge meant that public access to information is crucial for self-governance. The act of leaking and sharing is a way to facilitate this process. Through exposing the secrecy of government and corporations, WikiLeaks reveals the true motivations of those in power who influence the will of the people. When this vital information is made available, the public can make conscious and relatively intelligent decisions to give consent to government actions or not. Assange also said that, “Leaking is inherently an anti-authoritarian act. It is inherently an anarchist act”. Leaking frees the individual will that is enslaved to a system that exists without the consent of the governed.
In Wired Magazine’s Lamo chat logs, Manning is alleged to have characterized the possible release of the US diplomatic cables, saying “it’s open diplomacy… world-wide anarchy in CSV format… its Climategate with a global scope, and breathtaking depth… its beautiful, and horrifying…”
Leaking government secrets melts the one-way mirror and expose the illegitimacy of the mirror itself that separates us. Those in the position of being watched and shaped by reflections of global capitalist ambition can now start to find autonomy in thought and perception. They begin to take charge of their own lives rather than being defined by others. Waves of uprisings have spread around the world. From Arab Spring to Occupy, people are coming to realize that they don’t need to simply be reflections in a mirror, but they themselves are active agents in their own lives and together can manifest dreams of a new society. Out of this collective awakening, new networks are emerging within which people can free themselves from blind loyalty to the illegitimate authority of the State and challenge the illegal wars and economic oppression that have become such an integral part of our lives.
Along with the reaction to the leaked materials, the attacks on WikiLeaks and Assange reveal the fearful reactions of centralized power. The legally unprecedented and unnecessary extradition to Sweden clearly stems from US manipulation attempting to silence him. This extradition case is an example of the insidious centralized power of US empirical jurisdiction over the globe.
When most avenues for appeal appeared to have been exhausted, he and his team never gave up. Instead, they worked to find a way to go around the persecution. Assange’s dogged challenge of US hegemony led him to seek asylum with Ecuador.
Many have asked, why Ecuador? Famed British-Pakistani author Tariq Ali, spoke outside the Ecuador embassy regarding the decision to grant Assange asylum. He put it in a global context and talked about how South America has been long oppressed and violently controlled by the West, particularly by the US, but that major changes have been happening recently. People in Venezuela a decade ago said enough of IMF and World Bank domination and this resistance spread throughout South America. People there have been modeling what it is like to refuse to follow the Western model of development where the State works to serve private interests. They chose an alternative path by creating radically democratic governments, which ironically in some ways represent democratic values and defense of human rights better than countries in Europe and the United States.
After asylum had been granted, Assange broke his silence and spoke from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy to a large crowd of supporters: “There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response.”
Through his request for asylum, Assange aligned himself with the global South’s fight for freedom from imperial Euro-US power. Ecuador acted in freedom from the pressure of Western countries and decided to grant Assange asylum. Speaking on state TV, Correa said “Remember that David beat Goliath. And with many Davids it’s easier to bring down a number of Goliaths.”
Assange’s enduring fight brought to many a new sense of worldwide solidarity. In free association and mutual aid, a powerful alliance of Latin American countries emerged. This network is bound by shared values instead of resistance. Now the world is discovering an alternative path beyond the Western domination that has been carried over from the old colonial age of the British and Spanish Empires.
In mid October, leading up to the US presidential election, WikiLeaks began election – related dump. They made the GI Files Presidential Campaign Release with intent to inform the U.S electorate. In the accompanying press release, they stated, “the only legitimate government is one that is elected by an informed population”.
An unprecedented level of global activism was instigated by this organization that has no headquarters, no physical address and functions purely through donations and a dedication to justice. WikiLeaks helped to release this anarchistic spirit. Dissidents and free thinkers are now striking the chord of peaceful insurgence around the world.
From the Matrix to the Streets, Reversing the Mirror
Torrents of awakening are reversing the one-way mirror and unraveling the illegitimate web of manipulated perception. As we confirm our connection through a peer-to-peer social medium, we are helping the world realize the existence of a power within that can transform any reflected reality. Deeds and images infused by our ideals traverse across computer screens and impact hard solidified reality in the physical domain. More and more people are coming to realize their ideals are legitimate and certainly as real as those created and imposed by illegitimate power. In the Matrix, Neo encountered spoon boy, who said;
“Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”
We know the truth; people have the power within to create reality. What we see as outer social structure was created first by what is lived and felt in the heart as an idea. What is created online can manifest or be mirrored outside in physical space. “Cyberspace is not oozing out into reality, that which we encounter on some glowing screen was always reality, never locked away in a separate, mythical, cyberspace” said Nathan Jurgenson, a social theorist of media in the article We Need a Word for That Thing Where a Digital Thing Appears in the Physical World. He contended that the physical and digital world are interwoven and one does not actually exist separate or independent from the other.
In August 2011 in the city of San Francisco, the surreal scene of people with Guy Fawkes masks marching down the streets emerged during the evening rush hour. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) became a target of Anonymous fury over Bart police brutality and infringement of freedom of speech. #OpBART was launched and online activism transited to the streets. The twitter hashtag, #muBARTak acknowledged the link between censorship of dissent in Egypt under deposed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and the BART police act of terminating cell phone service in response to protests against police killing of unarmed civilians. It quickly found its away onto the placards on the streets. An atypical digital reality from behind the screen protruded into the daily commuter scenery.
On the one year anniversary of #OpBART, a reunion occurred and people rekindled that spirit of digital street justice. The Anonymous organizer of OpBART reflected on the operation last summer and what it did to activism:
I think OpBART was very important. It showed how fast anon can transform from a cyber-superpower to a physical superpower and we showed how easily we can communicate from the net to the streets and do it highly coordinated. It also set the mood for Occupy in my honest opinion…. This op proved we can be anywhere at any time and do anything we set our minds to.
Now, after becoming the face of protest in 2011, Guy Fawkes masks are popping up everywhere in festive celebration of global revolution.
“We are from the Internet, but today we bring the set live and direct for the very first time in the flesh”. On July 1 Robert Foster of RapNews at the rally in Melbourne in support of Julian Assange greeted the crowd before a live performance.
The online file-sharing culture is moving freely across borders and into the physical domain. In Germany, Iceland and many other countries, a new political power is emerging called the Pirate Party, which is garnering unprecedented support.
The Pirate Party has now landed in the capital of Australia. They are an official political party in the city of Canberra and are spreading around the globe, giving people an avenue to enter into the political process with these new social values. Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge spoke in 2006 when the torrent site Pirate Bay was first attacked by copyright industries:
Yes, we’re pirates. But one who thinks being a pirate is a shame is mistaken. It’s something we’re proud of … Because we’ve already seen what it means to be without central control. We’ve already tasted, felt and smelled the freedom of being without a central monopoly of culture and knowledge. We’ve already learnt to read and write – and we’re not about to forget how to read and write, just because it’s not fit in the eyes of the media of yesteryear.
The Pirate Party’s idea of decentralization and sharing challenges the traditional hierarchical and centralized structure of information distribution. “There is a ‘complete clash’ in the European parliament between those who are comfortable with the net and the connected lifestyle and those born into a hierarchical world, who are surprised when citizens start contacting them en masse over email” said Falkvinge. It seems that most politicians are totally disconnected. For them, the open platform of the Internet seems a threat or at least totally foreign and would protect the current system as an automatic response.
Elites float among themselves, far from the commons and disconnected from the reality of everyday people. Politics is abstracted and decision making processes have become money soaked policy handed down from above. The ordinary person has been engaged in a controlled process that makes them feel they are participating in a real democracy when they are not. Yet, a new political force is on the rise that is intent on dismantling the wall of illusion between politicians and citizens.
In Autumn 2011, the decentralized culture of the Internet emerged onto the streets of lower Manhattan and quickly expanded across the US. Douglas Lucas (@douglaslucas) tweeted:
— Douglas Lucas (@douglaslucas) July 20, 2012
In the article Peer-Peer Production and the Coming of the Commons, Michael Bauwens wrote, “Occupy and the Indignados signify the birth of digital-native social movements, and a necessary politicization around the new productive and social possibilities”. He pointed to “an emerging trend of collaborative, commons-based productions” and observed how Occupy Wall Street engaged in alternative economy from supporting local small businesses to complementing its free provisioning of foods with the Street Vendor Project. The line between the online and offline public space is blurring and we find signs on the streets of a map of a new world that lives in the inter-web of our collective hearts.
Charting a New World
With the Zuccotti Park eviction of OWS, media smears and coordinated police attacks, the once highly visible euphoria of the movement appears to have evaporated. There have been discussions about writing an obituary for Occupy. Will this energy for alternative social model disappear completely? The question has arisen among many, including those who participated in the movement. The original enthusiasm seems to be fading away or being co-opted by partisan politics. On Sept 17 2012 as the movement commemorated its one-year anniversary, Occupy once again showed passion for a change in society, but nowhere near the intensity of a year ago.
“Was the entire Occupy movement really just an elaborate anti-capitalist flashmob? Where the hell did we go wrong?” asked Jerome Roos at Roar magazine picking up the public sentiment. He pointed out that “The unexpected answer, perhaps, is that the question itself is wrong. Instead of “failing” as a movement, Occupy actually became a victim of the unrealistic expectations generated by its own immense success.
The protests that spread like wildfire in 2011 were a lightening rod of collective outburst rebelling against centralized control of almost every aspect of life. The solidarity of a direct horizontal action opened up public space for imagination. One of the participants shared lessens learned since the birth of Occupy movement:
The corporate media myths are a lie. We are now entering a new era of confidence and action. You may not see mass demonstrations and encampments at the parks, but if you look closely underneath the curtain of censorship, you will find a highly effective and relevant social justice movement that is slowly transforming American and global society.
Ordinary people who created mass rallies and encampments are gradually mobilizing into neighborhoods, now more quietly and incognito. In May, the Spanish Indignados returned to the streets, only now they moved beyond protest. They started what they call time banking, “a pattern of non-monetary reciprocal service”. People voluntarily share their time and skills. They also created organic vegetable garden to reduce food dependency and unplug the community from capitalist production/consumption system.
From the margins, a new order is emerging. In 2008, Iceland went through financial collapse. Four years later, it is now swiftly moving into recovery. This is a result of people defiantly refusing to pay the onerous debt, putting the bankers in jail, and bailing out their own people. These positive changes launched the impulse in Iceland to crowd-source their new Constitution. At FutureEverything 2012 conference, Parliament member Birgitta Jónsdóttir called for direct democracy:
We are the system. We are the government. We are society. We are the power. We are the law. It is not beyond us, unreachable nor undesirable to be it, the system is a reflection of who we are. In order to empower people to act on this awareness and to start to apply changes through our only means: through action, we need to have direct democracy with the liquid add-on.
The country is finding its new strength through people waking up to their own power. The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) is bringing together progressive legislation from around the world to create a holistic law in Iceland to battle against threat of legal attacks on journalism. It creates a safe haven for investigative journalists everywhere, and it safeguards media outlets with source protection.
In the ashes of the financial meltdown in Greece, a group of young Athenians left the busy city and created a self-sufficient organic farm on the island of Evia. Their ultimate goal is to start a school for sustainable living. They raised money by crowd-sourcing on the Internet. Instead of waiting for a government to deliver change, they decided to enact the kind of changes they wanted to see in the world.
Around the US, the occupy model of co-operation is being translated into a new kind of economy. More people are getting involved in local credit unions and alternative currency. Seeds for a world beyond capitalism are being planted. At the Green Party’s 2012 National Convention, professor Gar Alperovitz spoke of how in America 10 million people are working in worker-owned companies and a hundred and thirty million, 40 percent of the society are involve in co-ops and co-op credit unions.
The culture of sharing is now becoming a philanthropy movement. Efforts to democratize giving as with the non-profit group, Citizen Effect that began in Detroit is now expanding to cities such as Philadelphia. Creative initiatives around the globe are revealing the source of real power. People are acting as if they are already free. Graeber spoke of how anarchism is not just a matter of exposing illegitimate structures of power but also moving in a way that embodies an alternative. Now the online and offline worlds are converging and the anarchistic movement is rejecting the structure of false representation and exploring a new model of democracy through actually enacting it.
Former US Senator Mike Gravel has proposed a direct democracy initiative to create a path independent from representative government. He claimed the answer is not to protest, but to make ourselves lawmakers. In this procedure he advocates empowering citizens to go around the government and directly engage in creating laws and a more human-centered society.
On the West coast, direct democracy is on a rise. This November, California citizens are set to vote on a citizen penned initiative for labeling GMO food. By bypassing the two corporate parties altogether, it is telling that this will be the first anti-corporate, people first law in California in a long time.
Another reality that was dismissed by the dominant form of robber baron global capitalism is gradually becoming attainable. It is a reemergence of the commons based on values of sharing and collaboration. Hard work and the common wealth of human creativity are quickly becoming a new currency that is too powerful to fail.
This horizontal organizing that rejects the structure of representation and reinvents democracy is an anarchistic act. Anarchism is the idea of creating ultimate freedom and at the same time claiming full responsibility for ones choices. Those who act in the spirit of anarchism are aware of their part in creating reality and try to take responsibility for it. By simply engaging in the act of protesting, one remains defined within the existing reality one is trying fight. The reality created is simply that of resisting. Instead of fighting to gain power within an inherently unjust system, people are now realizing that they already are the source of all power and are beginning to bring that power into their everyday lives. The true strength of the people is not found in the act of seizing the reins of outer systems of power, but is created and multiplied through connecting with others.
The media widely reported that what is behind Occupy is frustration toward the 1% and corporate domination. It was a feeling that people had had enough. Although there is disgust directed to Wall Street, what ultimately guides Occupy is an imagination that gained power equal to outside reality. Occupiers already tasted freedom and are creating a new structure of self-organizing that they had already known and experienced online. People are now seeing the gap between their ideals and reality, the difference between an open society web culture and the governance of corporate propriety from outside.
The spirit of Occupy will not go away because it is not based on action led by a single ideology or slogan, but infused by an imagination and experience of what is possible. The 99% movement does not simply criticize the system that only serves the 1%, but is creating the alternative and living it.
A similar awakening happened in the 60′s, yet it did not gain quite the strength to meaningfully transform the dominant culture. The 60′s decades was an opening. With the free speech and anti-war movement, a call for counterculture wedded to nature and living in peace emerged against the rise of consumer and materialistic culture. People started to sew seeds for another world. Yet, with the CIA’s drug co-opting of the movement, this bursting new impulse toward a sharing culture was squashed and it could not fully become a viable alternative path. It was ridiculed and treated as naïve. Eventually it was degraded into an illusion, a kind of escape from Western realism and not taken seriously.
Now we are seeing a resurgence of imagination. This time it is not merely a childish dream, but has the power to become real. In the face of finding common ground beyond differences and relating to one another from this equal place, forces of domination and corporate power dissolve. Through flesh that bleeds and feels pain and joy, each click becomes an action to embody ideals in the physical plane that would otherwise might be lost in virtual reality or simply remain a dream.
On Sep 25, 2012, thousands surrounded the Greek Parliament. At the same time, an ocean of Spanish people took to the streets of Madrid to protest against harsh austerity measures and demand resignation of the government. Ever since #25s, this collective voice spread into the streets of Lisbon, Rome, Paris and Frankfurt. From the Arab Spring to Occupy to the European Fall, the debt pyramid scheme and the facade of legitimacy covering this banker-run global serfdom is crumbling. In the rotting decay of empire, what is emerging both online and offline is a creative insurgence of anarchism.
What is anarchism? The true meaning has been vandalized, degraded, twisted and demonized by fearful minds in false association with violence, chaos and destruction. But, anarchism is simply about the human spirit remembering and relating to others as free beings. It gently moves from one person to another, through heart connection. We are reminded; it is not a will of God, a King, a political or business leader, but it is in the will of each person and a consensus of imagining that our future lies.
In a sense, anarchy is closer to true democracy, where the human spirit acknowledges the sacredness and dignity of each being and diverse ideas are given a free space to flourish. It is never a law imposed from outside, but one constantly found and upheld by each person’s commitment to actively support the freedom and sanctity of all living beings.
Pioneers in the digital landscape have shown what unleashed imagination can do. It is already happening and if one missed that wave of revolution, one would likely be surprised when it hits the streets. Before we saw each other in the eyes at Zuccotti Park, in our global web of imagination we have seen a new world through a shared vision.
“You may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one”. – John Lennon, Imagine.
Some may dismiss all this as fiction, but millions have already joined the peaceful revolution and the numbers are growing. By aligning with the technological and moral revolution of the 21st century, the spirit of anarchy is being rekindled. Anarchism is an idea whose time has come. Ideas once felt in the heart cannot be kept from manifesting in the world. It’s time to open our eyes to the world we imagine and act as if we are already free, because we truly are free.
Bernays, E. L. (1928). Propaganda. New York: Ig Publishing.
Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (1988). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. New York: Pantheon Books.
Orwell, G. (1949). 1984. New York: The New American Library.
Zinn, H. (1970). The politics of history. Illinois: University of Illinois Press.
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