We Are Here To Kill War: Interview with Occupy Wall Street Protester

Yesterday, September 19, I was able to speak with one of the “occupiers” – a brave soul and his friends who descended upon Wall Street on Friday for #OCCUPYWALLSTREET (among other names) to demand accountability for the corporations and banks enslaving our society. Ken was very kind to speak with me, and while his words ring true and profound, much has changed since I spoke with him. More people have been arrested, and much of the audio and video equipment has been confiscated by the NYPD. I whole-heartedly support Occpy Wall Street, and hope that this honest look at what one of the occupiers said will give insight into the revolution that is attempting to occur.

Note: Some remarks were indecipherable due to our cell connection (noted with “…”), and I’ve added a few notes in brackets []. 

TNTSU: Where are you guys at right now?

Ken: The name of the park strats with a “Z” – I’m not sure it is off the top of my head [Zuccotti]. We’re calling it Liberty Park because it’s at 1 Liberty Plaza and actually the owners of the property – Brookfield Properties – own the easement. It’s a public easement so they’re required to maintain it for public use, but it is private property.

Is it some sort of loophole that you guys are occupying it?

We’ve had sort-of skirmish problems. We arrived here the day before Occupy Wall Street was supposed to start. We came [Saturday] and they already had Wall Street [sectioned] off, the only foot traffic they were allowing on the side walk was…with IDs – for one of the gyms or one of the financial buildings there.

Most of the protest moved to Bowling Green Park which is where the bull is. People were circling the bull; police offers moved, without any force, people off the sidewalk around the bull and the march moved down towards Wall Street. People were permitting themselves be corralled away. Saturday evening people ended up here at the park. We decided to make a base camp out of it.

As I understand it, they [the NYPD] designated a protest area – they way they put it was that they were “busting up”…even though they [the Occupiers] didn’t have permit, the protests were designated a protest area off wall street that they decided not to use. I wasn’t aware of a designated area.

So no one ever got a permit initially, right?

There was no permit ahead of time. I don’t remember hearing about a permit. I was talking to several people with US Day of Rage and Occupy Wall Street ahead of time and never heard anything about a permit.

How many organizations are represented there? We’ve heard US Day of Rage and Occupy Wall Street, of course…

US Day of Rage, yeah…there are some teamsters that talked about going down, but not representing teamsters…a UPS guy we talked to earlier was going to bring a bunch of his friends down. It’s a huge a cross section, to tell you the truth. There are so many libertarian and anarchist organizations…they’re so opposed to the idea of centralization or affiliating themselves with an organization, even if they belong to one, even they have a button with an acronym, they’re going to deny it.

The hacktivists are down here, Anonymous is down here in force, all over the place. The two names that you brought forth: Occupy Wall Street and US Day of Rage are the only ones that have identified themselves.

When you say Anonymous is there, do you mean people in masks?

They said they were going to arrest people in masks. When I said Anonymous is here, they identify as “anons,” they go by anon names like AnonNYC, Friendly Guy, something like that.

Having your name revealed and having your face exposed doesn’t bother you personally?

Oh no, I’m not [A]nonymous [whether he meant literally or the group, I’m not sure].

Part of being here is [the] carte blanche assertion that it’s our right [and] not only our right but our duty to be here. So no, I have no concern about revealing my identity.

This is the third day of occupation. How many people are left today from the initial on Saturday?

That’s hard to say…we’ve had change-outs. If I had to say, like, gross numbers…the most we had was 1200 [on Saturday], and now – it’s kind of hard to tell, there’s a lot of spectators, people blending in, taking pictures – but the park presence right is now [approximately] 300. [Note: this figure has varied drastically, but Ken assured me there were not, unfortunately, 50,000 people as one sourced claimed.]

Was there initial disappointment on Saturday when 20,000 people weren’t there, as Adbusters requested?

My group – the people I came with – we weren’t disappointed in the number of people. It’s something that we felt was going to be an aggregate effort anyway. If something was going to happen it would be people building up over the week. What was disappointing was that we found sort of an insistence on endless ad naseum creation of committee after committee. They were trying to decide things by consensus – we were having to define what consensus meant. I stepped away from the platform and walked down to Wall Street. Luckily they got around their need to spout rhetoric at each other and march down that day as well.

I wasn’t disappointed in numbers; I think I was just disappointed at the need to have this…

Bureaucracy. And that’s exactly what they’re protesting against.

Right. Old habits die hard.

Liberty Park occupation, photo from Twitpic

Were the megaphone addresses, and later the “human megaphone” addresses, exhausting? Watching it was bittersweet as I wanted it to succeed, but there seemed to be a lot of people who wanted to talk at one time.

I got exhausted with the people that came forth. There aren’t an awful lot of people who needed to have their face out there, which was nice. But there was [one occupier] insisting that [they] were going to make these points, and we were like “no, when operating as a facilitator, you don’t come up and make points, you just facilitate the dialogue, and we’re not going to have any actionable dialogue if you insist on your agenda being put forth as the facilitator.”

I had trouble hearing, but they simply didn’t have the equipment [to amplify].

How did you end up at Occupy Wall Street? What’s your background?

I’m a researcher in genetics, but lately I’ve been working an awful lot in human rights. I got involved and founded Operation Asylum were we’re trying to find funding and general communication resources for some Libyan college students abroad who had lost their funding for an education when Gadafhi’s assets were frozen, which put their visas in jeopardy.

It happens a lot in war zones situations – when anyone has left the country and there’s an insurgency [they] are considered an enemy of the state when they come back. Either that or they’re forced into conscription…

I just became associated with a lot of human rights activists through that. I’ve been talking Alexa O’Brian of US Day of Rage and Occupy Wall Street, mostly through Twitter.

I’m not going to get really eschatological about revolution. I try not to do that. We’re not in a great situation for predictive analysis. [But] if nothing else, we’re at a point where we’re going to have sharp relief concerning where it is we stand with our government in comparison with corporations. They’re going to have to choose one or the other.

What’s the overall tone of the group now?

There has a been a great populist response for the most part, even from some of the police officers, although a girl just got arrested not too long ago for chalking. They picked her up and dragged her off. In general the populist has been great.

How long do you plan on staying there? Some are staying for months, right?

My girlfriend and I have a plane to catch on Tuesday, but right now it’s whatever…if we need to be here, we’ll be here. We don’t plan on being here any certain length of time.

They told us we can’t set up tents, no structure. My friend Sonya’s here, and her plans right now are to be here until we all meet up again in DC on October 6 for Occupy DC.

Are there any other misconceptions or myths that you want to dispel?

I’ve seen an awful lot said…I just want to say, explicitly, “no comment” to most of it. I’m not going to validate what amounts to trolling. You can quote me on that.

What’s a message to the rest of the world, or what we can do to help?

This is indeed very serious. This isn’t a bunch of kids who don’t like the conditions of their college loan. This is us facing our state, and demanding accountability. The promotion of the attitude that this is a very serious protest. This isn’t a flash mob, this isn’t a reality TV show. We are here to kill war.

It’s Time To Social Mediate

Colorful graphics are key to social media, and to their meta-navigation (src)

Time to what? Social Mediate. I’m going to define this in hopes that do-gooders at large can effectively use the term to inspire change through a network of concerned (or pissed off) individuals. Social media, is, of course, what we’re doing right now: blogging, Facebooking, tweeting, sharing, linking, texting, and so on. Wikipedia defines it as:

…media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable communication techniques. Social media is the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue.

To mediate, of course, is to facilitate, to run smoothly, to help this “dialogue” along and allow various parties to get what they want. Random House drops these particuarly poignant definitions:

1.to settle (disputes, strikes, etc.) as an intermediary between parties; reconcile.

2.to bring about (an agreement, accord, truce, peace, etc.) as an intermediary between parties by compromise, reconciliation, removal of misunderstanding, etc.

3.to effect (a result) or convey (a message, gift, etc.) by or as if by an intermediary.

Based on this, I would like to draft the following: to social mediate is to use dynamic technologies in the most efficient scope to facilitate dialogue and understanding, as well as and foster connectedness between groups. Let me attempt to explain what I mean by this:

We want to use dynamic technologies such as social networking, text messaging, or crowdsourcing, to reach people. A lot of people. In fact, the largest amount of people we can – Wikipedia’s use of the terms “accessible and scalable” attest to this, but I don’t want to limit it to “communication techniques” or the word “media.” As broad as those terms are, “dynamic technologies” encompasses almost anything, from wind-up laptops distributed to children in Africa to equipment monitoring for carbon emission tracking. All of these can be fed into databases, presented to individuals, and used to convey ideals for change.

This could be an example social mediation toolkit. (src)

We want to use technology in the most “efficient scope” because waste is inevitable, and often ignored for the sake convenience. Energy use, packaging, shipping, even energy vampires – in our quest for change we must be aware of the repercussions, both locally and globally. At the same time, efficiency matters in the “who” and “how” the message/idea/compromise is presented. E-mail spam has become an incredibly inefficient way of obtaining customers versus highly targeted Facebook advertisements.

Dialogue is at the heart of social media. Ten years ago, you could hardly e-mail Coca Cola – now you can post on their Facebook wall for the world to see. Businesses and organizations are forced to become more transparent, and this is generally a good thing. Understanding is crucial: Nestle understood that their customers didn’t want to eat palm oil that caused rain forest destruction or lead to orangutan extinction. And we want connectedness on issues that matter – it was connectedness that caused millions of frustrated Cairenes to “fight like an Egyptian.”

Social mediation isn't always pretty. Sometimes it takes some a hardened message to get the point across. (src)

I use the word “groups” to avoid speciesism and to be, again, as broad as possible. While it may be difficult to enter into a dialogue with whales, groups like Sea Shepard can social mediate to connect us to them, and have us understand their plight. All groups, from a lowly caste in India, to politicians in Washington, or even a collection of endangered species can be included in this idea, this encompassing of using technology to improve lives. Pictures of distress, such as those from Japan’s recent tsunami, or of elephants being tortured at circuses, can be instantaneously shared with millions of people to effect real change. This goes beyond the idea of “sharing” or just simply being social with links and clicks. I think we can use this framework to social mediate and say to our fellow men and women: “this in injust, and we must fix this.” Or, to simply share joy, and mediate towards even more happiness.

I pose the question to the reader: is this a worthy goal, or are we traveling a road already rutted with an inflection-less, unemotional Internet woes: armchair activists and big-brother surveillance? Is my definition of “social mediation” too broad to do any good, or can we create a new buzzword to inspire the citizens of Twitterverse and Farmville to do something that matters? That, my friends, is up to you. While I think it is possible, we have a long road ahead of us.

Note: While I surmise their definition is different than mine, someone has created the domain socialmediate.com and and an accompanying Twitter account. Like many movements, both sites seem to have stalled out.

Fight Like An Egyptian

via the CrimethInc. Far East Blog

Some great pieces coming out about the protests in Wisconsin right now, several utilizing the meme-friendly phrase, “Fight Like An Egyptian.” CrimethInc poignantly adds that with a graphic and text that this spread may not be coincidental:

If you live far outside Wisconsin, take this as a warning shot; don’t be caught off guard when the same things occur where you live. Think about how you can prepare so you’ll be ready to push things further when the window of opportunity opens up. This is not a fluke, but the first signs of a long war finally beginning in the United States.

For now, the protesters insist, “We aren’t going anywhere.”

The Sentinelese and Language Extinction

A rare picture of the Sentinelese (via Wired)

Take a moment to read about the people of the Sentinel islands in the Bay of Bengal; the North Sentinel Island in particular. Here you will find a people who truly exemplify the human spirit to whatever the hell we want, without any interference from the outside world: The Sentinelese. The Guardian explains:

The most reclusive of all are the Sentinelese, who have violently rebuffed all approaches from the outside world. According to a recent study of the tribes carried out by a team of biologists at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, the indigenous islanders, often described by anthropologists as ‘pygmies’, may actually represent the first Asians – an early wave of ‘out of Africa’, who reached the Far East more than 40,000 years ago and have since evolved separately from most of the other native people of Asia, the South Seas and Australia.

The article goes on to explain that even with multiple attempts to contact the tribe, almost all have proved futile. There may be a few pictures here and there, but for the most part the Sentinelese have sent a clear message: stay the hell away. To make this point, they even killed to Indian fisherman a few years ago whose boat “accidentally drifted on to the shore of North Sentinel Island.” Some cried foul, wanting to subject them to the laws of a nearby, more “civilized” nation, but the father of one of the victims sided with the Sentinelese: his son was poaching and trespassing, he said, and how could you prosecute them anyway?

For one, it would be difficult, as no one, except the Sentinelese, know their language. The Sentinelese Language has maybe 100 speakers, perhaps more, but no one really knows. It is an unknown language, as well as endangered, and if you haven’t heard of such a thing relating to language, I highly recommend NatGeo’s Enduring Voices project with this interactive map that describes what’s happening and how we can save the knowledge and culture of over 7,000 languages spoken on this earth. Perhaps buried within them is the perfect secret for how to easily conjugate past participles and conjunctives! But really, saving them makes sense, and here’s why:

Language defines a culture, through the people who speak it and what it allows speakers to say. Words that describe a particular cultural practice or idea may not translate precisely into another language. Many endangered languages have rich oral cultures with stories, songs, and histories passed on to younger generations, but no written forms. With the extinction of a language, an entire culture is lost.

Much of what humans know about nature is encoded only in oral languages. Indigenous groups that have interacted closely with the natural world for thousands of years often have profound insights into local lands, plants, animals, and ecosystems—many still undocumented by science. Studying indigenous languages therefore benefits environmental understanding and conservation efforts.

For more on the Sentinelese and their language, see Survival International’s “The most isolated tribe in the world?” Stay hidden, guys!

WikiLeaks Reveals US “Influence” On Danish Reprint of Mohammed Cartoons

mohammed protest

Protests in London over the controversial Mohammed cartoons (src)

With more and more WikiLeaks cable being released every day, the job of pouring through each one, looking for juicy tidbits, is getting overwhelming. Imagine how overwhelming it is for the journalists of Afterposten, based out of Oslo, Norway, who recently got their hands on all 250,000+ cables from WikiLeaks. Sure enough, they’ve got a whole sub-site devoted to the leaks, and while pouring through the cables myself, one caught my eye:


The cable (link 1 link 2) describes how the paper that originally published the “offensive” cartoons, the Jyllands-Posten (or the “Post”), was considering re-printing one or all of the cartoons on the one-year anniversary of the original print: September 30, 2006. When the US Embassy, headed by Ambassador James P. Cain, learned of this, he fired off a phone call to the Prime Minister of Denmark’s security office, wanting to know just what the hell the deal was: if the Post was going to re-print these cartoons that incited so much violence, chaos, and activity again, he needed to “notify our government and help prepare our embassies around the world for possible reaction.” What was the PM’s office’s response?

[Denmark security advisor Bo] Lidegaard confirmed that “Jyllands-Posten” was weighing a second run of the cartoons but indicated that the government did not want to get directly involved in thematter. So sensitive was the issue, Lidegaard told the Ambassador confidentially, that the prime minister’s office had made a conscious decision not to alert the foreign ministry or the intelligence services.

In addition, Lidegaard told the US Ambassador that if the US did try to get involved, by “openly influencing the paper’s decision,” they would have condemn it. We can only assume this is based on the fact that publicly, the Danish government wants to appear to support free speech, but privately were quite concerned about the publication. This is the Ambassador’s take, anyway:

When, then, the newspaper that ignited Denmark’s worst foreign policy crisis in sixty years essentially threatened to do it all over again, the prime minister apparently concluded that the potential costs of being seen to intervene against free speech outweighed even the risk of another uproar. The Danish government might not have been able to dissuade the paper’s editors in any case; one could also argue that another such provocation is inevitable. It seems clear from this episode, though, that [Prime Minister] Rasmussen’s first priority was to stay on the right side of the free speech issue and avoid any suggestion of concession. [emphasis added]

mohammed cartoons

One of the original pages from the newspaper that sparked worldwide controversy (src)

But here’s another interesting point: Islam in Europe, a blog that reports on matters of the same name, reported the news in this way: “Wikileaks: US Embassy pressured Danish paper not to reprint Mohammed cartoons.” But did it? It appears to be more of a subtle “influence” from the way the cable describes it:

[Post editor-in-chief] Juste told the Ambassador that he and his team had been considering re-publication, but concluded that such a move would be unwise, especially so soon after the controversy caused by the Pope’s Regensburg remarks. The Ambassador welcomed this news, noting that none of us wanted a repeat of the crisis earlier this year. Lidegaard was demonstrably relieved when the Ambassador reported this exchange a short time later.

What was really said in that telephone call we can only speculate on. Perhaps the Post’s decision was a combination of several things, but it does seem in the end they went with diplomacy rather than free speech. Why not publish some cartoons? Harper’s Magazine published all twelve a few months before the one-year anniversary. If your beliefs, even your religious beliefs, cannot withstand that kind of scrutiny, they need to be re-evaluated. At least, that’s my take.

Ambassador Cain’s take is that the while the “positive” of the Danish stepping up their troops in the Middle East works with their “integration and outreach to the country’s immigrant communities,” the negative is far worse:

this popular center-right government has hardened its views on the absolute primacy of free speech. The prime minister appeared willing to let Jyllands-Posten dictate the timing of the next Islam vs. West confrontation without question or open discussion within the government.

Primacy of free speech? Why, that’s just what WikiLeaks is after. What a coincidence. As for the next “confrontation,” I’d rather it be waged in print than on the battlefield. Would that happen? Not likely. So it seems reasonable that the US would be concerned, but the touchy issue of free speech still looms large. Not to mention the strange relations between the Danish government and the media in Denmark. Has free speech prevailed? Years later, we’re just beginning to uncover the truth.

Meanwhile, Isalmist militants aren’t satisfied. See the BBC’s recent: “Denmark holds ‘Muhammad cartoon plotters’” from just a few weeks ago. Will it ever end?