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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Occupy the Corporations

Officer Mario Guarin of the DC Metropolitian Police Department tries to push back a barricade erected by protesters in front of an office building containing a branch of the Monsanto Corporation.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Observations: The Infrastructure, Superstructure and the General Assembly

I have come to regard the system of an occupation as consisting of two major subsystems. The first is an infrastructure, consisting of tangible community resources (a kitchen, supply of housing, medical supplies) and also a shared community nomenclature (community guidelines, their declaration of occupation and motions passed through their general assembly). The second part of the occupation, the superstructure, is the social system based on top of the shared infrastructure. The infrastructure and superstructure interact with each other at a number of points where their system boundaries intersect, but the point most relevant to the evolving complexity of the infrastructure is the occupation’s general assembly.

The general assembly is the point at which the social system, contained in the superstructure, assembles to determine precise patterns of information to be transmitted across its system boundary to join the (not necessarily tangible) assembly of logs and records of previously passed motions, contained in the infrastructure. This process varies from occupation to occupation and city to city, but they all utilize some form of defined consensus process to determine the relevancy of the message to be transmitted to the infrastructure (the motion being proposed to the GA) against the overall system of the occupation.

The infrastructure is the long-term memory process of a democratically organized social system. The superstructure is the short-term memory process. This model of a democratic system fits into the same guidelines as Norbert Weiner’s models of the short-term/long-term memory processes of the animal and the machine, and can be measured with similar methods.

The General Assembly

A facilitator stands at the front of the Occupy DC general assembly in November, 2011.

The general assembly is the point at which information relevant to the occupations infrastructure is compiled and transmitted from the community superstructure to the community infrastructure via a customized consensus process. The Occupy DC general assembly consensus process follows these basic guidelines:

1) A proposal is read to the assembly.

2) The facilitator gauges the community’s opinion of the proposal (the “public opinion”) by asking for consensus among the group (gauged by hand signals).

3) If consensus is not immediately apparent, a stack is opened and a discussion begins. First, the facilitator would ask participants to raise their hands if they have any clarifying questions in regards to the proposal, selects a few of them and assigns each a number between 1 and n (the “stack”). Each person on stack waits their turn to ask their question and have it be answered. If there are more questions, another stack can be filled, or the facilitator can decide to move on to the next step.

4) A stack is opened to address major concerns about the proposal.

5) A stack is opened to address any friendly amendments the assembly has.

6) A stack is opened to address things people really like about the proposal.

7) The facilitator once again gauges consensus. If consensus is found, the motion passes and the proposal becomes part of the infrastructure.

The decision the GA makes is that of a simple yes/no; a binary decision. Through the social guidelines for communication and control of the predefined GA process, patterns of information are gauged for their relevancy against the system of the community infrastructure. Through this process the community infrastructure of the occupation is built up bit by binary bit. The voting processes utilized by the US Senate and other democratic assemblies are very much akin to this process, and build upon their national infrastructures in very much the same way.

Observations: The 4th Estate

(A recurring theme with my writing - always evolving, always growing)

The concept of the “4th estate” reaches back to the period just after the French Revolution in the early 1800’s. Having established their new democratic government of three estates, it was noticed that there was a 4th sociopolitical entity which was affecting the path of the nation. Unable to define this 4th entity, it was labeled simply as the the nations “4th estate”. Recently I have come to define the 4th estate as the systemic feedback mechanism of a functioning democracy: it is not the subsystem responsible for making important decisions so much as the subsystem responsible for making decisions important. The power of this 4th estate comes from the ability of the mass media to frame the national discourse before the electorate, to define what issues are most relevant for discussion.

The 4th estate has always existed in society in one form or another, even before the concept of democracy existed. All social information entering the mind of the individual is in some sense feedback from the greater society, framing for them the relevancy of specific ideas and concepts. For instance: in the centuries before the printing press was a viable means of mass production, a flow of bibles produced at hands of Christian monks framed the concepts of the Christian religion as important to the Western world. Through their mass of information output into Western society, I would argue that the church was able to affect it’s discourse. With the invention of the printing press, the mass reproduction of information was accessible to more people.

As time has progressed, technology has brought the means of information mass production to the people, and with this has come higher and higher densities of information throughout the media environment. As the information density increases, the potential relevancy between any two messages also increases. When signals relevant to each other come in contact with each other they produce a pattern of information new to the overall system (as an individual learns, they put pieces together to make new ideas). These new patterns of information, concepts and ideas new into the media environment, are what fuel social, technological and scientific advancement. Of particular import to myself, however, is their ability to fuel the development and evolution of our democratic processes.

Members of the 4th estate record for broadcast information on Occupy DC’s erecting their “Tent of Dreams”, a massive tent in the center of McPherson Square and my home for a week.

As more Americans gain access to the means of information production - the American 4th estate - citizens are enabled to communicate more with both each other and our elected. The American electorate, with the technologies of the Internet, have grown accustomed to being more socially enfranchised and having their voice heard across social networks, and in my opinion it was only a matter of time that a major movement in this country erupted in this country embracing direct democracy.

Our 4th estate is constituted from these means of information production, Through our 4th estate, America is able to communicate with itself and share relevant information. Up until the inception of the Internet, most of the modes of information mass-production (most of the 4th estate) were controlled only by those with the capitol to support a printing press or broadcast tower.

With the Internet, the modes of information mass production are available to most of America. It has enabled us to provide more feedback into our media environment through social interactions online, but more importantly it has given us a voice in the discussion of how our society is structured and governed. As technologies enabled more and more feedback, Americans became more and more accustomed to having their voice heard. This finds itself aligned to the American ideals of democracy, and so in my opinion it was only a matter of time before a movement in America erupted to demand move voice in our governmental systems. The 4th estate is that of the Citizens Estate, responsible for transmitting information from the people into our overall democracy. In my opinion that is exactly what Occupy is about: addressing the disproportionate levels of disenfranchisement in our country. The ‘occupy’ conversation started with wealth inequality, but the issues we are facing in this country run far deeper than just the economic.

Observations: Disenfranchisement

We are one nation, indivisible under our flag. The ideal of an American democracy is for every citizen to have a fair share of influence upon their government, and recently this nation has seen the birth of a movement who believes they have been disenfranchised from this ideal. They believe that agents of our federal government have consistently acted without regard for the citizenry and they have begun to demand reform. Their love of our country’s democratic processes & ideals of the freedom of speech has spurred them to peacefully assemble & manifest the roar of their masses to influence the course of this country away from what they see as the destruction of our American ideals. Their efforts have changed the American discourse.

In the beginning, they had to fight for attention from the mainstream media. At first they were ignored. Then they were laughed at. Finally, the potential force of their movement upon our American democratic system was realized by the media, and they are now a common topic of discussion in houses across America; they have successfully altered the American discourse. I am talking of course about the Tea Party; an assembly of democratic citizens manifesting the collective roar of their voices to sway our governmental representatives.

Regardless of personal politics or perspectives on economic reform, both the Tea Party and Occupation share this one belief fundamental to both movements: control over society needs to be returned to the electorate. A lot of people in either group object entirely to the idea of comparison between the two, but this is a common thread which can be built upon to bridge connections between the two largest sociopolitical movements emerging from the American discourse in the past decade. They both have very different ideas of how government should look, but to both the democratic process is held to the highest regard.
Across our entire political spectrum there is a sense of disenfranchisement, that no matter how many activists gather on the National Mall, our heads of state have developed a filter to keep their voices from entering the walls of their compounds. Not that the Occupation is a leftist movement, but this is is something that both the left and right can agree on. I believe that this demand for a voice will potentially reunite the two groups together under our single flag.

A member of Occupy Cincinnati sings a solidarity chant at the top of her lungs after being arrested for refusing to obey Cincinnati Park Board regulations.

Discovering what it means to have a voice, to be enfranchised in a democratic sociopolitical system, has been my primary focus through the lens of cybernetic theory. Through a combination of my readings of theory, my upbringing in humanity’s new digital era, my studies of journalism and my experiences with political activism I have come to hold a number of very precise beliefs and theories in regards to the systemic control mechanisms which govern the path of our nation and lives.

Observations: The Livestreamer

There is an already established base of digital social media amongst our media environment. The social profile site Facebook has over 500,000,000 active profiles as of 2011 and the social news site Reddit maintains 100,000+ subrreddits, over 8,400 of which maintain a subscription base of 100+ members. Google reports processing over one billion queries per day. Systems and technologies theorist Kevin Kelly has theorized that the complexity of our digital media environment surpassed that of the human mind in 2007, serving 100 billion clicks a day and consisting of over 1 quintillion individual transistors. Five years later, this system growing ever more complex than the human mind is growing eyes.

Since the 1960’s the mass television broadcast has been commonplace in the American environment. This corporation-controlled technology has brought events as inspiring as the moon landing and as dirty as wars abroad to the living room of middle class America. In 2001 this technology conveyed live the terror which the 9/11 terrorists had intended to inflict across every attentive screen in the country.

The livestreamer is a new form of journalist emerging from a mesh of political activism, digital technology and social networking. They are live videographers broadcasting via laptops, cell phones and mobile 4G hotspots, streaming across the Internet and acting as a visual proxy to tens of thousands of viewers at a time. The livestreaming network Ustream has surpassed 10,000,000 unique viewers of 30+ minutes. Livestreamers spend their majority of their time holding a web-cam or cell phone, responding to live comments from their viewership and answering any questions they have about the streamers environment.

The low cost of the equipment means that it takes only $200-300 to become your own live video producer with the potential to reach a sizable market. The small footprint of a livestreamer's rig provides them with a level of agility far beyond that of the traditional broadcast videographer, and I often find livestreamers right beside me on the riot line ready to dodge whatever comes their way. This allows livestreamers to abide by my personal top rule of journalism far more than someone carrying a 3 foot long, $60,000 satellite connected rig ever could: “be there”.

A livestreamer broadcasts the arrest of two protesters during a relatively small anonymous action of Occupy DC (with less than 10 participants). By the time of this photograph, two and a half hours after the action began, the livestreamer had over 450 viewers after midnight local time.

As with the burst of informational complexity throughout our media environment that came with the introduction of the Internet and decentralized access to the means of mass social text publication, we are currently experiencing another burst of complexity from the decentralization of access to the means of live mass video broadcast. Citizen journalists are able to compete to convey stories in real time, and viewers often have easy access to watching multiple unique streams from a single event simultaneously. At one point in January I was plugged into four streams coming out of Occupy Oakland and one from Occupy Denver and the only problem I had was managing the audio from 5 sources.

All a person needs is a smartphone.

Observations: The Streamgraph

This graphic is a representation of the frequency of all the words associated with the word “signed” on Twitter January 1st, 2012 for the 1000 tweets between 14:30 and 15:02. The zero point runs through the center of the graph, and the further out a section is from the center represents a more frequent association with the search query. The max amplitude of a word on this graph is attained at 14:38 by the hash tag “#NDAA” (104) followed by a close second, “Obama” (~102).

The night before, on New Years Eve 2011, President Obama had signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, a highly controversial bill undermining major components of our national infrastructure such as the writ of habeas corpus and the 4th amendment to the US constitution.

The input to this graph is a composite of tweets from hundreds of individuals all across the world connected only by an Enter key. With a bit of practice, it becomes easy to use this entirely decentralized source of information to find out what is going on in real time. As another step towards information access, livestreamers often tweet their broadcasts attached to relevant keywords, their streams normally available in the list of tweets visible underneath the streamgraph itself (not shown). The way I read it, a higher amplitude on the streamgraph is equivalent to a higher informational relevancy to our social system.

The application used to generate streamgraphs was created by Jeff Clark, a data visualization artist. Its not very accessible in its current state: users are unable to view a period of time other than the period across the past 1000 tweets, each graph takes 20-30 seconds to generate, and a lack of guides make it hard to gauge scale and quantity. The streamgraph also has a flaw which unless somehow remedied or amended may serve to be close to fatal to its ability to act as a source of live news: the input can consist of false reports. While following the eviction of Occupy Denver, that police were setting tents on fire pinged with the highest frequency on the streamgraph. It turned out to be the occupiers themselves. Whether the misinformation was intentional or not, it permeated the public opinion of what was actually happening at the eviction.

That given, as soon as I found this application it instantly became my primary source of real-time news for the Occupation. Searching the keywords “#occupy” or "#ows" a few times a day kept me current on all major events, evictions, actions and arrests related to the Occupation movement. It utilizes the amalgamated signal of information to build a visual representation in alignment with the systemic bias of “the public opinion” of the Twitterverse.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Police Are Filming You.

American University Mic Checks Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer

Gov. Brewer spoke for less than a half hour before opening the floor to questions, when she was mic checked by a group of students at American University. As soon as the mic check started, she left.

Jan Brewer speaks to a group of about 80-100 students at the American University in Washington DC.

"Carlo" leads the mic check.

'Ben' leads a mic check outside of the building.

Some activists (background) organized a banner drop from the roof of the building.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

Walking back through McPherson before heading home, happened upon this...

Rev. Karen Brau and Rev. Suzanna Blume of Luther Place Memorial Church carry out a ceremony on Ash Wednesday at Occupy DC in McPherson Park, with about 30 in attendance.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Roll a 20 against the cops

An occupier selects a race for his character before joining in on a game of Dungeons and Dragons in the Occupied University tent in McPherson Square

I think we should make a game called "Occupiers and Cops", pretty much D&D but instead of different races to pick from you have different roles (medic, deescalator, black blocer, lawyer, media...) as well as different enemies (blue shirts, white shirts, riot cop, teargas cop, LRAD, mounted cop...). The 'dungeons' would be various parks and street layouts.

Lawyer uses "first amendment lawsuit" against police chief. Lawyer rolls a 20!

Side route

Found under a bridge in Rock Creek Park

Sunday, February 12, 2012

CPAC - 2

Occupiers fail to execute a banner drop as a man tears down the banner before it is fully deployed during the final day of the 2012 CPAC conference . The occupiers were shown out of the hotel by staff as CPAC attendees chanted "get a job".

Friday, February 10, 2012

CPAC - 1

Occupy protestors are escorted out of the Marriot Wardman Park hotel during the 2012 CPAC.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Ahmed Salah, an organizer from the occupation of Tahrir square, speaks to occupiers at Freedom Plaza about the organizational tactics used by activists in Egypt.

Huda Asfor demonstrates in Dupont Circle to raise awareness for Khader Adnan, an arab man on a hunger strike for being imprisoned in an Israeli jail. Adnan is in critical condition due to his hunger strike.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Fall of the Tent of Dreams

The Tent of Dreams was my home for a week. It was an amazing experience, and I'll never forget it.
A man hides his face while visiting McPherson Square the day after he attacked and attempted to tear down the "Tent of Dreams", a massive tarp in the center of the park.

An occupier mulches a tree planted by Occupy DC a few days before in McPherson Square.

Two occupiers hang out inside of the Tent of Dreams on McPherson Square.

An occupier decorates the inside of a tent.

Occupiers erected a partial barricade around their "Tent of Dreams" prior to a police eviction.

Occupiers erect a partial barricade around the statue of General McPherson in McPherson Square to defend their "Tent of Dreams"

Occupiers negotiate with Capt. Phil Beck of the US Park Police in McPherson Square.

Police in riot gear surround the "Tent of Dreams" in McPherson Square.

Occupiers negotiate with Capt. Phil Beck of the US Park Police in McPherson Square.

A national capitol region mass decontamination chamber, erected by the DC fire dept, waits behind the police line for materials to process.

A livestreamer stands behind police lines to broadcast the clearing of McPherson Square by the US Park Police.

US Park Police move a clear plastic 'bubble' from inside of McPherson Square.

A livestreamer multitasks while covering the eviction of Occupy DC from McPherson Square

Honey badger dont give a fuck.

Officer Doweny of the DC Metro Police maintains a police line outside of a bank across the street from McPherson Square as protesters rr. to erect a tent in front of the building.

US Park Police during the eviction of McPherson Square.

A riot line during eviction of Occupy DC from McPherson Square.

'Anonymous' stands guard outside of the Occupy DC library during the eviction of McPherson Square.

A livestreamer broadcasts the search of the OCcupy DC library at McPherson Square

A US Park Police officer maintains a police line on S St outside of McPherson Square after the eviction of Occupy DC

Police reestablish a barricade after evicting Occupy DC from McPherson Square.

Riot line at McPherson Square.

Protestors are shoved down on a riot line during Occupy DC's eviction from McPherson Square.

'Moe' confronts US Park Police after being shoved down on a riot line during Occupy DC's eviction from McPherson Square

Sanitaion workers load the Occupy DC encampment at McPherson square into garbage trucks.

A riot line on K St NW after Occupy DC is evicted from McPherson Square.