Tag Archives: civil disobedience

The Captain, the Commissioner, and the Brotherhood

Retired Captain Ray Lewis at Philadelphia City Hall, 16 February 2012. Photo by Dustin Slaughter

Retired Philadelphia police captain Ray Lewis is in town for a day-long event focusing on First Amendment issues, including corporate consolidation of the media, organized by Occupy Philadelphia. One reason for his visit?

“I will not idly stand by while law enforcement is administered only to the poor and disenfranchised while the rich flaunt their immunity,” he says, standing next to a monument with the First Amendment etched in stone.

It’s on this blisteringly-cold afternoon when reports of veiled threats from the Philadelphia police department begin to trickle in: Lewis may be arrested for wearing his uniform if he leaves Independence Mall and marches through Center City.

Lewis decides “to call the city’s bluff.” Leaving the temporary encampment at the Mall, he begins walking with a small group towards that afternoon’s target – the towering Comcast Center, a corporation which refuses to include Al-Jazeera English (despite the 24-hour news channel winning multiple awards) – into their programming, instead planning to add a new P-Diddy music channel to their lineup.

I catch up with him as he heads up Market Street. He has a firm handshake and a hard, yet calm gaze when he’s not wearing his sunglasses. An elderly Asian woman pokes her head out of a storefront to watch this tall uniformed man carrying a protest sign.

It is this power – albeit a different power that one in a police uniform usually wields – that likely has the city’s police commissioner angry at the outspoken retired officer, while giving fuel to a somewhat subdued peoples’ movement during the winter.

“It’s like a river. I don’t know where it’s headed, but I’m going to remain on the raft,” Lewis says of the Occupy movement, for which he was arrested in Lower Manhattan during an act of civil disobedience.

Downplaying his arrest, he said he was inspired by “those kids willing to sacrifice their comfort,” to rail against corporate America, which is the principal benefactor of his ire.

Lewis feels that civil disobedience is necessary because it “draws attention” to grievances easily glossed over by mere picketing.

It was indeed civil disobedience which, Lewis asserts, allowed Commissioner Ramsey to achieve the position as Philadelphia’s top cop – because of the civil rights movement. It is also civil disobedience that Ramsey essentially accuses the former captain of committing by demonstrating in uniform.

There is one problem with that accusation, however.

In a press release included in a packet Lewis assembled for curious onlookers – as well as the media – he cites the statute which Ramsey is accusing him of violating:

Section #4912 Impersonating a Public Servant – Falsely pretending to hold a position in the public service with intent to induce another to submit to such a pretended official authority or otherwise to act in reliance upon that pretense to his prejudice.

Lewis also includes in the press release that, after contacting the Philadelphia police department’s Attorney Armando Brigandi on November 10th, 2011 about his intention to protest in uniform, Brigandi “fully concurred that Section #4912 did NOT pertain to my intended action, nor would I be violating any other laws,” so long as Lewis “did not express an articulable intent and act of having legal law enforcement power.”

Lewis isn’t just being threatened by Ramsey, however.

The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police’s board of directors voted unanimously on a motion to potentially take away Lewis’ pension.

FOP President John McNesby. Photo from Philly.com

FOP President John McNesby has publicly stated: “I champion him for going up there and pleading his case, but he shouldn’t have done it in a police uniform. When he put the freaking uniform on is when he crossed the fucking line.”

McNesby goes on to say that if were up to him, Lewis “would be booted from the FOP and lose his retirement benefits.”

These are the same police administrators who allowed Tyrone Wiggins, an officer convicted of raping a 13 year old girl, to keep his pension until August of 2011 – 9 years.

After the protesters – including Lewis – return to Independence Mall by day’s end, the Philadelphia Police Department issues a new statement: They will be taking a “hands-off” approach to Ray Lewis and his uniform. It’s certainly a radically different stance than the one issued by Commissioner Ramsey before Lewis returned to Philadelphia, which said the department was “prepared to take any and all necessary actions” to protect the Philadelphia police insignia.

In a city where police administrators pick and choose which officers receive threats and punishments, and where figures in the Nutter administration may have waded into ethically murky waters in dealing with early Occupy Philadelphia for the sake of political expediency, sometimes it takes one person to just step off the curb, and call their bluff.

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How to Radicalize a Moderate: The story of a former OP City Liaison

Dylan Hewitt and Monica Hartlove, both of Philadelphia, participate in the Occupy Philadelphia protest in front of City Hall on October 7, 2011. Photo by Metro Philadelphia.

Editor’s note: This account is a strong example of why systems of control often times backfire. It also exposes the truth that governments often use the law to their advantage, as the author’s experiences dealing directly with the city illustrate. The allegations made in this piece can be independently corroborated. You can follow Julia Alford-Fowler on Twitter: @jalfordfowler. – D.S.

In the mind of most American citizens, local government officials exist (at least the majority of the time) to serve and answer to the people who elected them. It is within this system of accountability that we rely upon to make sure our best interests are being served. While I had a healthy amount of skepticism, this was my held view until the fall of 2011. I believed that the Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, and his staff were in office to protect their citizens, myself included, and that the problems of this country were for the most part the result of unchecked corporate greed on Wall Street, amid a variety of other issues.

What follows is an account of how my thinking was transformed from this moderate view of a trust in those in power into one in which my faith in our government and specifically, those who govern, was destroyed. For me, the Occupy Movement started with a purpose of giving a voice to the voiceless and a way for all of us who were angry at the state of our country to come together and create real change. I believed that this could be accomplished through dialogue and negotiations. Over the course of the two month encampment in front of City Hall in Philadelphia, I saw the necessity of the people’s voice to override the restrictions set to us by our lawmakers. I saw first hand that these lawmakers who were put into office through corporate dollars often do not serve the people who cast the ballots, but instead work to protect the interests of those who funded their campaigns. I began to ask myself the following: What makes free speech free? Is it something that falls within guidelines dictated by the government (as in such guidelines as “time, place and manner”) or is it citizens finding their voices and expressing them how they see fit, especially if they are not causing harm to another person?

At 7:00 am on October 6th, I stepped onto Dilworth Plaza full of hope, love and passion. What was sweeping our country had inspired me to throw myself head first into something I had never tried before – activism. What had happened with the NYPD at Occupy Wall Street disgusted me, but that was New York and as far as I could tell, Philadelphia was going to be different. I had already been told that the city was looking forward to working with us, that they were excited about this showcase of democracy at the footsteps of City Hall and that they wanted to present Philadelphia to the rest of the country as “The Cradle of Liberty.” All they wanted in return was a small group of people to act as liaisons with them and for us to apply for a permit. Over the course of the day, a small group of people decided that I would start out being that “liaison”.

Richard Negrin, Deputy Mayor and Managing Director for the City of Philadelphia. Photo from his personal Twitter account.

By 6:00 pm that day, I was sitting in the office of Richard Negrin, Deputy Mayor and Managing Director for the City of Philadelphia. During our conversation he said one thing in particular which struck me as unusual, but in the flurry of activity, I pushed it aside: If we get a few weeks into this and we need to boost publicity for the movement, they could help us stage an arrest.

A top-ranking city official just told me that they would be willing to set up a situation wherein 10 or so people lie down in the street and they would very politely cuff them and haul them away to jail.

In a later meeting with our small team of city liaisons, he repeated this statement and was echoed by Everett Gillison, Deputy Mayor of Public Safety and now Mayor Nutter’s chief of staff. Gillison confirmed this tactic, saying that it was something that they had done in the past and we simply needed to let them know how many people, at what time, and they would work with us to coordinate these arrests.

I should note that we never took the administration up on their offer.

Over the next two weeks I began to see a pattern in which the city was happy to have us there as long as they were able to subtly control our actions. When it came to the permit, the city was anxious for us to sign this piece of paper that would change our camp from a space that was a reclamation of public property for use by and service to the people of Philadelphia, to them granting us permission to be there under their oversight and control. Supposedly open-ended, once signed we could have access to electricity and protection from “other groups” trying to take over the space. At one point, Negrin called to warn me that we should sign immediately because the Tea Party had applied for a permit and they could only hold them off for so long. After checking around, I discovered that no one in the administration could confirm that this was the case. Once the permit was signed, we were given a long list of complaints from the city that we had to fix about the camp, which then dominated three weeks of daily General Assemblies. The pattern continued to build. As soon as we resolved one issue, the city would present us with another one, each of which would dominate endless hours of our time.

In regards to the “city liaison working group”, the General Assembly eventually voted to dissolve the working group and grant the role of communicating with the city on our behalf to the Legal Collective, which I then joined.

After the first and only meeting with the mayor and his staff, the General Assembly decided to answer the Mayor Nutter’s request for weekly meetings with a simple answer: No. We made clear that Occupy Philadelphia did not intend to cut off communication, and that continued emails and letters would be exchanged with the administration. I saw this as our group making the statement that we were going to protest on our terms, not theirs. I believed that as people of the United States, it is our right to do so. The government is supposed to be for the people and by the people. We would no longer tolerate a country in which our government’s voice is more important than that of the people who elected them. Additionally, we were demanding that all communications with the city be documented in order to protect our rights. As any meeting with the city in person was not allowed to be recorded, we refused to participate.

What happens when citizens decide they are no longer going to allow the suppression of their voices by the government? Shortly after we notified the Mayor’s office of our decision, on November 12th, there was a sexual assault at the camp. The following day, Mayor Nutter held a press conference which he used as a platform to attack Occupy Philly. He mentioned the assault in passing for only one sentence. During the conference he made the following statement, “Many of the people that we talked to in the beginning of this event and activity are now gone. They are no longer on the site.” The Mayor of Philadelphia blatantly lied. All of the people that the city had worked with from day one, myself included, were still there. The only thing that had changed was that we were no longer allowing ourselves to be controlled by a system that served to protect the status quo. Incidentally, this press conference was held less than a week after the Mayor’s reelection bid was secured.

The mayor’s main complaint against Occupy Philadelphia? Sanitation. How many times have you walked through the subway and it smelled of urine? Or walked through your neighborhood and stepped around broken glass? Where is the press conference condemning these issues?

Luckily for the city, they found a new pawn in the form of a recently established group, Reasonable Solutions. In reaction to the General Assembly’s earlier decision to resist eviction, the leaders of this group set up a meeting with city officials and applied for a permit for Thomas Paine Plaza, located directly across from Dilworth Plaza. When the city handed one proposed permit to them and one to Occupy Philadelphia, it was entirely restrictive. It allowed for a single canopy tent and was limited to the hours of 9am to 7pm. In effect, it negated the purpose of our protest – no occupation. While Occupy Philadelphia submitted an appeal, Reasonable Solutions did nothing. Shortly after we were notified that our appeal had been denied, the city held a press conference to showcase Reasonable Solutions signing the new permit. This gave the city every excuse to evict us without any further negotiation. Because a group that vaguely resembled Occupy Philadelphia had been willing to sign this permit, the Mayor could now say that they had done their due diligence, and to the common observer, they had.

Within a week, the city had us evicted. Late on the night of November 29th, roughly 400 riot cops, countless bicycle cops and what I counted as eight mounted officers on horses, all assembled to challenge approximately 100 protesters. At this time there was evidence that the evictions were being coordinated by both a series of nationwide conference calls between Mayors and later calls between Police Chiefs that were set up by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). The fact that this show of force to evict our camp was beyond excessive should come as no surprise given that our police commissioner, Charles Ramsey, is the President of the Board of Directors of PERF.

Protesters marching from City Hall after eviction. Photo by Dustin Slaughter

After we left the plaza following the final dispersal order, there was a group of 50 or so protesters (i.e. residents of Philadelphia) on the street and the sidewalk in front of Dilworth Plaza. At one point I turned to see the mounted police charging into the crowd, trampling the foot of a member of our media team. This incident was so shocking that my husband, who had been watching via livestream, called and pleaded with me to return home. Later, I sent the following tweet to Richard Negrin and Mayor Nutter:

Richard Negrin’s reply?

This video clearly shows the officers first moving people onto the sidewalk and then, once they are on the sidewalk, charging into the crowd and overtaking the sidewalk. Once I returned home I watched the rest of the events unfold via livestream and the ABC livefeed. What follows is the first hand account from friends who were on the scene: After this incident, the evicted protesters kept marching through the streets with chants of “You can’t evict an idea!”. As the march was beginning to wind down, the police kettled in half of the crowd, abused several of the marchers, including an African-American male who was punched in the kidney multiple times. Even if the kettled marchers were given a dispersal order, which they were not, they had no means of leaving. Instead they were told to get on the sidewalk or they would be arrested. They got on the sidewalk and were subsequently arrested.

When I started working with the city, I saw a purpose to it. I saw a chance to create dialogue between people that normally wouldn’t talk to each other and through these conversations we could create real change. Unfortunately, the conversations were short lived. Our General Assemblies were more often than not dominated with discussions about how to respond to the city and how to keep the tenuous relationship peaceful. We were acting out of fear, fear that what had been brought down on the heads of our compatriots in other cities would be brought down on ours. We forgot the golden rule of democracy, often attributed to Thomas Jefferson:

“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

From the beginning I made it my maxim that I would work with the city until they harmed my people. Early in the morning of November 30th, they harmed my people. I awoke to the fact that this sort of abuse of power had been occurring throughout this city, country and world for centuries and I was just beginning to join a fight that was vital, powerful, terrifying and righteous. While I may never understand what it is to risk my life in Syria, or to be threatened by police in the poorest neighborhoods in this country because of my skin color, I now see the danger of any government which has more power than that of its people. There is an inherent necessity for all of us to rise up, stand together, and make our voices heard through action.


Occupy the Justice System: Jury Nullification

Woman pepper-sprayed. Photo from BagNewsNotes.com

“I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”
Thomas Jefferson

The Occupy movement has been instrumental in not only changing our national conversation on issues such as poverty and massive income inequality, but on shedding an unwavering light on the corporate criminal class too. The movement has these moneyed thugs shaking, and one need look no further for evidence of this than in the violent, disproportionate use of force on occupations across America. Perhaps just as importantly, Occupy has inspired a new generation of activists, as well as formerly apathetic ones (mine included) to shake off despair and fear, and join the struggle.

These past few months have been a crash course in what an oligarchic police state looks like, as well as what it truly means to exercise peaceable assembly for a redress of political grievances. At its most fundamental level, the movement has been a wild civics lesson in what it truly means to be a citizen, and how to fight for a better country.

The next civics lesson? Teaching our fellow citizens about another subversive tool that, if Occupy can manage, will change the way Americans participate in our dysfunctional criminal justice system: jury nullification.

Consider the fact that the United States jails more people per capita than any other country in the world: 2.3 million Americans are currently behind bars, and a staggering 25% of those cases are for nonviolent drug offenses. Not only that, but the majority of those incarcerated for these offenses are predominantly African American. This is taking an unimaginable toll on their community. Empowering jurors with the knowledge of jury nullification might be a tremendous first step in correcting an out-of-control criminal “justice” system, and would have the added effect of boldly challenging a monstrous prison-industrial-complex.

Secondly, the power of jury nullification could have far-reaching effects for sustaining and even emboldening the Occupy movement. This is not hard to imagine. Consider this hypothetical:

A group of protesters are on trial for a peaceful sit-in at an empty school or financial institution, in which they were arrested for, say, defiant trespassing. The protesters make the case that they engaged in civil disobedience in order to shed light on an injustice done to the community, such as a school closure due to unfair austerity measures, or predatory lending practices which result in community members getting kicked out of their homes. Now imagine a jury informed of their right to base their verdict on conscience, instead of a modern legal system which is often incapable of flexibility when it comes to cases involving civil disobedience. The jury would not be bound to issue a verdict within the confines a judge (who would not inform them of the right to nullify) has set for them, but instead weigh the merits of a statute in which no one was physically harmed and the “crime” itself was done out of an educated, moral concern for society. They refuse to convict the defendants, despite the fact that the protesters clearly broke a trespassing law. They would have based their verdict on the belief that the law, as applied to this particular circumstance, is unjust – and not on reasonable doubt.

Now take this a step further and imagine if juries across the country began voting this way. It would have the effect of nullifying laws considered unjust. This has already happened in Montana:

In Montana last year, a group of five prospective-jurors said they had a problem with someone receiving a felony for a small amount of marijuana. The prosecutors were freaked out about the “Mutiny in Montana” and were afraid they were not going to be able convince12 jurors in Montana to convict. The judge said, in a major New York Times article, “I’ve never seen this large a number of people express this large a number of reservations” and “it does raise a question about the next case.”

It may have also played a significant role in ending alcohol prohibition and the criminalization of gay sex.

There is a storied precedent for this right of juries, dating back to the year 1215 with the inception of the Magna Carta. Another “high profile” example of this can be found in the story of Pennsylvania’s own William Penn. A more notable instance of the use of jury nullification can be found in the history of the Fugitive Slave Act during the 1850s.

Indeed, the right of juries to nullify is embedded in our very own Bill of Rights.

How exactly to go about informing juries can be dicey, as the example of a retired chemistry professor named Julian P. Heicklen shows:

Earlier this year, prosecutors charged Julian P. Heicklen, a retired chemistry professor, with jury tampering because he stood outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan providing information about jury nullification to passers-by.

Despite the obvious resistance from authorities this effort will create, it’s certainly a new front that the Occupy movement should – and must – open, as it already has with other facets of the American criminal justice system.

Editor’s note: The Project is heading to Washington, D.C. to cover the #J17 events this month. We cannot do it without your generosity, so if you enjoy the coverage and celebration of protest culture that we provide, please consider a small donation of just $10. Thanks so much for your continued support!


No Time for Sound Bytes Now: #OccupyWallStreet is its Own Message

At Liberty Plaza, New York City (CC BY SA Carwil Bjork-James)

A formidable NYPD presence holds one side of the exit ramp while an equally-large throng of soaked, defiant youth face them on the other side. I’m heading back towards the ramp after witnessing a white-shirted police supervisor commandeer a public bus, ordering the passengers off and instructing the driver to turn around and head back to the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge has been shut down for over an hour now. When the bus arrives, hundreds upon hundreds will be arrested and boarded onto the bus, as well as police vans. Meanwhile, the protesters on the street begin chanting to the police: “We pay YOU! We pay YOU!” and “It’s OUR bridge. It’s OUR bridge!” as a cold, driving rain fails to dampen their spirits.

Police square off against protesters. Photograph: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

Arriving four days earlier, I had hoped for, and was greatly disappointed when, a short list of demands never materialized from the occupation’s General Assembly. Repeal corporate personhood. Remove special interest money from elections. Something. Yet by the fourth day, standing at the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge with this standoff, it was clear to me that the Occupy Wall Street movement had evolved.

The occupation at Liberty Plaza may outwardly appear to be just a large encampment of hundreds of tired, exuberant, unwashed people. But it’s an incredibly subversive idea. What the occupation has managed to do thus far is set up a center for agitation on Wall Street’s doorstep, while simultaneously stand up to the most militarized police force in America. In that brave act of defiance, they’ve begun the process of recapturing public space to assemble and foment resistance against a corrupt system, a public space lost to us after 9/11 (with the introduction of “free speech zones”) and just as importantly, begin to remedy the fear and cynicism so many Americans have been feeling for well over a decade now under the hand of a police state and a domestic intelligence apparatus unparalleled in American history. The Founders clearly understood that the right to assemble was of key importance to those who wanted to correct wrongs done by their government. If they could not assemble, they could not achieve their goals. Liberty Plaza is a long-overdue civics lesson.

The protesters have collectively said, simply by holding the plaza: This is OUR square, the PEOPLE’S square, and we have a right to assemble and organize a campaign against the economic and civil injustices perpetrated by the plutocrats and their tax payer-funded security service, the NYPD.

They’ve managed to pull back the curtain and expose the police state which works to protect the ruling elite’s interests at the expense of the citizens they originally took an oath to serve: CIA-trained NYPD counterintelligence squads; videotaping the faces of peaceful protesters to feed into a facial recognition database; commandeering public buses for mass arrests; entrapment; kettling and pepper spray. And perhaps the most audacious: A $4.6 million bribe, ostensibly for new laptops, given by JP Morgan to the NYPD. All of this against peaceful citizens who are the living embodiment of a wildly-popular sentiment in America since 2008: the rich and powerful in this country have gotten away with too much. When Americans demand fundamental change and refuse to rely on or even trust a thoroughly-corrupt system to achieve that change, they must begin at the root of their oppression, and it’s as simple an idea as occupying public space in the face of police intimidation.

This movement is only getting started, with many, many cities developing their own occupations. Maybe I’m wrong, but perhaps it’s time to just let this people-powered movement grow on its own, because you can’t package an idea whose time has come into one or two pithy sound bytes. As one protester told me: “It’s bigger than one or two issues because it’s not about reforming the hopelessly corrupt system we have. This is about creating a new system entirely.”

If you would like to donate to #OccupyWallStreet, visit the New York City General Assembly website.

The Project is leaving Wall Street to report on the Boston occupation, and then to Washington D.C. for the major October 6th occupation in our nation’s capital, but we can’t do it without your help. If you enjoy my work and would like to help me cover expenses such as travel, food and gear, please consider donating to the David and Goliath Project’s #Occupy Media Fund.


Civil OBEDIENCE Will Kill Us If We Let It.

Photo by Ariel Shearer

By Ariel Shearer

Editor’s Note: The Project is proud to introduce our latest contributor, Ariel Shearer (@arielshearer). Ariel is studying journalism and political science at Emerson College, and is the web producer at The Boston Phoenix (@BostonPhoenix). This editorial is cross-posted on Ariel’s blog, Wait, What is the Internet?

After reading this article in the New York Times’ 9/11 supplement: “Civil Liberties Today” by Adam Liptak — I’ve been thinking a lot about our currently wayward democracy and the widespread youth apathy epidemic.

After reading an article from 1970, titled “The Problem is Civil Obedience” by Howard Zinn — similarities between now and then are scary.

I was inspired to write this essay in response to a prof question.

What are the implications of Zinn’s argument regarding the law and its relationship to powerless groups?

Zinn is quite clear in his message – those rendered “powerless” by the political system itself are in fact well-endowed with the power of opposition. As we read last week, “America is a country founded on dissent” (Haynes). The power of opposition is the power that wrote the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. Just plain power – as the government would have us believe in these times – is something that comes from money, clout, and peer support. That means someone like a politician. This is a convenient and self-establishing definition.

But where do these politicians really come by their power? The doctrine meant to limit government powers (Bill of Rights) is where they take their authoritative roles from, written both implicitly and explicitly and further defined/assigned by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is supposed to be a detached body – and historically is seated by fogies far older than popular opinion. Due process seems to flow at the same speed as it did when the Bill of Rights was written. The Internet generation can’t even comprehend such ineffectiveness in their video games, so watching the snail’s pace of politics has left most of them a bit bored.

What I wish I could tell the rest of my generation to try and wake them up, to demand a government that reflects the speed at which they think and grow: The same words used to tell the government what they cannot do to us (and therefore what they can do to us) are the same words used to defend and protect all that we can do as citizens – we all share the same source of power. And we’re all promised life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And as a society it’s obvious we settle for 1 out of 3.

How does the government exercise power? They influence our lives oppressively with taxes and policing, and positively by providing socialized services like public transportation and fire stations. It’s important to remember, however, when the government tries to use social works as a bargaining chip –that they are humans too. Politicians have families and homes they wouldn’t want to see burn to the ground because they couldn’t afford to hire fire fighters.

Politicians are citizens that directly benefit from the same services they demand praise and votes for providing to society.

This game of ideological tug-of-war between who knows best, the people or the government, has existed as long as politics itself. Somehow, over hundreds of years, societies managed to evolve and progress, to demand better qualities of life and better government… The existence of social democracies like France and the United States, the most progressive form of governance to date, proves the effectiveness of rebellion, opposition to government, and social revolution.

Tracing history from Hellenic Greek times proves that it isn’t the state leaders who enable progress within a society –but rather it is the opposition to political leadership, the People, who fuel progress. The People have consistently reformed government just as consistently as state leaders have overstepped their totalitarian roles throughout history.

One of the most hard-hitting points Zinn makes in The Problem is Civil Obedience, is the mass devastation caused by civil obedience, by following the demands of government without opposition. His example is Hitler – and I think that says everything that needs to be said about that.

When we adhere, and obey, it’s much like settling into a cubicle knowing you’ll never take a greater role within that company. We must constantly push our government, and encourage our fellow citizens, to demand progress — because despite apathy being “the new black,” history has taught that it’s up to us, the “powerless,” to improve society for all living humans, and for all future generations to come.

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Activist Spotlight: 9/11 Researcher Jon Gold

Jon Gold engaged in civil disobedience at the White House, January 31st 2011

I first began following Jon Gold’s (@911JusticeNow) work in late 2003. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the subsequent invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq galvanized me from apathy to a newfound political consciousness, and I soon discovered his work on one of the first websites questioning the official theory of 9/11. What impressed me about his research was that he was deeply committed to using verifiable facts found in mainstream news articles and reports. But perhaps what stands out most about his activism is his unwavering support for the first responders. He was made “Honorary Director” of the FealGood Foundation. He describes himself as “an American trying to make a difference.”

What was the first discrepancy, or discrepancies, that moved you to begin researching the hidden history of 9/11, and how long have you been involved with it ever since?

The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that Dick Cheney and George Bush went to Tom Daschle’s office, and asked him to “limit the scope” of the Congressional Inquiry into 9/11. At the time I thought, “why would the President and Vice President, of all people, not want to know exactly how and why this happened, so as to make sure it could never happen again?” After 9/11, we were told repeatedly that there were no warnings, that no one had any idea that anything like that could happen. Then in May 2002, news of the August 6th, 2001 PDB entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike In US” was reported on. That was a “warning.” Once I saw that we were being lied to, I was “off to the races.”

If there were just three facts that discredit the official theory that you feel people must know, what would be those facts?

There were a multitude of warnings, and a lot more known about the hijackers by our Government, prior to 9/11, than the public has been led to believe. The investigations we got into 9/11, in my view, were compromised and corrupt. Especially the 9/11 Commission, which was led by Philip Zelikow. We were told that the source of the funding was “ultimately of little practical significance.” There are indications that some of the money was connected to Prince Bandar’s [of Saudi Arabia] wife. That’s significant. There are indications that some of the money came from Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh at the behest of Lt. General Mahmood Ahmed of the Pakistani ISI. That is significant.

What have been some of the biggest or most intriguing revelations to surface within the past couple of years?

That the 9/11 Commission considered referring NORAD to the Department of Justice for a criminal investigation because of the lies they told to the 9/11 Commission. That 9/11 Whistleblower Sibel Edmonds said Osama Bin Laden had “intimate relations” with the U.S. up until 9/11. The multitude of whistleblowers that were ignored and censored by the 9/11 Commission. There were “Government Minders” that intimidated witnesses before the 9/11 Commission, and in some cases, answered questions for witnesses. That a complete outline of the final report of the 9/11 Commission was written by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow before the 9/11 Commission’s investigation even began. That Philip Zelikow may have been taking direction from Karl Rove. That’s really off the top of my head, but there is so much more.

We’ve both talked about our respect for the film 9/11: Press for Truth. Can you talk about why that film is such an important document about the hidden history of 9/11? Would you recommend it as an introduction to people just starting to question the official theory?

When Kyle Hence told me he was working on the film, I was extremely excited. It was going to tell the story of my heroes, the Jersey Girls, and it was going to be based on the work of someone that greatly influenced me, Paul Thompson. Nothing could be better in my opinion. When Kyle told me he needed money to finish the film, within a few minutes after he told me, I asked my father to loan me the money so they could finish the film. I didn’t hesitate for a second because I knew this was going to be an important documentary. The film is clearly one of the most important documentaries of our generation. It tells the story of the cover-up from the perspective of those who lost the most that day. It completely obliterates the legitimacy of the 9/11 Commission in the first 30 minutes. It shows the basic inconsistencies in the “official account.” I have always thought this documentary was the best tool for activists. In my opinion, 9/11 activists should show this film to people before anything else if they want to be taken seriously.

Will you talk about why (if you agree with this assertion, of course) the movement to question the official theory and uncover the truth hasn’t gained more traction in America, and why it seems to have made more headway in other parts of the world?

Well, the “9/11 Truth Movement” did gain some momentum in 2005-2006. But the “media” decided to focus on the fringiest of the fringe. As a result, we weren’t taken seriously. The “media” overall, has done its best over the years to paint us as conspiracy theorists, as crazy, as unpatriotic, as terrorist sympathizers, as terrorists, as holocaust denying murderers, etc… and so on. No one wants to associate with us. The media’s campaign to tarnish anyone that questions the official account of 9/11 has been extremely successful. People are dying in the Middle East, so it would make sense for people in the Middle East to question the official account of 9/11. As far as parts of the world outside the United States that question the official account, that aren’t directly affected by America’s occupations… they probably have better media than the U.S.

We now know from various news reports that the U.S. security state has turned its attention inward to spy on American activists as well as potential foreign enemies living in the country. Homeland Security was seen monitoring a peaceful BART protest in San Francisco the other night, and they’re also likely monitoring organizers and participants involved with US Day of Rage’s upcoming occupation of Wall Street, based on a bulletin released recently. Can you talk about how 9/11 has eroded the freedoms America used to cherish, and do you think we’ve allowed the 9/11 tragedy to get the best of us? Is there hope of beating the security state and regaining our civil liberties?

Expose the 9/11 Cover-Up, and I believe that everything that happened as a result of that day, will stop, or be reversed. The occupations will end, and the majority of legislation written that takes away our civil liberties will be reversed. Peace of the Action, the group Cindy Sheehan founded that I am apart of, was spied on by the Institute Of Terrorism Research And Response. I was spied on before I committed civil disobedience at the White House for 9/11 Justice. I assume I was spied on because when I got there, a cop asked me “are you Jon Gold? Are you still planning on chaining yourself to the White House fence?” There are many examples of liberties lost since 9/11. Look at the TSA, look at the wiretapping of phones, look at free speech zones, etc… Again, expose the damn 9/11 Cover-Up.

Would you care to offer any sort of narrative regarding what you think happened on 9/11, based on the extensive research you’ve conducted over all these years?

I don’t know what happened on 9/11, or who was ultimately responsible. That’s the problem. I have an idea, but I don’t know. Everyone has theories about what happened that day. Some are ridiculous and far-fetched, and others aren’t. However, without a real criminal investigation, we just don’t know. I believe 9/11 was a crime as opposed to an act of war, and as with every crime, there are suspects for that crime. In my opinion, elements within our Government and others have MORE THAN EARNED the title of suspect for the crime of 9/11.

How do you suggest people get involved in the struggle for 9/11 accountability?

By telling the next person until we have a majority of people. We can’t do shit with the system we have.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Since today is 9/11, I’d just like to say that I hope the families that lost someone that day have the easiest day possible. I hope the responders that were down there are honored, and that the James Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act is made to include cancer for the coverage it gives.

Jon Gold (@911JusticeNow) is a prolific contributor to sites such as 9/11 Truth News, History Commons, Peace of the Action, Secrecy Kills and helped fund the film 9/11: Press for Truth.

http://www.peaceoftheaction.net


The Ethics of Digital Direct Action


Although some Anonymous participants protest in person, most of their political activity consists of direct action online, such as launching Distributed Denial of Service attacks [GALLO/GETTY]

Denial-of-service attacks and similar tactics are becoming more widely used as protest tools.

by Gabriella Coleman

The political movement known as Anonymous has managed to capture the attention of the media, the hearts of many supporters, and the ire of many spectators after an eight-month spree of political interventions, stretching from Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) campaigns, to human rights technical assistance in Tunisia, to a more recent spate of hacks under the guise of Operation Antisec.

The state has now fully entered the fray with its own flurry of activity. In the past month, twenty-two alleged participants in the United States and the United Kingdom have been arrested, the bulk of them (14) in connection with a single operation: the spectacular wave of DDoS attacks aimed directly at protesting actions taken by Mastercard and Paypal in December 2010. These were launched after these companies refused to accept donations for Wikileaks front man Julian Assange, soon after the activist organisation released a trove of diplomatic cables. Hackers and activists supporting the DDoS campaign (and certainly not all do support the campaign) regard this act as legitimate protest activity, akin to a blockade or “digital sit-in”. Yet, if convicted, the participants of Anonymous could be charged with felonies and land in prison with excessive punishments.

On July 20, 2011, a day after the US-based arrests, FBI officials offered a rare glimpse into its justification for the crackdown, citing a need to nip “chaos” in the bud: “We want to send a message that chaos on the internet is unacceptable,” said Steven Chabinsky, deputy assistant FBI director.

Although most of the arrests were for the DDoS campaign, the FBI official never differentiated between hacking and DDoSing. The former is defined by computer break-ins or trespassing, while the latter refers to gumming up a server by bombarding it with too many requests. Curiously, this official also never went so far as to label the alleged participants criminals, terrorists, or vigilantes.

By complaining about Anonymous’ (hereafter Anons) tactics in the absence of any stated criminal offense, the FBI appears to acknowledge, if in a somewhat oblique fashion, that the hunt for some Anons is politically motivated. The FBI also appears to acknowledge that, in contrast to terrorists and criminals, whom the state is justified in prosecuting since they have violated the contract that ostensibly undergirds social norms in modern civil society, Anons are in fact exercising their rights as citizens to demonstrate on behalf of “causes” they believe in: “[Even if] hackers can be believed to have social causes, it’s entirely unacceptable to break into websites and commit unlawful acts. There has not been a large-scale trend toward using hacking to actually destroy websites, [but] that could be appealing to both criminals or terrorists. That’s where the ‘hacktivism,’ even if currently viewed by some as a nuisance, shows the potential to be destabilising,” insisted Chabinsky, in language that mirrors critiques of 1960s-era social movements.

Of course these brief statements should not be taken as the state’s sole, much less its final, words on Anonymous. They are interesting insofar as they gesture toward a social fact concerning Anonymous’ increasingly prominent role in social protest movements: Many of their actions are politically motivated and conscientious, and the December 2010 DDoS campaign, Operation Avenge Assange, was no exception.

DDoS campaigns can be legitimate tactics

Whether or not one agrees with all of Anonymous’ many tactics – some of them being illegal and disruptive, others falling in the province of peaceful and legal human rights assistance, and still others in a gray moral and legal zone – under certain circumstances, the DDoS can be considered as non-violent protest in line with well-recognised protocols for public assembly, the difference being the medium. Of course, as with any form of public assembly, some Anons are merely along for the ride. Others might in fact exhibit reckless behaviour.

But this is an inevitable feature of Anonymous’ platform, open to seasoned activists and newcomers alike: Some novice participants cut their teeth on politics for the first time with their Anonymous brethren, forming, no doubt, an individual political consciousness, which has fed into a more robust sense of democracy in action, especially after Anons held campaigns in support of the uprisings in the Middle East and Africa that have helped to displace authoritarian regimes that had managed to exploit their constituencies for decades on end.

Even if the FBI is ambivalent about explicitly denouncing Anonymous as a criminal threat, its tactics of arrest and intimidation and their criminalisation of all tactics used by Anons, such as DDoS, constitute an approach to security and surveillance that deserves critical attention, especially if any of these arrests move to trials.

There are many ways to think of the DDoS campaign against PayPal and Mastercard, but one way we might think of it is as digital direct action. Emerging organically, this movement did not wait for a judge, politician, nor a journalist to declare a legal or moral judgment. Citizens took matters into their own hands. In less than 24 hours, a large assembly of citizens took not to the streets where protest activity traditionally unfolds, but to the digital agora to act on their own accord, to loudly assert their opinion on a matter, and to act directly against those actors they felt were acting unjustly. If they happened to break laws, these laws were viewed, with good reason, to be unjust.

Like all traditions, direct action is diverse in its make-up, tactics, history, and purpose. At times, activists seek to block access in order to protect a resource, as with tree sit-ins in the Pacific Northwest or blocking Japanese whaling ships in the Southern Ocean as carried out by Sea Shepherd. In the long tradition of Plowshares actions, the intent is to get arrested in order to publicise an issue. Anonymous rendered Mastercard and Paypal’s webpages defunct for a number of days by flooding their servers with too many requests and did so to garner media attention, to make their platform visible, and to demand that Assange be given due process. In this sense, they were successful, no matter what the outcome of the case made against them.

What made the events of December 2010 unusual – and extraordinary – as a moment of direct action poses a challenge for prevailing theories of civil disobedience. Many of the most notable acts of civil disobedience, even virtual sit-ins, have been organised by small affinity groups in which participants are public and typically well aware of the legal consequences of their actions.

Some participants in these actions even have their lawyer’s phone number written on their arm in permanent marker. Anonymous, which prides itself on not having a readily identifiable, corporate form, was powerless to defend itself using these methods. Thus, as the December events unfolded, I was glued to the computer watching how Anons would or even could minimise the risk and chaos that to some degree characterised these interactions. Remarkably, “the hive mind”, as they refer to themselves, never spun out of control. They stayed on target and conjoined their disruptions with manifestos and videos explaining their rationales.

But at the time, one thing was clear and has been repeated by sympathetic and unsympathetic observers alike: Many participants were likely unaware of the legal risk they were taking, and did not have lawyers to contact in the face of a future arrest. The spectacular events of December, combined with the recent arrests, have of course changed all of this; many of us have now been educated as to the risks at hand. The legal risks and the philosophical subtleties of DDoS as a disruptive direct action tactic no longer reside within the sole province of a smaller circle of activists who have practiced and theorised this tradition for over a decade. A much larger swath of citizens have subsequently entered the fray.

In light of these arrests, whether or not DDoS campaigns are always an effective political sword to wield (and they are strong arguments to be made on both sides) is not the primary question that should concern us. The key issue is the evidence used to decide who is involved and to determine what they ought to be charged with doing. If a DDoS action is deemed as always and under every circumstance unacceptable – always a tactic of chaos – this will in the short term result in excessive penalties; in the long term, an excessive clamp down, such as felony charges for those that stand accused, could stifle these tactics altogether on the internet.

This is damaging to the overall political culture of the internet, which must allow for a diversity of tactics, including mass action, direct action, and peaceful of protests, if it is going to be a medium for democratic action and life.

Gabriella Coleman is an Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. Her first book, Coding Freedom: The Aesthetics and the Ethics of Hacking, is forthcoming with Princeton University Press and she is currently working on a new book on Anonymous and digital activism.

This editorial was originally published on Al Jazeera English, and is reproduced here in good faith under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.