Occupy the Internet

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This essay was originally published in N+1's Occupy! An OWS-Inspired Gazette

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images via The Big Picture

A Tumblr of user-submitted handwritten signs with bleak personal testimonies first captured the internet’s attention. Presented are the lives of real people, unmistakable hardships, ready to reblog and retweet. But implied—by the faces, the faces, the faces —is that to sympathize you must show up. This time a Facebook “like” is not enough. 

There is something twisted and belittling about the momentary act of tapping on Tumblr’s like button — a heart icon — when you are looking at the face of someone who has itemized his debt in magic marker for you to calculate. How much we have and what we owe is what we are typically raised never to discuss openly in polite company. These images of persons denuded of financial mystery request from the viewer something just as human; not a thoughtless mouse click. To properly commiserate with the enormity of this curated series of individual misfortunes, one must in person participate.

Around the globe, the “99 percent” sloganing rings effortlessly. This is a generation accustomed to encapsulating arguments into 140 character messages. It is also a generation experienced in negotiating private entities for public means. Zuccotti Park’s tenuous standing as a privately owned public park seems an inevitable metaphor for the questions of free speech, assembly, and property rights posed by so many virtual spaces. Brookfield is like Facebook, Bloomberg like Zuckerberg: their threatened park closure is like the ever-present possibility that Facebook will suspend activist accounts and group pages used to plan rallies and activities, for vaguely specified reasons.

"We must occupy real and virtual spaces,” Reuters’ Anthony De Rosa tweeted, quoting an occupier at the second Washington Square park General Assembly. Without one there couldn’t exist the other.

 

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Joanne McNeil in N+1's Occupy! An OWS-Inspired Gazette

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N+1, with the help of Astra Taylor and Sarah Leonard, have published Occupy! An OWS-Inspired Gazette, which is being distributed at Zuccotti Park and other "occupations" around the country. The PDF is also available for free download. Rhizome senior editor Joanne McNeil contributed an essay, "Occupy the Internet":

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"We must occupy real and virtual spaces,” Reuters’ Anthony De Rosa tweeted, quoting an occupier at the second Washington Square park General Assembly. Without one there couldn’t exist the other.

Every morning the seemingly impossible occurs — the occupied territory remains in the hands of occupiers. Without Facebook, social networking would disperse to dedicated alternatives from Piratepad to Eventbrite. But modularly redistributing Zuccotti Park would destroy its momentum. An encampment of less than 24 hours is not a home. Living in the territory is what sets its example for the rest of the world.

Occupiers play chess with chess pieces and read books made of paper. They partake in activities the internet is said to be dematerializing. Part of the utopic vision of Zuccotti Park as a microcosm is that real and virtual worlds may more peacefully coexist.

Occupy Wall Street’s actual web presence (http://occupywallst.org/) —“unofficial de facto online resource” —is a lean website not much more advanced than what Indymedia provided a decade before it. But its simplicity offers replicability. In the first month, over a thousand cities have occupied, many with bare bones “Occupy” websites of their own...

 

 

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