Occupy.here: A tiny, self-contained darknet

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Ed. — Occupy.here was supported by Rhizome as part of its 2012 Commissions program, and also received a commission from Triple Canopy in 2013. The project's new website launched yesterday.

Regardless of your feelings about Occupy Wall Street, we can all agree that its genesis was unlikely, to say the least. It appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, in New York's Financial District (of all places). And it continued to exist only because of a lucky break: basing the protests in Zuccotti Park, formerly Liberty Plaza Park, was a fallback plan, following a failed attempt to protest in front of the New York Stock Exchange. It was the unusual rules for Zuccotti—as a Privately Owned Public Space (POPS), it is not bound by the normal city parks curfew, and is required by charter to stay open 24 hours a day—that enabled the encampments to get a foothold. This may have been a lucky break, but one that was earned through years of organizing, cultivating the expertise and tools and networks that allow a movement to grow and sustain itself.  

Occupy.here began two years ago as an experiment for the encampment at Zuccotti Park. It was a wifi router hacked to run OpenWrt Linux (an operating system mostly used for computer networking) and a small "captive portal" website. When users joined the wifi network and attempted to load any URL, they were redirected to http://occupy.here. The web software offered up a simple BBS-style message board providing its users with a space to share messages and files.

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Free the Network

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Motherboard TV has debuted a short documentary on mesh networks and Occupy Wall Street, with a special focus on the Free Network Foundation. Douglas Rushkoff and Rhizome contributor Melissa Gira Grant are also interviewed.

If the argument for mesh networking, a sort of pirate radio Internet scheme that allows people to talk to one another online through no middle man, is that a centralized ‘Net lends itself to the sort of surveillance and censorship that, however futile, strokes the Internet kill switch of science fiction, is there a way to circumvent that system altogether? Is there a way to build a new network from the bottom up? To occupy a fresh Internet outside the existing confines of the Web? Or is that all just the stuff of ideological fantasy?

To check the pulse of the Internet – and to get a feel for what life’s like in the digital nerve center of what’s arguably the first fully Web-fueled social movement in America – Motherboard has been following Wilder and Tyrone Greenfield, communications director for the Free Network Foundation, for the past half year. Through the thick of Occupy marches, in squats and test-lab offices, on rooftops and all places in between, we saw Wilder, Greenfield and the FNF building and perfecting their Towers and their humble, cooperatively owned, physical Internet...


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Image of Democracy: Why I Want to Build Nine Freedom Towers in Tiananmen Square

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Introduction

 

Albert Speer, Model of Nuremberg Marching Grounds (1937); John Powers, Penn Station Counter-proposal, (2001)

What happened at 9/11 of course changed the scale of all this... It became an issue about fear, and our horror at looking, as I did, out of our windows onto the buildings that were burning. The horror we had in our hearts from this, allowed us... to give up basic freedoms. I’m not just talking about the ones the papers talk about all the time, our democratic and constitutional rights, but in the way we live, the way we block our streets.

—David Childs (Chief Architect of SOM’s Freedom Tower”), Building and Fear, 08:20 (2007)

I am a sculptor, my work is abstract and more often than not described as “post-minimalist.” Recently I was asked to contribute a work for a group show in Hong Kong. The curatorial frame of the show is “the ways objects produce space.” Rather than contribute a sculpture and hope for some sort of latter-day phenomenological experience between ‘object’ and ‘subject’ however, I suggested revisiting an urban design project that I had not worked on for over a decade. Eleven years ago I made a modest proposal to create a series of three massively flat and empty superblocks (two in New York and one in Washington DC). I last showed these proposals as three large architectural site models, just six months before September 11th attacks. Because my proposals seemed to foreshadow the 16 acre gap left in Manhattan’s grid, I was urged to revisit the project. I didn’t, not because I didn’t feel I might have something to contribute, but because I was struck dumb horror. I refused to speak publicly about the project, and although the original show of models had been based on a long essay on the subject of art and public space, I stopped writing for years. Anyone familiar with myblogwill understand that this is not my usual MO. But looking back I am now very glad I shut up. 

Most of what was said about architecture in the immediate wake of the attacks struck me as tone deaf, some of what was said by artists was unintentionally cruel.

That is not to say I didn’t take interest in the site and the conversation around it. I followed the competition to choose an master plan, and still feel Sir Norman Foster’s unapologetically hard edged kissing chisels were the best of the lot. Most of what I saw and heard however, reinforced the observation that had inspired my proposals in the first place: the widespread inability to know the difference between what can and cannot be changed when it comes to architecture. By wide spread, I mean architects, politicians, critics and loudmouths at parties. Even after Modernist architecture’s fall from grace, the expectation is that big challenges must be addressed by massive projects, and that symbolic meaning trumps straight talk (observe Libeskind vs Foster).

While I sympathized with architect’s desire to respond to the attacks, I did not understand their responses. Architecture isn’t a symbol (that was the hideous confusion the attackers made), it is an expression; a concrete expression of an idea, an ethic, a desire. Modernists plazas are often characterized as “fascist” — the idea being that they are symbolic projections of power. Architects seldom, if ever, discuss lawns, park benches, or flower arrangements as expressions of power. Looked at as concrete ethical expressions, rather than symbols, we can begin to see these things for what they are: impediments, barriers, place holders, and dividers.

I: Double Zero

Soft Power: Jeff Koons, Puppy (1992); Tiananmen Square Olympic flower arrangement (2008)

For the show in Hong Kong I ended up showing recreations of my three original counter-proposals, and a fourth proposal that has been gestating for almost a decade, but has suddenly taken on new relevance. I proposed building nine “Freedom Towers” arranged in a tight grid formation and completely occupying the available open space of Tiananmen Square.

A decade after I proposed paving flat large portions of New York and DC, I want to “occupy” Tiananmen Square with a formation of Freedom Towers. These may seem like two very different projects and two very different political contexts, but in fact they are the same. In 2001 I was suggesting that we had lost an important variety of public space and that our cities and our republic were lessened by that loss. That in the 40 years since the civil rights and ant-war protests of the 1960s American authorities have altered the landscape of our cities –— through changes in the rules that concerning public assembly (a process Naomi Wolf calls “overpermiticisation”), but also through bricks and mortar construction. Our public space has been “developed” out of existence.

In the wake of the massive protests in Wisconsin, the “Arab Spring,” and the Occupy movement in New York (and everywhere else), it feels important to once again raise the question of public space as a built environment. Rather than continue to argue that we build a new kind of space here, I am suggesting that we imagine what it would mean if we exported our current development schemes to other countries; to imagine them as the work of foreign regimes. What if the National WWII Memorial, with its heroic Speerian colonnade, sunken plaza, and ground-covering fountain, had been built in Tahrir Square rather than midway between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument? How would we feel if Russian authorities were to announce the construction of a large Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim be built over, Bolotnaya Square, the site of last December’s ballot-rigging protests in Moscow?

To mashup SOM’s Freedom Tower and China’s Tiananmen Square may, at first glance seem arbitrary, but it isn’t. Both New York’s Ground Zero and Beijing’s “Zero Point” are symbolically loaded sites. non-mainland Chinese associate Tiananmen with the 1989 pro-democracy protests, but for the Chinese it was already a site loaded with meaning when protesters chose that space to take their stand. In his book Remaking Beijing, the author Wu Hung describes the formation of Chinese end of this symbolic East-West axis....

 

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Comment: Medici is the Crowd

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This is a story about not asking permission.

It starts with Occupy Wall Street.

I'm an artist who got her first job making covers for SCREW Magazine. While I gradually carved out a nice career doing every sort of art that one can extract a living from, I had always been afraid to draw "activist things." Real struggles were serious business, and I drew girls with feathers and bare tits.  Making activist art seemed like posturing. So I'd sell paintings on Twitter to raise money for abortion funds, but hide the subversive bits in the margins.

The last few years changed that.

Suddenly the world was crumbling, and people from London to Tahrir Square were taking to the streets. Everyone said Americans were too apathetic for that.  But we weren't.

 

 

When Occupy Wall Street first parked their mattresses in Zuccotti Park, my friends and I felt that something very rare was happening, and that we should help however we could. Noticing a lack of OWS graphics, I drew up a clunky octopus with "Fight the Vampire Squid" written on its belly. It became a protest sign around the country. Since then I've been churning out posters for Occupy — for libraries and general strikes and unions. Doing political work enabled me to take the subtext dancing at the margins of my art, and make it loud and proud. 

Political posters are fast. I'd draw one, brain on fire, and two hours later a masked protester would be carrying it on the streets. But I wanted to do something bigger- to take the political content of my OWS work, and express it in paintings that were giant and detailed. I wanted to make the kind of art that takes 100 hours of carefully daubing paint onto a giant piece of wood. The sort of work that would traditionally be sold in galleries...

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Excerpt from "Take This Book: The People's Library at Occupy Wall Street"

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An excerpt from Take This Book: The People's Library at Occupy Wall Street, an extended essay by Melissa Gira Grant, forthcoming in print, epub, and as a Kindle single. Available to support on Kickstarter.

Instagram Photo by Melissa Gira Grant

Remove everything but the books. The librarians who were most versed in direct-action tactics—from participating in various peaceful and spirited disruptions, at street protests against the Republican National Convention in New York in 2004, or while bringing cheer to Wall Street police barricades as a roving brass band—had worked out a plan for what they would do in case of a raid. Whoever was in the library would grab the laptops, the archives, the reference section—countless signed editions among them—and ferry them to safety. 

"Philosophically," Jaime, one of the librarians, said, "the books stay with the occupation."

There had been a dry run, too, the night the Occupiers prepared for the city to evict them. On October 13, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Brookfield Properties, which legally owned the park, wanted to clean Zuccotti, and the Occupiers anticipated that the mayor would also send in the New York Police Department to remove them. So the Occupiers took this order both graciously and defiantly: They would clean the park themselves, and early in the morning, when the cops and the cleaners were to arrive, the Occupiers would refuse to leave. Someone posted an invitation to Facebook on the day of the cleanup, calling people to gather before Wall Street's opening bell, and to bring brooms and mops and pails. All day, wearing ponchos and latex gloves, Occupiers scrubbed the stone steps of Zuccotti, swept the grounds, and straightened their camp's stations. As night fell, some of the camp's infrastructure was 

 

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Revolutionary Convergences: History and Symbolism in Anonymous and OWS Art

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Left: United Nations Officials with an unofficial U.N. flag, 1947, Right: Anonymous members with flags in the UK from flickr, 2008

Anonymous operates under a well-designed logo. Does it belie their dispersed identity or siphon power from historical symbols to disrupt our own associations to them? The aesthetics of past revolutionary movements point more towards the second possibility. We see this link to history in the poster designs of Occupy Wall Street — new digital tools under visual constraints produce an early 20th century screen printer’s aesthetic with formal motifs of the same era.

New technology and historical technique are converging, and so are the symbols being used to deliver the message. The visual traces of current aesthetics draw on the deep roots of history and the powerful associations images and symbols therefore possess, allowing us to make quick associations to the power of the Roman Empire or the strength of the Greek Gods all in a glance at a tiny logo. Turning back to Anonymous —What can we learn by systematically decoding their symbolism? And how do their aesthetics relate to their actions as international and anonymous activists? 

Searching for these convergences online often reveals infinite Platonic shades of nearly identical images. But occasionally, if you sift past the first helping of results, you can uncover some remarkable connections.

Born in part from the image boards of 4chan, internet image culture was Anonymous’ early stock-in-trade. But above the rabble of trollish GIFs and dinosaur ASCI art they have developed themselves into a brand. Their logo, which dramatically leads many Anonymous affiliated YouTube videos, is wrapped in screen interference, reminiscent of military surveillance cam signals, and backed by equivalently dramatic classical sound clips. On the AnonOps blog the logo lives in static forms; black and white, ironically layered against a sea of 1s and 0s, and as the favicon...

 

 

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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":

....

"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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Snapshots of Occupy Wall Street

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Reuters/Eduardo Munoz via The Atlantic In Focus

On a quiet night, Zuccotti Park feels more like a LARP than a demonstration. Everyone deep in character with a specific task. Extemporized librarians, scanning books. The media team inside a cat’s cradle of crisscrossing wires, barricade by the discarded boxes of donated devices. The scent of detergent from a block away as the sanitation unit mops the pavement. 

What should we be? "Tactical beekeepers!" my friend Melissa suggested; a joke on the state ban on face covering that police were enforcing, accounting for the absence of Guy Fawkes masks and bandanas. But actually my role there was as tourist, which anyone could tell whenever I checked my phone for text messages or turned the device horizontally for snapshots of witty posters.

In what would be the shadow of the World Trade Center, and at the heart of both a neighborhood traumatized and city district that represents financial power the world over; the psychogeography of Zuccotti Park will inspire theoretic naval gazing for years to come. But every Occupy Wall Street march in New York seems to poetically incorporate the history and semiotics of the city. Times Square marchers in Milton Glasner's "I (Heart) NY" t-shirts, waving sparklers in the air, singing show tunes along with a brass band behind the TKTS booth while tourists feverishly snapped photos, as they would any other urban spectacle. Another photo op: the wall of riot cops beneath the Washington Square arch, the Empire State Building gleaming directly north, lights piercing the night sky. After the General Assembly meeting disassembled for the midnight curfew, it seemed like anyone out on Bleecker Street that Saturday night could have been part of it. 

This movement was built on unforgettable images.

 

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