Political activism goes viral

James Dyer

Have you heard? Thousands of protesters have taken over Zuccotti Park on Wall Street, renaming it Liberty Plaza, and have been camping on the site for weeks. Wait, you haven’t heard? The movement has spread to major cities in the United States including Los Angeles, Boston and Washington D.C., garnering hundreds of protesters there as well. Still not ringing a bell? If you’re in the dark, odds are it’s probably because you’ve been getting your news from a television. Quick, go check your Twitter. I’ll wait.

The recent Occupy Wall Street movement isn’t your parents’ protest. It has no Martin Luther King. No Ghandi. And you probably won’t hear any stirring speeches by politicians on the evening news. The Occupy Wall Street protests are led not by a political party or a public figure, but by the transparent face of the Internet itself. Social change in America has gone viral, and it’s time for the media to catch up.

As far as organization goes, Occupy Wall Street doesn’t seem to have any. By design, protesters have declined to declare a leader, affiliate with a political party or even offer a list of demands.

The goal of the movement is as simple as it is vague: End corporate greed in America. Members of the movement claim to be part of the 99 percent of Americans who are harmed by the corruption of the other one percent –– members of America’s financial upper class.

For many in the mainstream media, this lack of organization alone was enough to write the movement off within its infantile stages. Being a part of a business that profits off of boisterous and polarizing political leaders, it can be expected that the media would reject the idea of a faceless mass of public opinion.

Say what you want about the cause, but the Occupy Wall Street movement represents a new shift in the way we initiate social change as a society. Social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook have allowed the movement to evolve without any type of hierarchy or leadership.

Instead of having organized goals and demands, social networking has allowed the physical protests serve as a visual aid to an intensive online discussion on the very foundations of our economic system.
While the origins of Occupy Wall Street are impossible to determine, the inspiration behind this free and leaderless social networking movement is (for the love of god, forgive the pun) completely Anonymous.

Computer geeks and those unfortunate enough to frequent the imageboard 4chan are most likely already familiar with the hacker group Anonymous, who’s “hacktivist” members frequently conduct acts of civil disobedience in support of the cause. Membership in the group is as simple as it is intangible. Whether it’s hacking into the CIA’s website or shutting off the automatic sliding doors at Walmart, all you need to do is perform an act of civil disobedience under a concealed identity, and you’re in.

The extent of Anonymous’ activity in Occupy Wall Street is still only speculation, but the group took a large step into the open when it released the name, phone number and address of a NYCPD officer who pepper sprayed a group of women demonstrating at the event.

Since the beginning of the protests, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has warned Wall Street of a possible cyber attack by the group, but so far the group has been relatively quiet. Unlike the protesters, it’s clear that Anonymous doesn’t always feel the need to act within the boundaries of the law.

Membership in both Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous is as random as it is volatile. Because literally anyone can join and speak for either group independently, digging out the point of either group can be difficult.

At the core of both groups is a desire to protect the rights granted to us in the Constitution’s First Amendment; rights that guarantee free speech and the freedom to assemble. The Internet and social networking sites have become champions of the freedom of expression, being a cheap and easy way for most people to have, quite literally, the entire world at their fingertips.

Demonstrators in New York have obviously taken a page from the protests in Egypt and Tunisia last spring. In an environment where rebellious leaders would be immediately jailed, demonstrators in the Middle East used the Internet as a safe-house for rebellious thought.

Operating in anonymity allowed the revolutionaries to get a message across to the people under the very noses of government officials who sought to shut them down. It allowed for the freedom of expression needed to overthrow governments.

As of Oct. 5, the protests in New York City have grown from a few hundred to as many as 15,000 strong. Zuccotti Park has transformed into a sort of community with food service, shopping and even its own newspaper, the “Occupied Wall Street Journal.”

Technology has allowed a single spark of protest to spread like wildfire. Even the remote wilderness of the Upper Peninsula, has caught the bug; Occupy the U.P. is scheduled for this Friday at Presque Isle Park.

With all of the different views bouncing around on the Internet, it’s very possible that Occupy Wall Street is nothing more than a bunch of hipsters playing frisbee in the park. But regardless, if you don’t get involved, then you don’t get a voice. And seriously, what’s more fun than trolling on idealistic political activists?