The single greatest moment thus far of the Occupy Movement may have followed immediately upon one of its worst. The spontaneous greatness of the spirit of the people revealed itself exactly in the aftermath of a demonstration of the cruel thuggishness that too often defines the movement's opponents and enemies. A UC Davis police officer blithely pepper sprayed a group of unarmed, passively resisting, and even seated on the ground college students. His demeanor personified the inherent violence of the enforcers of the 1 percent. The response of the occupiers personified what it is to be on the right side of a historic turning point. Because after the officer had sprayed them, as the crowd of students, staff and other participants and observers shook off their immediate disbelief and outrage, a wonderful beauty was born. The crowd coalesced as one not in violent retribution but in noble moral outrage. They began chanting "Shame on you! Shame on you!" Arms were raised not with sticks or clubs or other weapons of violence but with cell phones and cameras. They were bearing witness. They were ensuring that millions of others all around the world could and would bear witness. The small company of police officers was surrounded but the only threat they faced was of widespread public humiliation. They slowly backed away. Whether or not they were fully conscious of it, they were fully shamed.
It's often been said that Gandhi would not have succeeded against the Nazis, and it is true. The British Empire never will be remembered as a bastion of humanity's better angels, but a fundamental part of the British national narrative is a pretension to being civilized. Gandhi revealed to the British people something the British people themselves did not want to acknowledge about themselves. That is why he succeeded. His humanity and the humanity he helped reveal in the Indian people revealed to the British their own lack of same. Their individual and collective personal and national narratives could not abide what they no longer could ignore. The Crown Jewel of the British Empire was possessed by the British Empire only through the cruelty and violence of the British Empire. Similarly, in this country, the pure human greatness of the Civil Rights movement exposed something so feral and ugly that was open and loose about the land that even a reluctant and in many ways calcified political culture finally was forced to act. In these historically transformational moments, the British people and the American people were shamed. Profound changes followed. And while that doesn't mean that utopian ideals suddenly were realized, it does mean that paradigms shattered and there was no turning back. There was and is so much more to do both to alleviate and redress the history of human monstrosities that were and in some places still are Colonialism and Neocolonialism and Slavery and institutional and structurally embedded racism and bigotry, but paradigms shattered and there is no turning back. Much to the chagrin of the modern Republican Party and its allies and enablers, there is no turning back.
The impacts of new media continue to reveal themselves in startling ways. The Occupy movement would not be what it is without new media. With the plethora of means of photographing and videographing anything and everything in real time anywhere and everywhere, new media by enabling its widespread dissemination and the dissemination of all manner of text communication, has changed the nature of social upheaval. Narratives no longer can be controlled and contained by the oligarch owners of concentrated old media, and everyone knows it. The instruments of structural hierarchy know it and fear it. A diverse and diffuse public knows it and uses it. There are witnesses everywhere, and the dying remnants of historically repressive hierarchies cannot survive when their actions are revealed to public consciousness. And only a diminishing demented few dare challenge or rationalize what is being revealed. Perhaps most surprisingly, the carefully concocted myths of our own national narrative are proving resonant in profoundly positive ways. People want to believe the best of this country. They want to believe the best of themselves. Judging from the polls on the issues, most people in this country do indeed want a fair opportunity for life, liberty and justice for all. Show them that these do not truly exist and people won't continue to stand for it. The cacophony of deliberately manipulated distractions shatters as easily as spun glass when there is undeniable proof of a litany of inconvenient truths. Even from the comfort and seeming safety of the living rooms that the fortunate continue to be able to afford, it is possible and increasingly unavoidable to bear witness. Even unwittingly. Because there is too much evidence. Because the evidence continues to arise and accumulate from sources so diffuse and diverse.
Since the emergence of mass media the most effective means of social and political control has been to control consciousness, and to control common narratives. With the consolidation of media ownership, democracy itself was threatened. Imposed ignorance was the currency of a new mutation of hierarchical power that was and is, at its core, feudal in nature and intention. That continues to serve better than it should, but an increasing desperation is being revealed in it even as it reveals the nature and intentions of those who are of it. Consciousness cannot be contained. Perhaps by the very nature of our species, consciousness cannot be contained. The past century's most devastating horrors came in the name of a bastardized malinterpretation of a Will To Power, but the present century's paradigmatically transformative opportunities are emerging from what seems to be an even more fundamental Will To Emergence, a continual regeneration of the human capacity to awaken and expand consciousness. Because the way things are isn't good enough. The way things are isn't good enough not only for those marginalized and dispossessed, but in many cases also for those who have been more propitiously gifted good fortune. The few that would hoard all for themselves are an increasingly smaller few, even as their hoard grows commensurately more massive. It cannot last. If not dismantled from above, it will inevitably be deracinated from below. The tool is truth. The weapon is truth. New media serve that tool and that weapon. New media are that tool and that weapon.
The internet is the greatest democratizing tool since the invention of electronic media. If the medium is the message, the control of traditional forms of mass media by an increasingly small and consolidated few has served to control the mass of the population through disinformation, distraction, and an ever more fragmented and cacophonous collective consciousness. The internet shattered that monopoly. People can pick and choose, and no longer are dependent for their flow of information on often nefarious manipulators feeding a steady diet of treacle, trivia, and intellectual sewage. Certainly, the internet allows the filtering out of all that is contrary and challenging, and self-contained echo chamber feedback loops abound. Those determined to adhere literally to Bronze Age and Iron Age mythologies and the political and social hierarchies they created and enforced need not ever again be rattled or annoyed by demonstrable facts or peer-reviewed science, but most minds are hungry, and the natural human capacity for curiosity is expanding horizons and generating opportunities in ways to which countless millions of people previously would have been denied not only access but even awareness of the possibility of their existences. New media are the great levelers. New media are barely tapped, and they are already demonstrating seemingly infinite opportunities.
Less than a decade ago, some guy with a goofy and easily mispronounced nickname from his days in the military founded a tiny political blog and just a handful of years later Senators, members of Congress, a future president, and popular personalities from television, radio and the literary bestsellers' lists not only knew of it, but read it, and even began posting writings to it. A smaller blog with a clumsy format and a poorly focused title image of the legendary visionary from a cinematic masterpiece of fiction is quoted by a Nobel Prize winning economist who but for the internet wouldn't have had any way of knowing of the nearly anonymous proprietor's consistently brilliant analysis. In 2008, the leading candidates seeking the Democratic Party's nomination to the presidency all skipped the convention of the Democratic Leadership Council, which just a decade earlier had been the party's kingmaker, so they could instead attend a convention of bloggers. It took less than a decade. And even as the political system addresses the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression with bipartisan foolishness and paralysis, a grassroots movement arose in the streets to change the nature of the economic discussion in this country. It bears endless repeating: before the Occupy movement, the economic conversation of Washington politicians and their pals in old media was almost exclusively about debt, deficits, and austerity; since the Occupy movement exploded out of new media into widespread public consciousness, that stultified conversation has been awakened to the reality of mass unemployment and under-employment and record income disparity, and the concepts of 1 percent and 99 percent are now widely understood. The Occupy movement did that on its own.
Make no mistake: without the internet, the Occupy movement would be but a handful of scattered copycat rallies in some large cities and college campuses rather than the most promising social movement this nation has seen in decades. Decentralized and diffuse, with neither a leadership hierarchy nor explicit articles of agenda, the Occupy movement has depended on new media to organize, communicate, and prevent its various and evolving messages from being defined and bastardized by the still tightly controlled traditional mass media most of which would love nothing more than to destroy it. The photographs and videos of the Occupy movement and of the violent response by some of the enforcers loosed by its enemies cannot be ignored. The video at the top of this post has been viewed on YouTube over 2,300,000 times. For activists, the blogs and various forms of instant mass communication have redefined the possible, and the possible is actively being redefined at a pace bounded only by the limits of human imagination, of which there are none. Do the powers that be fear the Occupy movement? Then you know they also fear its greatest weapons. And a movement that uses the democratization of the flows of information and communication as its greatest weapons to promote democracy and fairness and justice has the potential to transform the very nature of society and culture, from structures of economics to structures of consciousness. This is but the beginning, and no one can guess where it will lead. It is evolving so rapidly that no one ten years ago could have imagined where we are today, and no one today can even begin to imagine where we will be in a decade. And that is an existential threat to so many seemingly calcined current dominant forms.
To the degree that the Occupy movement is a threat, so are new media. And those that would crush the Occupy movement will try as well to crush new media. Many entrenched political and economic hierarchies that have little else in common are coalescing to destroy the greatest means of mass communication ever available to the widespread public. Some merely want to protect ownership of content, but some want to control and censor content itself, while others want to control and censor the means of disseminating all content. It started with threats to Net Neutrality, and now it is the legislation Orwellian monikored Stop Online Piracy Act/Protect IP. Anything with user-generated content could be destroyed. Your ability to use new media to communicate, to organize, to learn and to educate could be destroyed. It cannot be allowed to happen, just as the Occupy movement cannot be allowed to fail. It is up to you. You are the answer. Every single one of you, individually and collectively. By continuing to be conscious, by striving to know and to see, and by listening to whatever it is inside you that demands better—for yourselves, of yourselves, and for and of others. The magnificent beauty that emerged so spontaneously and so powerfully among a group of students, staff, and others at UC Davis in response to such blandly common violence lives fully realized within every one of us. If we only know it as they knew it. If we only act on it as they acted on it—without anyone telling them what to do, with every reason not to have known it and acted on it in that defining moment. Every one of us is a participant. Every one of us is a witness. Every one of us can be an activist. And if we are, such awakened consciousness cannot but succeed. It is the greatness of the individual, and it is the greatness of collective focus and will. If it will not be denied it cannot be denied. Please, contact your senators and tell them to oppose the Protect IP Act. Please, continue to use all non-violent means to protect new media, and to protect the greatest social movement in memory.