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Dan Phiffer Dan Phiffer builds websites, makes art, and teaches in NYC

The language of activism and nature

Photo by Velcrow Ripper
Photo by Velcrow Ripper
Yesterday Ellie posted about some of her recent projects, including one we’ve been collaborating on called Flight Lines. She mentioned a thing that I’ve said out loud a few times (mostly when speaking at panels), but that I’ve never fully articulated:

Ruminating on these topics with my husband Dan Phiffer on our morning run, we came to the conclusion that in addition to dropping our reliance on the outmoded concept of “nature” as Morton suggests, perhaps we also need to dispense with the term “activist”. This might help people like me further embrace the idea that we all have a role to play in facing the challenges ahead. (emphasis added)

Timothy Morton argues that the term “nature” ignores the fact that humans are increasingly a central part of ecological systems, and it doesn’t make sense to draw some boundary between “nature” and “non-nature.” Maintaining a false romantic ideal holds us back from taking responsibility for the habitat us human creatures rely on. And also from seeing how natural systems (no scare quotes!) permeate our urban spaces. This is an ongoing theme in Ellie’s art practice.

Rejecting the term “activist” just takes the shape of Morton’s argument and applies it to something I’ve observed in Occupy Wall Street, and more recently in protest movements like Stop Watching Us. I’ve been seeing a lot of people out protesting for the first time. Which makes me really hopeful! Activism is really just one aspect of civic life, it doesn’t need to be restricted to specialists. Just as one need not self-identify as an “artist” to make a good drawing, calling oneself an “activist” also doesn’t imply a life dedicated to fighting injustice.

But much as there are those who make their livelihood from art, the practice of activism often depends on full-time organizers whose work is sorely needed in the world (which is also the case with artists, I say). I want to avoid emptying the idea of activism of meaning, and instead just flip a small linguistic switch. Striking “activist” from one’s vocabulary just insinuates it within the standard set of Things That Are Done, rejecting the implication that practicing activism deserves a special label. One of the small victories of OWS is that “non-activists” are totally welcome to the rally. Of course we always were, but now we’re growing in numbers. We are ideological creatures, we might as well think like it!

#ShellFail behind the scenes (updated again)twitter.com

Here’s the amazing follow-up to yesterday’s Shell party malfunction now confirmed to be the work of The Yes Men.

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The terms ‘hoax’ and ‘fake’ don’t seem quite right to me. This is theater, plain and simple. The audience—both online and in person (?)—isn’t in on the joke for the first act, but this is all part of the larger theater experience. This video is act 2, and the resulting conversation and press coverage is act 3.

There’s a lot of symbolism packed into these short YouTube videos, but age is one of the more potent ones to me. The central character this video opens with is a stand-in for the many generations who’ve squandered the natural world at the expense of our inheritors. We don’t feel so bad laughing at her in the first act because of what she represents. That she’s already a well-known figure within the Occupy narrative makes the big reveal all the sweeter. Bravo, Yes Men!

Update: I may have spoken too soon about act 3. Check out Arctic Ready website and the accompanying Twitter account.

Update 2: There’s another written recap of the event on Salon.

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Shell’s party malfunction (updated again)occupyseattle.org

From Occupy Seattle:

Last night Logan Price, a Seattle Occupier who’s now living in New York, managed to infiltrate a private party thrown by Shell Oil at the Space Needle to celebrate the launch of its Arctic drilling program. He caught this amazing video.

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From TreeHugger:

Everything about this is, quite frankly, hilarious. Beyond any satisfaction gleaned from seeing such a preposterous party come to a disastrous end, metaphors abound, and they’re about as subtle as a sledgehammer: if Shell can’t even handle a three-foot replica of a rig that pumps booze, how is the company going to fare in the Arctic deep?

I’m going to hold out hope that this was a legitimate malfunction on the part of Shell, not the work of an activist.

Update: Gawker is reporting that it’s a hoax.

Update 2: In case there was any doubt left, this the work of the Yes Men.

Link via Eric Brelsford

Occupy as a series of failuresnonviolentconflict.wordpress.com

Natasha Lennard:

What a long chain of failures Occupy has been over the past seven months. Think about it: It didn’t shut down Wall Street on September 17th; it couldn’t set up camp in its first-choice location, Chase Manhattan Plaza; it barely marched a third of the way across the Brooklyn Bridge roadway before getting kettled; the Oakland General Strike did not exactly generalize; and occupations have been driven from plazas, squares, vacant buildings, and sidewalks across America. Again and again, plans of action have not materialized as projected.

But maybe these failures are okay?

I was arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge while reporting on the day’s events for the New York Times. When I stood in plasticuffs with other arrestees, flanking the bridge’s Brooklyn-bound roadway awaiting our carriage in police buses, it was cold and rainy; the bridge and its iconic view have never looked so exhilarating and beautiful to me. As far as failing to cross a bridge goes, this was pretty spectacular.

See also: Occupy Did What?

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Matter out of placeblog.frankchimero.com

From Frank Chimero’s post on Louis CK’s “Shameful Dirty Comedy”:

Anthropologist Mary Douglas has a nice definition for dirt, saying it is “matter out of place.” A fried egg on the plate is fine, but a fried egg all over my hands is dirty. Hyde continues to say that dirt is always a byproduct of creating order: to create a place for things means that there will be situations where things will be out of place. And this is why Louis CK’s comedy is dirty: the thoughts, as dark and natural as they may be, are put out of place.

I couldn’t help but connect this to the Occupy Wall Street evictions, which were justified on the grounds that the encampments are unsanitary. Having spent some time in Zuccotti Park, I can see why the messiness might be seen as “dirty.” Conditions were certainly not posing any serious danger, but it makes sense that the city would regard occupiers as out of place.

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Progressive Cop on nonviolencewww.theprogressivecop.com

A police officer was stabbed on New Year’s eve in the process of re-evicting Zuccotti Park.

It is important to remember that the police officers too are the 99%, even if some don’t realize it yet.  It is up to each of us to reach out to them and show them the truth.  We are just as capable of free thought as the next guy and can understand a logical argument when one is presented to us.  Common sense, however, dictates that when these officers are confronted by violent behavior such as stabbings and personally offensive language on the part of protesters, they like anyone, will be turned off by the overall message and are far more willing to do the dirty work of those in power.  For these same reasons, I understand it is hard for some protesters to have force used upon them without returning force but it is still vitally important to the survival of the overall movement to remain non-violent.

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Occupy & Spacebeyondthechoir.org

Astra Taylor writes about space and OWS in the third edition of the n+1 Occupy Gazette:

Space matters for Occupy. But when we seize it—whether it’s the sidewalk, the street, a park, a plaza, a port, a house, or a workplace—we must also claim the moral high ground so that others can be enticed to come and join us there. Occupy Our Homes made clear the connections between the domestic sphere and the financial sector: The occupation of abandoned bank-owned properties is actually a reclamation, a taking back of that which has been taken away, a recouping of something already paid for through other means (by unfairly ballooning monthly payments and the still-indeterminate government bail out, for example). The focus on Duarte Square, I fear, fails to draw the same kind of obvious unswerving link to the urgent issues that Occupy Wall Street emerged to address.

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Occupy Wall Street at the Crossroadsoccupyduniya.wordpress.com

Zuccotti Park was a sort of village square that thousands of people visited each day to get information, attend meetings and satisfy their curiosity about the movement. Every time I dropped by, I saw tourists arriving to gawk and leaving armed with leaflets and ideas to bring back to their own communities. It was a place where strangers immediately started talking to strangers—not small-talk about the weather but serious conversations about topics of genuine concern. People talking—and listening—to other people has been at the heart of the movement from its inception. … It is more crucial than ever for OWS to acquire a physical home base that members of the general public can visit. It should be either outdoors or in an easily accessible storefront location, ideally in Lower Manhattan, since this is the seat of economic power that is the central target of the movement’s efforts. The space can be rented, donated or occupied. But there needs to be a there there.

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37 hours with the NYPDwww.salon.com

John Knefel, an uncredentialed journalist, on his experience getting arrested by the NYPD:

Journalists — like activists — shouldn’t be afraid of going to jail. If and when we do get arrested it is not an inconvenience, or something that we shouldn’t be subjected to. It’s a chance to refocus our outrage, a chance to tell the most important stories, a chance to bear witness to the horrors of our criminal justice system. I don’t think the NYPD will ever offer me official credentials, but I won’t be asking them for any. Our right to observe and document police misconduct is not contingent on the approval of the authorities. And if the police think that intimidation is going to stop this movement, they should know better by now.

See also: Central Booking by Keith Gessen

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New York Times photographer being bullied by NYPD

There have been many reports of press suppression at Occupy Wall Street protests, but this is the most obvious example I’ve seen.

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The New York Observer:

While we don’t have an exact copy of the memo, NYT’s VP and assistant general counsel George Freeman said:

It seemed pretty clear from the video that the Times freelance photographer was being intentionally blocked by the police officer who was kind of bobbing and weaving to keep him from taking photographs.

And while the NYPD’s department head has acknowledged receiving the note, there has been no response from Commissioner Kelly or one of his representatives. Because who needs to answer to journalists anymore?

Occupy Wall Street, The Tea Party and Beyond

Last night the Personal Democracy Forum Media people held a “flash conference” at NYU. The panel of speakers included two of my favorite people, Beka Economopoulos and Clay Shirky (who mentioned me during his talk! zomg!), focusing on the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements. It was skewed more toward OWS, but I did appreciate what Mark Meckler had to say about his experience doing grassroots organizing for the Tea Party.

Mark starts at 38:00, Beka at 57:00, and Clay around 1:14:00.

The simulacra occupationcityroom.blogs.nytimes.com

Last night NBC Universal created a television set version of Zuccotti Park for an upcoming episode of Law & Order Special Victims Unit. Word got out and the set was soon occupied by actual OWS protesters. Such a crazy story.

Drew Hornbein, 24, from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, said he found it “bizarre” to walk through an imitation occupation a few weeks after the actual one was swept away by sanitation workers spearheaded by police officers wearing helmets and carrying plastic shields.

And he wondered whether the people producing the show failed to realize that a fake tent city presented a target that many former Zuccotti inhabitants would find too tempting to pass up.

“It’s absurd,” Mr. Hornbein said. “Did they think we were gone?”

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