Monday, October 24, 2011

Re:volution Notebook

New takes on the political impact of social media:

* Vlad Teichberg, a 39-year-old former derivatives trader, is in charge of Occupy Wall Street's livestream video feed of He says in this week's New Yorker that he has been working for months to help build, from New York, what he calls "camera Kalashnikovs" to help seed and sustain the movement, which he characterizes as having its roots not on Wall Street, but in the rise of the Arab Spring. Teichberg had been operating from under a tarp in Zuccotti Square but now manages the movement's livestream feed from a small, second-floor space in Manhattan's NoHo neighborhood donated by the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, a pacifist organization that bought the building in 1974. He told New Yorker writer Andrew Marantz that live video, distributed via social media, can limit police brutality. "If everyone is watching, the state can't just crush people," he told Marantz. "That's what kept Tahrir Square from turning into Tiananmen -- they knew people were paying attention."

* Iceland President Olafur Regnar Grimsson (photo, above) speaking at the annual PopTech thought festival in Camden, Maine, noted the increasingly important role of social media in empowering people to challenge institutions. Grimsson said those now in political power around the world have a choice: use this moment in history to force citizens to bear responsibility for the actions of private institutions, or implement comprehensive political and social reforms. [Grimsson, himself, chose the latter following his nation's 2008 economic collapse. Fighting immense global political pressure, he refused to force Icelanders to bear responsibility for the actions of private banks in the meltdown.] He told PopTech conferees Thursday that Occupy Wall Street protesters have global resonance because "social media is people power in its purest form." Grimsson also sat down with PopTech's Emily Spivack to talk about how social media are destabilizing traditional institutions. Here's an excerpt from that interview:

"I have concluded, which is a strange conclusion for me to make because I have spent most of my life within the traditional institutions of a democratic political system, that the democratic power of this movement that technology has enabled and brought about, is now so strong and so fast that the operations of the traditional institutions have almost become a sideshow.

You see it happening in my country in the last three years, you saw it happening in Cairo, you've seen it happen in Athens, and you've seen it last week, in over a thousand cities, where you've got coordinated demonstrations initiated by Occupy Wall Street. Before, in history, it would have been impossible to coordinate these demonstrations at a relatively short notice.

Secondly, we are seeing a shift from the predominance of the financial and the market institution, over to the re-emergence of democracy, and what we have classically called the "public will," to use a philosophical term. But we are in the middle of that shift; we don't know where it will take us, or what will be the implications.

But the third shift, which is implied in all of this, is the shift in time. These changes are now so fast, helped by social media, that they are of historic proportions. We have nothing comparable in world history as a guideline."

* Kambiz Hosseini and Saman Arbabi, Iranian expatriates living in Washington, D.C., are the cofounders of Parazit [meaning "static" in Arabic]. It is a weekly half-hour TV satire show that pokes fun at Iranian politics and culture, and which grew out of Iran's so-called "Green Revolution" in 2009. "When they kicked foreign journalists out of Iran, citizen journalism because huge, and YouTube, Twitter and Facebook became the platform for communication," Hossesini says. "Seventy percent of Iranians are under 30 years of age, they live in media oppression and we set a new tone for them and a new voice with our show." When authorities jammed the show's satellite signals, Arbabi said last week, "we went guerilla-style, posting the show in online forums everywhere." Parazit is broadcast on Voice of America's Persian service. It also has been featured by John Stewart on The Daily Show and still lives broadly on YouTube. Speaking at PopTech's annual thought-fest Friday, Arbabi said of social media:

"It has changed the world and that's why dictators are afraid of it. It's the only source of information that some people have. ...Trying to stop social media is like trying to stop car theft. You can't. Thieves are always two steps ahead. Except that these protesters [in Iran and around the world] are not thieves. They're fighting for their freedom."

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Photo, top, of "calligraffiti" by eL Seed, a Tunisian graffiti artist featured at this year's PopTech conference, who uses Arabic script to convey messages of peace and justice, online and off. Photo of Iceland President Olafur Regnar Grimsson by Kris Krug.]

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