Wednesday, October 05, 2011

an amorphous virtual mass...,

Reuters | In 2011 in America, what passes for a revolution is a frightening tangle of wires, power strips, routers and gas generators underneath a canopy in the center of a park.

That fire hazard of a mess is at the center, literally and figuratively, of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The protesters who have disrupted lower Manhattan since mid-September have assembled the means to blast out their message -- if they can agree on what they fighting for.

"Whoever controls the media, the messages, controls the culture," read a ratty cardboard sign that Connor Petras held at the corner of a major downtown intersection.

But Petras, juggling his BlackBerry and an apparently stale wheat bagel while also trying to hold the sign, acknowledged the protesters did not have their rallying cry figured out.

"There's not really a main focus point ... and I think that is a problem," the 18-year-old New Jersey native said.

Higher taxes on the wealthy, more equitable treatment by banks, easier financial terms for higher education, better care of the environment -- all are on the agenda at Zuccotti Park, a concrete island in the shadow of the rising World Trade Center, and yet none of them top the list yet.

Occupy Wall Street is movement, but it is also a Twitter hashtag, a Facebook page and a Livestream event, which means the protest does not even need a physical home. By one estimate Tuesday morning, "Occupy" events were happening in 147 cities, and much of that is the result of social media being used to recruit the young and the computer-literate.

"OccupyWallStreet is a hashtag revolt," Jeff Jarvis, a professor of journalism at the City University of New York and author of the blog BuzzMachine, said in a recent post. "A hashtag has no owner, no hierarchy, no canon or credo. It is a blank slate onto which anyone may impose his or her frustrations, complaints, demands, wishes, or principles."

On a cold and gray Tuesday morning, with rain imminent and many of the protesters huddled half-asleep on the ground, there were plenty of subtle signs of technology's influence, such as Twitter hashtags on printed maps, five-day weather forecasts on a status board and a core of computer-savvy volunteers.

Whatever you call it -- data center, media hub, post-production studio -- it would be the envy of a lot of IT departments in corporate America. Laptops, webcams and cell phones vie for precious space with cigarettes (Marlboro Lights are a popular choice) and coffee cups (to the consternation of the "technical staff" worried about spills).

It is anarchy, and the people like it that way.


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