How Anonymous Are Going Overground
Take to the streets; then they'll listen. For an online collective whose modus operandi has largely focused upon cyber-attacks and hacking, the latest announcement by Anonymous represents a striking switch in strategy. Anonymous' call that today – Wednesday, June 15th – should be a day for the American public to decamp from their houses and workplaces to take part in a mass occupation of "public space" is a step back to the most orthodox but also most proven tool for engineering social change: people power. The calculation behind moving offline is fixed upon Anonymous’s belief that its latest target is big enough to attract support beyond its traditional membership.
Anonymous’s newly unveiled Operation Empire State Rebellion hopes to unite the 99.99 per cent of the US population it says is not benefiting from Federal Reserve policies. Its ambition is simple: bind the dispossessed majority in a US insurrection against the Establishment, or more specifically the bankers and their non-regulators, the politicians. Its call to arms, a video released on YouTube over the weekend (above), states that tens of millions are being “deliberately driven” into poverty as bankers are rewarded by bonuses and bailouts. Operation ESR – its occupation of public spaces – will continue until Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke steps down.
The inspiration taken from the Arab Spring is obvious. The North African and Middle East uprisings were fuelled by simmering fury towards an autocratic and corrupt elite who abused power to consolidate wealth at the expense of the masses.
The occupation of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, one of Egypt’s most iconic landmarks, may have provided the inspiration for Op ESR’s planned protest in Manhattan’s Liberty Park. Now it needs people. Some bloggers believe a “critical mass” of three million Americans peacefully encamped around Capitol Hill and the White House would be sufficient to topple Bernanke. Alternatively, others say as few as 500,000 people sited outside the Treasury and Federal Reserve headquarters could start heads rolling.
The Arab Spring required a ridiculed hate figure that needed removing before change could occur. For Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak read Bernanke. Mubarak was defiled and caricatured as a brutal dope before he was removed. The Anonymous video opens with Bernanke brushing away a question about the growing divide between rich and poor before zooming towards his chin, literally wobbling.
The revolutionary applications of social media have been well documented and Anonymous know how to harness and spread anger using such tools. They believe the reservoir of fury among the American people is deep enough to maintain the momentum needed to see off Bernanke. Certainly Op ESR appears sufficiently organised: publicly declared via YouTube, already viewed more than 250,000 times, the operation has a Facebook page for discussions and Wordpress account for organising rallies. At least a dozen protest sites are earmarked on a Google Maps page so you don’t even need to know who organised the protests, you just turn up.
The concern is Europe. Protests across the EU over the economic crisis have failed to force change or prompt resignations among bankers. In the UK, recent demos against the cuts have forced no tangible rethink. The TUCs ‘march for change’ ten weeks ago attracted almost 500,000 people but failed to influence government policy, similarly the well-attended tuition fees protests last year. Their success was confined to raising awareness but even that virtue was undermined by the London marches' tendency toward violence, a denouement that allowed the government to dismiss protesters as mindless hooligans. The organisers of Op ESR appreciate the need for non-violent protest, as only a passive display of resistance by ordinary people will work.
In theory, Anonymous presents a powerful alchemy, potentially able to challenge the traditional link between money and influence. Yet Op ESR also presents a sudden huge risk to the movement that birthed it. If the latest call to arms fails then the credibility of Anonymous could be dented to the point that its forced to retreat back to the recesses of the internet.
It will also underline something more profound; that perhaps the US public don’t care enough. Egyptians wanted Mubarak out and were prepared to risk their lives. The issue is whether Americans can actually be arsed to protest.
For now there is hope, the egalitarianism of Anonymous can potentially inspire and unite ordinary citizens against what it calls the “organised criminal class.” Some are already describing the operation as the American Summer of Resistance, a natural heir to the Arab Spring.
Yet initial signs indicate that the tumultuous wave of change that swept, say, across Eastern Europe during the 1990s has yet to materialise. It will take time. There is little doubt among many that the big banks have sold out the majority, and that the two-party oligarchy of Republicans and Democrats has spectacularly failed to regulate and discipline the banking system. The US protest movement, inspired by events in North Africa and the Middle East, finds itself at a critical juncture. Suddenly it is relying upon the anger and energy of ordinary citizens to topple some of its most powerful institutions. Last week Bernanke said that economic recovery must seem “frustratingly slow from the perspective of millions of unemployed and underemployed workers.”
Change is not happening. Now it is the people’s turn to force the pace. Across the world, many will be watching the American public’s reaction and hoping the revolution will be televised, preferably on Fox.
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