Our Position on Livestreaming Protest Depends on Our Theory of Social Change
By Michael Siegel (@OaktownMike)
I have recently found myself in an online discussion with various people involved in publishing live video footage of Occupy Oakland protests. At issue is whether it is fair to call a person a police informant or “snitch” if they broadcast footage of protesters committing unlawful acts.
Of course, because we are having this conversation over Twitter, and not across a table, the tone of our conversation is regrettably hostile, and probably not productive. I thank @BellaEiko for inviting us to publish commentary via her blog.
Stepping back from our back and forth, and looking at the bigger picture of law enforcement, electronic surveillance, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the prison industrial complex, I realize that the dispute within Occupy Oakland regarding livestreaming is really a proxy for the political divisions that are increasingly emerging within our movement.
I would characterize this division as a split between liberals and radicals.
The radical position here is a belief that the law is illegitimate, in whole or in part, and that our movement has no interest in exposing our people to police investigation or incarceration.
The liberal position requires a certain amount of faith in the law, and a belief that certain lawbreakers within Occupy Oakland (i.e., property vandals or bottle throwers) are properly subject to criminal sanctions.
Thus, whereas a radical videographer would decline to film certain conduct by protesters, and would change focus if inadvertent filming occurred, the liberal videographer would continue filming. The former would believe that there is no good reason to expose anyone to police prosecution. The latter would assert that each of us chooses whether or not to commit criminal acts, and to the extent that we do so, we are rightly exposed to incarceration.
The radical position is founded in a belief the law in the United States is illegitimate, in whole or in part. From this view, the system is founded upon selective law enforcement, designed to benefit the 1% and a white supremacist ruling class. The law is corrupt because it began with the genocide of sovereign peoples, because it justified chattel slavery and indentured servitude, and because it applies post-Civil War civil rights laws to provide increasing power for corporations and their elite backers. The prison system – the ultimate destination for those subject to police enforcement – is a gulag of political prisoners and victims of race and class-based oppression.
The liberal position, on the other hand, must begin with a faith in our ability to manipulate the current economic, legal, and political system in a way that is fair. In this vision, we are a few reforms away from an equitable society; the police are largely performing necessary functions on behalf of the community; and the prison system is largely populated by people who deserve to be there. The liberal argues that, to the extent that a protester injures an innocent party, the law will give them a just consequence.
Now, I say all of this, while favoring a more radical position, but also acknowledging that we have a real issue within the Occupy movement, in the sense that there is not accountability for people who violate community agreements or expose other participants to unwanted criminal sanctions.
But to develop accountability as a movement, we need to nurture the bonds of solidarity. We need to develop common agreements and processes of restorative justice. We need to develop an organization, or multiple organizations, where we provide each other with mutual aid and support, and also criticism and accountability.
Accountability does not involve exposing our people to incarceration or even deoprtation. The prison-industrial complex rehabilitates almost no one, and instead perpetuates an unjust social order that we, as a movement, have committed to resist.
I hope that livestreamers within the Occupy movements will balance ideals of “freedom” and “transparency” with a real appreciation for the consequences of their documentation. The police agents that watch these streams are directed to pursue a particular agenda – one that has failed to create a safe or equitable society.