There were 13O globalNoise events yesterday in at least 42 cities that I know about, ranging from North and South America, East Asia, and across Europe to Iceland and no doubt many other places. There were naked protests in Madrid and Lisbon, thousands on the streets, with poetry, art, music, banners and so on. The chances are, though, that unless you follow social media, you wouldn’t even know. I don’t think there’s a media conspiracy but I do think there’s a set of police tactics that helps produce their desired result: “nothing to see here.”
So just for the record, here’s Madrid:
To be fair, organizers did say the crowd was smaller than they had hoped, but still. On to Lisbon, where crowds were substantial:
You can almost imagine the organizers thinking “the media can’t ignore this.” But they did for the most part. The relatively small media coverage was not altogether unexpected. Many events, like our own in New York, began at 6pm when most newsrooms are essentially deserted on a Saturday night. I was, perhaps naively, more surprised that the global coordination of the protests was not considered important or interesting, especially as it could have been written in advance. To be fair, there was strong coverage in social media and on the web, which is where most global social movement people probably get their news.
What there was everywhere was cops. In Paris, for example, a crowd of hundreds, diminished by the pouring rain, was everywhere paraded by riot police.
From the accounts of participants, what happened was that the police entirely surrounded the marchers on all sides, preventing them from distributing literature and even from being seen. Unaccustomed to being policed as insurgents, French activists were outraged. It’s hard not to suspect that this was a deliberate, and perhaps co-ordinated, strategy as similar reports came in from across Europe and Japan. Here’s what the demonstration in Tokyo against the IMF meeting looked like:
The men in hats are police and the demonstration is effectively shielded from view. Low-level banners are being carried but can’t be seen.
Something similar resulted in New York, where police on motorbikes cordoned off protestors from the public but couldn’t prevent some fun exchanges into shops, hotels and restaurants. While people were pleased yesterday that there were no arrests, in the light of day it seemed puzzling. Officer Winsky, the long-term OWS super-cop, was beside himself on various occasions but none of the usual random arrests followed. Officers did not carry their usual bundle of plastic zip-tie cuffs. Presumably, there had been a decision not to make arrests. Certainly S17 had shown that even a few arrests make the papers, while none of the more imaginative or creative actions were mentioned.
So between a set of co-ordinated police tactics to keep events invisible and not generate documentable arrests, and the low level of media attention on a weekend evening: nothing to see here. At the same time, all this strategizing can’t help but make me wonder if there isn’t a little nervousness out there as well. In any event, global coordination of protest events is set to continue. Now we have to make sure there’s something to see.