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'Occupy Wall Street' Fighting Bankster Greed and the Surveillance State

Over a week in, and despite mass arrests, the protesters are still camped out around the corner from Wall Street, and the Internet is watching.

The crackdown on the Wall Street protesters this weekend seems to have backfired. The campsite-cum-experiment in radical democracy is still there, holding general assemblies just shouting distance from Goldman Sachs and the Wall Street bull. It even appears to be growing.

The complaints that the media has ignored the sustained protest seem to be resonating—the park has cameras aplenty today, and food trucks line one side of the plaza. ( Local eateries have been taking out-of-town orders for protesters.) Tourists seem to be catching on that this is something, as they snap pictures of protest signs.

While even theoretically like-minded folks had been a bit dismissive of the Wall Street occupation before Saturday, the heavy-handed moves by police to control a small march have brought worldwide attention to Zuccotti Park, formerly Liberty Plaza. The Guardian has broken stories ahead of the New York media, outing the police officer caught on tape pepper-spraying penned-up protesters as the same officer named in a wrongful arrest lawsuit from 2004's Republican National Convention protests.

Techniques honed from the “Battle in Seattle” in 1999, including penning up protesters with temporary fences or an orange mesh net, were deployed in 2004 and then exported to the UK in the past year, as student activists fighting their government's attempt to impose fee hikes on university attendees found out when they were trapped outside in so-called “kettles” for hours in the cold, unable to leave.

The orange mesh net came out on Saturday and the #OccupyWallSt Twitter hashtag was filled with warnings from those who had been there in 2004. “Anyone who finds themselves on the wrong side of the net, even if they were just out buying milk, is going to be arrested,” New York blogger and activist Phillip Anderson said.

The anger in 2004 stemmed from two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the GOP's politicization of the September 11 attacks, while the protests now are aimed squarely at Big Business and indeed at least some of the protesters would be happy if government would take action against the big banks. Camille Raneem, who has been at the occupation since the beginning, told me that she voted for Obama in 2008, but found herself getting involved in activism when the things she'd hoped to see didn't happen.

“I've been waiting for this for three years,” she said. And like many in 2004, she was angered by Guantanamo Bay, and the crackdowns on civil liberties of the Bush administration—things she sees continuing under Obama, and proved this week when many of the Wall Street protesters were arrested.

Many of the overzealous police moves in the past have been around political rallies or events where there were diplomats, politicians, world leaders involved that police could perhaps be justified in claiming a need to protect. Who was being protected in Union Square from girls behind an orange mesh net?

But though the police overreaction caught everyone's attention, crackdowns on political protests are nothing new—anyone who remembers Chicago in 1968 could tell you that. What's new now is the way information is both being spread, lightning-quick on Twitter and Facebook, videos uploaded instantly from smartphones to YouTube to go viral, and the way that same information is being suppressed, or used against people.

From Hacktivism to the Streets

Imagine Bull Connor, the infamous Birmingham, Alabama Commissioner of Public Safety, who authorized the use of fire hoses and attack dogs against civil rights protesters, in the age of YouTube and Google. Imagine videos of peaceful activists zapped around the world at the touch of a button, uploaded in seconds from a smartphone in Martin Luther King Jr.'s pocket.