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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.

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That's what protesters in New York and around the country are counting on as they risk arrest.

The protests were organized on the Internet; they weren't taken seriously by many. The crowds at Zuccotti Park were shrugged off as dirty hippies, angry kids, incoherent. So were Anonymous and Lulzsec, two of the most prominent hacker “collectives,” until they showed that they could take down Visa and Mastercard.

The gradual politicization of Anonymous and the other hacktivism groups has seemed incoherent at times, but they've always stood for a loose sort of Internet freedom, jumping to the defense of WikiLeaks against both government and corporate attacks. In June, LulzSec and Anonymous declared Operation Anti-Security, making explicit the link between government power and big banks:

“Top priority is to steal and leak any classified government information, including email spools and documentation. Prime targets are banks and other high-ranking establishments.”

What they are opposed to is power and control. Which is why it makes perfect sense that hacktivists from Anonymous are supposedly down in Zuccotti Park, the Guy Fawkes masks they cribbed from Alan Moore's V for Vendetta as a badge of identity (and occasionally an excuse to arrest them). They are fighting the power out from behind a computer, putting their bodies on the line.

The Internet, after all, was a military invention, paid for with government dollars. It took the form we know it by now because the people creating it couldn't stop using it to talk to one another. Like the surveillance state itself, the 'net moved from the military to corporations, a center for profit. Yet despite the intentions of the tech companies who may or may not be intentionally obstructing the attempts of the Occupy Wall Street movement to get the word out (accusations of censoring emails have been raised against Yahoo and many have complained that Twitter is preventing #occupywallstreet from becoming a trending topic despite the frequency of tweets using the hashtag), the Internet still works best as a way for people to talk to one another, and it has been these protesters' ally, allowing them to get their message heard.

And after the ability of Hosni Mubarak's regime to effectively shut down the Internet during Egypt's revolution, a group of scholars and activists have been working on creating alternative networks to use in case of a similar government or corporate crackdown:

“At the heart of the movement is the idea that seemingly mundane technical specifications of Internet routers and social-networking software platforms have powerful political implications. In virtual realms, programmers essentially set the laws of physics, or at least the rules of interaction, for their cyberspaces. If it sometimes seems that media pundits treat Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg or Apple's Steve Jobs as gods, that's because in a sense they are—sitting on Mount Olympus with the power to hurl digital thunderbolts with a worldwide impact on people.

Instead of just complaining, many of those heading to New York next month believe they can build alternatives that reduce the power of those virtual deities and give more control to mere mortals.”

Marisa Holmes, a filmmaker who has been part of the media team at the occupation and who was one of those arrested Saturday the 24th, told me, “We know we're going to get shut down eventually. We're preparing for a long-term occupation, that includes not only physical space but digital space. Occupy the media.”

Their systems are not ultra-sophisticated but they are impressive for a week's worth, for something that was planned very loosely on the Internet. They have a power source and wireless Internet access in the square, a media team huddled around laptops all day long making sure the word gets out, keeping in touch with supporters around the world. They're making long-term plans, testing ideas, building community.