Pop quiz, brainiac: How many miles of chain-link fence does it take to protect the World Trade Organization from 10,000 angry activists?
The answer: Three miles; and if that doesn’t hold them, the 6,000 extra cops Quebec City has hired will. This week, protesters will stay on their side of the fence during the Free Trade Americas Conference, and a thorough beating awaits all willing to challenge the mandate.
I’ve personally smelled the underarms of the anti-globalization/anti-corporation/workers rights/socialist/anarchist/Tibetan/Free Mumia/wave-frog/llama/tree-hugging/protest crowd. The Democratic National Convention of 2000 was a futile and doomed pageant of youth if I’ve ever seen one, and I suspect Quebec City, with its longer fences and greater number of police, will be more of the same.
Even though thousands of young protesters rattled the glass canyons of downtown L.A., their Cause was still a million fractured causes, and when the critical moment arrived they lacked the courage of their convictions. The fence around the Staples Center went unchallenged and the protesters changed little more than the weekly donut and coffee sales at Winchell’s.
I yearn for the days when it actually meant something for a mob to take over a street or a government building, or to assassinate somebody. If you didn’t like your government, you chopped the king’s head off. New people, new government. You could paralyze a city by holding a few key streets and you could cripple a government by igniting a single building filled with the proper official documents.
Today those halls of power have evaporated into electrons, and corporations can survive repeated beheadings – similar to cockroaches. All those protesters outside the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) meetings this week won’t stop a single third-world child from making me a pair of Nikes. Don’t get me wrong. It’s important to fight the good fight against governments, corporations and other nefarious organizations seeking to enslave or enchain humanity, but the technique of fighting is paramount.
Modern protesters need to look up at the sky and realize that trillions of electronic signals are transmitting fortunes and orders above their heads every moment. Currency is megabytes; the blood of corporations is incarnate, and it courses through the Internet. We live in the most complex and specialized economy in the history of the Earth. Nothing can be made or shipped or paid for without a massive network to support and coordinate it.
It’s time that modern protesters get organized and get wired. Think “Hackers” without the bad techno. Think “Fight Club” with style. Start with the rule that information is power and go from there. Hacker activism + pop-culture terrorism = Corporations scared into listening.
Don’t like Nike’s sweatshop policy in South America? Infect its shipping programs and let Nike know who did it. See how far a WTO meeting gets when skilled technicians have infiltrated key buildings and disabled the bathroom plumbing or rerouted the phone lines to Burbank.
Everyone always whines and complains about how the Internet has destroyed the privacy of the common American, but this charge also applies to the financial elite who will attend the FTAA meeting. A group of wired protesters could make it its permanent mission to make life hard for the fat cats. Not anything like assault, just enough daily annoyances to drive the fat cats crazy. “I’m sorry Mr. CEO of Monsanto, our hotel computers don’t show a reservation for you here in Quebec. In fact, our records show your credit cards have all expired.”
Of course any coordinated, informational-warfare activism will be met with extreme retaliation by the FBI, the CIA, the NSA and a host of other agencies who are terrified of hackers with genuine political goals. The rigor with which governments hunt down hackers is proof of a wired activist’s potential. Put away your marches and banners and chants and drums. Wake up and smell the silicon. The fat cats are wide open and they know it, now you do too.
Although hesitant to admit it, Daily Friday editor David Downs idolizes Brad Pitt and Starbucks Coffee. His column appears every Wednesday.