Protests against the World Economic Forum

At 6 pm on Friday 1 February 2002, the New York Surveillance Camera Players (SCP-New York) performed The Circle in Washington Square Park as part of the many demonstrations, rallies and marches that protested the very existence of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and its cynical decision to hold its annual cocktail party in New York City, instead of Davos, Switzerland, where the WEF has been meeting since its founding in 1971. (While the WEF claims that it moved to show "solidarity" with terrorism-ravaged New York City, it is far more likely that it did so to take advantage of the "security precautions" that have been put into effect in NYC since the 11 September 2001 disaster at the World Trade Center, and because Davos had refused to pay for the increasingly high costs associated with hosting the event, which draws huge numbers of protesters.) The performance by the SCP-New York was scheduled to coincide with an anti-WEF pagan celebration in Washington Square Park that featured Starhawk, whose book The Spiral Dance provided the inspiration and content for The Circle.

The day before the performance, Bill Brown of the SCP-New York put together a panel discussion at the counter-WEF conference at Columbia University that was organized by Students for Global Justice. Entitled "Video Surveillance and Privacy Rights," the panel included presentations by Kimberly Warner-Cohen of the SCP-New York, who spoke about the surveillance of public places; John and Henry from the Institute of Applied Autonomy, who spoke about their iSee mapping system and the use of surveillance cameras for the purposes of profiling people according to race, age, gender, perceived sexual orientation, et al); documentary film-maker Matt Eahling, who spoke about and screened the trailer for a film he's making on the militarization of the police; and Jenny Marketou, who spoke about her on-line project Taystes and the use of art to expose and denouce generalized surveillance.

To introduce this panel, Bill commented upon the apparent disconnection between its themes and the WEF, which has never concerned itself with either video surveillance or privacy rights. Bill noted that it would seem that these themes are more appropriate to a discussion about governments, the State and politics than to a discussion about corporations, the economy and capitalism; indeed, the themes of video surveillance and privacy rights have not been on the agenda of the anti-globalization movement. (Note well that neither nor most of the websites associated with the Independent Media Center have sections or special reports dedicated to either "Surveillance" or "Privacy," despite the fact that both these themes reoccur again and again in the news stories and commentary posted to these websites.) Bill pointed out that: 1) corporations routinely surveill their workplaces (in other words, their employees); 2) corporations frequently use video cameras to replace workers; 3) corporations routinely surveill their customers and clients; and 4) corporations increasingly surveill their critics, either directly or through proxies such as police departments and federal law enforcement authorities. Bill also called attention to his recently completed map of surveillance camera locations around the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, which was the precise location for the WEF's little party.

After the panel was over, the whole group (both panelists and audience members) went out in search of surveillance cameras on or near the campus of Columbia University. The impromptu group quickly spotted a few "first generation" surveillance cameras, several "second generation" cameras and a few Microwave Relay Transmitters. The conversation turned to the importance and difficulties involved in making and distributing maps of camera locations. Later that day, Bill wrote and posted to the SCP-New York's website a short text that explains how his maps are made.

Unfortunately, the SCP-New York performance at Washington Square Park the next day (Friday 1 February 2002) didn't go nearly as well as the panelist discussion at Columbia. Only two performers (Susan and Bill) were able to attend, and Susan had to arrive 30 minutes late. For a very depressing half-hour, Bill stood in the cold and talked to and was filmed by the crew assembled by Barry, a graduate student at Columbia who is making a short documentary on the SCP-New York.

Never one to beat around the bush, Bill explained that the poor turn-out could be attributed to four factors: 1) the involvement of the International Socialist Organization, the Revolutionary Communist Party, the Workers World Party and other vile groups in the organization of many of the anti-WEF conferences, rallies, marches and protests, including the one in Washington Square Park; 2) the chilling effect produced by a whole week of inflammatory "news" stories about "violent" protesters and "self-avowed anarchists" by every single New York City TV station and newspaper, even The Village Voice, which ran a piece so one-sided and slanderous -- it referred to anti-globalization protesters as "Al Qaeda-like" -- that one might have thought that it could only have been published in Rupert Murdoch's tabloid The New York Post; 3) the presence on the city's streets -- not just near "Fortress Waldorf," but all over Manhattan and in the outer boroughs as well -- of between 5,000 and 10,000 undercover and uniformed police officers, some armed with submachine guns, some in full riot-gear, all of them "pumped up" for a fight, and 4) the imposition of marshal law (without declaring it) and the creation of military-style checkpoints and "frozen zones" in a fairly large section of midtown Manhattan.

Indeed, as Bill tried to talk about the low turn-out, a red flag could be seen among the college students and neo-hippies dancing in the center of the park; above, a police helicopter circled at a low altitude, filling the air with its ominous chopping sound. It was obvious why the turn-out was low: the SCP wasn't founded to perform on such a stage, where "violence" has eclipsed all other dramatic possibilities; the SCP was founded so that the performers' individual and collective opinions could be heard without having to face off against battalions of amped-up police officers or stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Communists. Once Susan arrived, she and Bill performed The Circle, and then handed out nearly 100 copies of the group's map of camera locations in the park before departing. For the first time in over five years of performing, neither SCPer enjoyed the experience or felt a sense of accomplishment afterwards.

Due to a variety of factors -- including the low turn-out for the Washington Square Park performance; a strong reluctance on Bill and Susan's part(s) to once again see police officers everywhere at all times; illness in Bill's family; and paranoia about being arrested and charged with being "terrorists" for posting the "Fortress Waldorf" map -- the SCP-New York performance scheduled for Saturday 2 February 2002 was canceled.

On Sunday 3 February 2002, the group's weekly walking tour of surveillance cameras in a Manhattan neighborhood -- Fifth Ave between 45th and 53rd Streets, on this particular Sunday -- took place as scheduled, despite the continued presence of large numbers of police officers on the streets. Several anti-WEF activists from out of town, Barry (see above), a journalism student from Columbia University, documentary-maker Jed Rothstein, and Jay Cookson, a reporter from the Chicago Independent Media Center, were in attendance. Though uninterrupted, the entire walking tour was (for the first time in its one-year-long history) watched every single step of the way by both unseen operators of surveillance cameras and very visible police officers, one of whom rather conspicuously said "Hello, guys!" as the group arrived at St. Patrick's Cathedral and started looking at the NYPD surveillance camera installed there. When it arrived at its final stop (the heavily surveilled chunk of the Berlin Wall that has been placed in a semi-public "urban park" on 53rd Street), the tour was immediately welcomed by a group of dour private security guards and the hideous spectacle of one of their surveillance cameras (a tube-shaped digital device that had been stationary during the many times Bill has paid it a visit) turning around so that it could point at and photograph each person, one after the other.

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