Although the ban against any sort of amplification may have been set into administrative law as of November 1st, Free Speech Friday from noon to four went on just as planned. Accessorized with two megaphones, a handful of speakers and a bucket of chalk, the event commenced and carried on until the sun disappeared behind brick and mortar without a single disruption from police or administration.
“Well this is what would have happened,” said Shane Hillman, leader of the event, “They would have taken away my megaphone and put me in handcuffs. Not precisely good publicity for the college. They were just trying to scare us into silence.” Indeed, at least a dozen people would have been handcuffed, but they persevered with constitutionality as their first amendment backbone. As planned, the air was filled with readings from books on Marxism, poetry, analytic assertions about the fashion industry, complaints, touches of environmentalism (which one geology teacher heartily laughed at), great gushing sentiments on optimism and a nice speech from the always supportive Bennett Schaber on “redesigning the system.” All the while day-glo scribblings commenced that filled the quad; the best being the following, by my delineation and by my desire to preserve what will quickly be washed away:
“Flying is to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” — Douglas Adams
Free speech is only free when it is equally as free at 100 decibels as it is at one.
Free Speech Friday indefinitely serves as a component that has long since gone missing in the industrialized, technology-oriented communicative methods of today. For although we move toward the creation of a “global brain” through which world wide, fast-paced internet unites us as one social conscience it is important to establish local communication that addresses both local and global issues. One can only hope that those that flippantly walk by are participating in the “global brain” with their computer and phones in a way that articulates the sentiments displayed in the quad. Which is also note-worthy for the fact that information dissemination through the internet is perhaps MORE dangerous to maintaining obedience than real life vocalization. If one is to ban free speech done with one’s voice then one would also have to ban free speech through the internet for optimal effect and leveled legislative practices — both invade our private methodologies to interact in the public sphere. To any future disciplinary action banning speech in both auditory and virtual form, the very flesh of communication we could say, there would still remain the ideas in the private mind however absent in the public domain. It is only appropriate to utilize a quote as the fifth of November is now upon us.
“Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.” — V for Vendetta
The body is a text, a medium, on to which we may exhibit our corporal writing each day and most flamboyantly we may inscribe ourselves on Halloween. As such, your faithful webmaster pounced around campus dressed as Anonymous as seen at left and was surprised at how few recognized the name considering how intricately laced the occupation is with Anonymous (PLEASE inform yourself about these “hacktivists” if you have not already). They are the truth serum rattle snakes prowling around the internet, they are the hackers of government websites, they are the cyber-warriors spawned from the depth of 4chan and worth knowing about as they progressively infiltrate the virtual landscape we’ve all come to know. It is also worth noting that the mask itself is a bit of an ironic choice of costume, for although Anonymous has adopted it for its practicality of anonymity and its association with V for Vendetta, this is thus far a peaceful resistance at least on our side of the protest and the mask holds undertones of violence from the film. The purchase of the mask also grants a small portion of the profits to Time Warner, one of the biggest media moguls out there. This is not perhaps so much a bad thing as it is an irony that points to how inevitably tangled corporate culture is in American life from the computers we use to communicate the resistance to the masks we wear in support of its agenda. Then again, there is even the deeper irony that Halloween, once a day for production (kids actually did tricks in the past) has become a day for consumption of both expensive costumes and sugary fixes. I would have been thrilled had a kid occupied my front steps but they all stared at me blankly, clutching their drooping pillow case when I asked them “What if I said trick?” Silence. “I don’t know.” Plop candy in the pillow case. “Alright, have a good night.”
Not to stray too far from the central topic at hand, Halloween was a day of some transitional stages in the Occupy Oswego set-up on campus. The occupation has certainly not ended, to comfort to worries of all those that believed it to have fizzled into oblivion: it has simply re-adjusted itself. The original tents were destroyed by a combination of rain and (confirmed rumors have informed me) a fellow destroying them in a drunken 2 AM rampage on campus. By mid-afternoon, Oswegonian occupyers were seen taking them down with sullen faces, but they assured me that there was another occupation in Campus Center. Off I went to check that out.
Indeed, after you pass the “Why Occupy?” table in the main vein of the building and ascend to the lounge, Head of the English Department Bennett Schaber can be found cross-legged and smiling beneath a tent construction amongst a plethora of chatting students and piles of hand-outs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. “Hey, hey! A Guy Fawke mask… That’s what I’m talking about!” he shouted as I scurried past. I crouched down to meet him and his miniature library of Occupy literature that includes many different writings: the transcript of the speech Slavoj Žižek gave in Zuccotti Park, – “We are not the dreamers. We are awakening from a dream which is turning into a nightmare” – copies of the rights to free speech on campus, – “The College retains the right to determine the time, place and manner of assembly or presentation to assure the continuity and quality of the educational process in and out of class, the safety of the individuals, and the protection of property” – a wonderful piece by David Harvey, – “Many decent people are locked into the embrace of a system that is rotten to the core” – an article by Naomi Klein in The Nation, – “No. We will not pay for your crisis” – amongst a variety of at least a dozen hand-outs that will, shall we say, occupy your mind. After snapping up one of each I told him with a breathy sigh, “You are such a hippy.” He turned to the graduate student beside him and laughed. “At least I have one fan,” Schaber said.
He seems to have many fans, in fact, with an email list quickly growing and frequent visitors, despite the hoards that simply walk past. “They don’t even stop to read the sign,” he complained. But he also has opponents, having been called down twice to face administrative whiplash. “I’m constitutional!” he exclaimed, “I’m not moving! They told me ‘lawyers have probably looked at this,’ I said, ‘Yeah, they probably look at everything… Let us set up what we’ll be doing and then decide how you are going to react.” He also suggested, “Let’s have a General Assembly and invite the police and administration so we can figure it out.” Until then, he’ll be happily stationed with his political roots settling themselves nicely in the upper campus lounge.
The mounting resistance is only beginning to show its administrative claws with a newly implemented rule banning amplified sound that went into effect November 1st. This presents not so much a problem, but rather a challenge to Shane Hillman, also known as Mr.”Free Speech Friday,” who struts around the quad every Friday mid-afternoon expounding his latest quips of optimistic advice through his megaphone and encourages others to use it’s amplification as well. “What if every student approved of using amplification? That’s the great thing about policies: they only work if people follow them!” There are also the examples that harshly contradict this rule, as he explained, “What about Sheldon’s birthday party, or the Spring and Fall concerts? What are they going to do? Come up to us and say ‘Shhhhh, shhhhh. People in classes 500 feet away could hear you.’ It’s ridiculous!” This Friday Hillman plans to continue his weekly amplified event and expresses a willingness to fight. “Free speech is not just on Friday,” he said, “Free speech is everyday!”
As administrative fears of a lack of control are ascending into the hierarchical consciousness they seem unable to build themselves on fair ground and can be seen raising superfluous branches to cover and protect their weakness. Let us not allow their tree to swallow the towering structure of our tents, whether they be in the physical world or in the mind. As the legislative resistance comes head to head with our resistance, may we shake them from their hierarchical branches with our strength in numbers and mind and witness them stripped of the authority and official titles that had supported them previously. With all false façades and justifications gone, may we watch them retreat into visions of the dominance they fractured their minds to obtain and shout orders into the empty air.
Let the resistance continue.
Somewhere in this mad patchwork of YouTube-ian idiocy, pirate infested file sharing seas, shameless 4chan exhibitionism, pop up propagandist distractions, Wikipedia knowledge treasure troves and hyper-ephemeral Facebooked social circles I knew there would be crumbs of Occupy Oswego to be found scattered in the virtual cosmos. Indeed, the ripples of our initials waves are traceable with a few… vroom-vroom! …search engines, and thus I have for you the highlights of the cyberweb landscape.
Syracuse.com was the first one to publicize the tents going up in the quad, quickly followed by a more detailed article with a rather slanderous array of comments. Speaking of slander, a forum shows one student occupying the quad having to deal with vandalism! Speaking under user name OswegoAtheist the student wrote “Unfortunately, some jackoffs cut a hole in my tent while I was sleeping, so now I have to go get it patched. We’ve had all of our signs kicked down at some point in their existence as well.” Jacob Pucci witnessed similar attitudes toward the campus occupation in his opinion piece for the Oswegonian, “So why do so many students look down upon the protesters, especially the students willing to brave the elements and camp outside? As I walked by the encampment one day, I heard murmurs of how stupid it is, how there isn’t any point in doing it. Granted, the weather has not exactly been camping-friendly, but that is beside the point. The point is, those willing to sleep under the thin plastic sheets of a portable tent, while their warm, comfortable dorm room is only a short walk away, are taking action.”
Notably and refreshingly, however, there has been some exemplary support noted by the press. Head of the English department Bennet Schaber, after helping construct the tents along side English professor Maureen Curtin, was cited as saying “A university education should be free. And if it is not free, then we should demand a mandatory living wage commensurate with the costs of sending young people to university.. Every Wal-Mart or McDonalds employee should be paid enough to send her children to university without incurring any debt.” In the same article it is noted that “Psychology professor Rebecca Burch donated rain ponchos, while President Deborah Stanley sent snacks” and the campus police have been friendly. From my own observations I have observed English Professor Don Masterson participating in occupation activities, commenting “This is the happiest I’ve been with the political conscious in oh… 30 years?” Then there is of course that red bandana’d, megaphone slinging, optimism and activism preaching student that holds the unofficial “Free Speech Friday” in the quad every Friday afternoon, equipped with chalk for those that want to write on the sidewalks and megaphone for all that have something to say. Amidst the pastel and day-glo scribbled, cheerful sidewalk writings worthy of a sugar rush to even the most pessimistic of quad-haunters, he bellowed loudly through his megaphone, “99% of all that is written here are positive messages!” 99% is a number that is popping up repeatedly, I suppose.
Despite the college’s neutrality (it is an institution after all, what are you expecting?) beacons of support are showing through the cracks of the ideological white out of political distaste shown not only though the student body but the general Oswegonian population. No other problem is as important right now as the difficulty in kindling a political passion. As I write this it is not just for others. I string words together as a way of getting out of the hole of learned political helplessness, because I need others to pull me out too. I write out of impatience, and with impatience, as they must use this writing to save themselves just as I use them to save myself. We have a common project. We have the occupation. We can pull each other out. Hopefully this website serves a means to build the virtual ladder out of the hole.
A (free) book I may recommend for those inclined to pull themselves out of the hole:
Never before has a civilization reached such a degree of a contempt for life; never before has a generation, drowned in mortification, felt such a rage to live.
— Raoul Vaneigem