Livestreaming: Lovely Weapon of Mass Information
by Marshall Getto
The first live stream that I ever watched was on October 1st of last year. A friend of mine who lives in NYC, and knows of my political and social justice junkie status, instant messaged me with THE link.
I was already feeling excited that day, as preparations were well under way for our first kickoff event at Occupy Santa Barbara during the upcoming Monday, October 3rd. I had been tweeting, Facebook page-bombing, and performing some stunted blogging in anticipation, but here was a whole new window of inspiration opening up to me.
Suddenly, I was in the livestream with the march, watching everyone make their way onto the beginning of the Brooklyn Bridge, being guided in by NYPD with no apparent issues. As an automatic response I checked all the main stream news feeds. MSNBC, CNN, NYTimes, HuffPo...there was zero information out there! “I'm sure they'll start covering it as they cross the bridge...” I naively told myself. But there was no coverage, with the exception of an arrested NYT freelance reporter who was in the march. Immediately I thought, “What the f*&k!?”
Well, we all know how that day ended. My temperature went through the roof as I watched people led by the police to the center of the bridge where the NYPD collectively made the mistake of equipping one officer with a bullhorn to communicate to over a thousand chanting marchers. I think I got a total of 6 hours of sleep that entire weekend, fueled into a near-manic online activist state by the images that so offended my sense of justice.
Since then I've had personal experience with assisting livestreaming here in our little neck of the Occupy woods. I was thrilled to show up for the first day to see we had live stream rolling. Admittedly it was intermittent, but then, aren't they all? It captured some of our most endearing and threatening early moments, including our eviction night, when one of our livestreamers was detained for a couple hours for filming from a supporting local business' rooftop.
There were several times that I've witnessed what the real power of streaming video can be when dealing with establishment authority figures. During our piece of the West Coast Port Shutdown at Port Hueneme, one of the more comical moments was our media team livestreaming the police, who had somehow commandeered a local 2nd story apartment overseeing our community picket line. The video of our folks asking how the view was while filming them while they filmed us was just one of those priceless ironic moments that only video, or being there in person, can provide.
When Occupy the Courts occurred, and we dutifully showed up to our local federal courthouse, (which, in Santa Barbara, is a federal bankruptcy court) I began to understand more about how the authorities see livestreaming. As we were demonstrating, (fairly passively, to be honest) our liverstreamer started up his rig. One of the federal agents that had turned out to guard the courthouse, (our threat level apparently only rated to have two federal agents and one DHS agent assigned to us on that day), waved me over. As one of the law liaisons for OSB I'm used to dealing with the police. I had already made contact with this federal agent when we got there, and he actually seemed to be in very good humor about the whole event. That quickly changed when we started livestreaming.
I walked over and he said, in a very hushed voice, “You know we don't mind what you guy's are doing, but can you tell your buddy to cut it out?” I wasn't sure what he meant, so I tried to clarify, “Do you mean because he is in the street?”, which is where Alex, (one of our citizen-media gurus) was standing while streaming. The officer sort of shook his head and said, “No, that is a city police issue.” leaving me more puzzled than prior to asking my question.
I reinforced an earlier mental note-to-self at this point: Law enforcement officials are not always hired for their great communication skill sets.
I leaned in closer and, in my best serious-person voice, asked, “Is it because it's a Federal building?”, thinking that he might try to invoke the Constitution-stomping Patriot Act. I basically gave the guy a softball at this point. He could have just punted and said that this was indeed the reason. Of course, I knew that we were allowed to film here, since I had read this article in 2010, not to mention that our legal team had also advised us to the same conclusion. At any rate, he provided another odd head shake, seeming to indicate that this also wasn't the reason.
“Oh, you just don't want him to be livestreaming you....is that it?” I asked, still trying to keep my voice low enough so that he might actually answer me, and not be embarrassed by other folks' attention. This time the head shake had a faint vertical motion to it, indicating that this was actually the issue for him. I smiled my largest s*&t-eating grin and said, “Well, sorry about that, but it is our right to film.” He uttered something approaching a “hurrumph!” and went back across the property line to join his fellow officer in glaring at us uselessly.
More recently we were at Vandenberg Air Force Base, joining the likes of Daniel Ellsberg, Cindy Sheehan, and others as we protested the launching of another incredibly wasteful, stupid, and dangerous Minuteman missile. In this instance, one of our media team was actually chased by base military police while filming those who walked in to be arrested in an act of civil disobedience. They had decided that his press pass was invalid. However, when they chased him back into the crowd gathered at the border of the base I saw one of their coordinators eye the cameras we had on her team, and draw them back to base. Livestreaming and citizen media, (as well as our media team member not accepting illegal arrest and detainment), literally stopped his arrest.
Livestreaming is one of those special human technologies, equatable to so many others that have changed our society over the millennium. Even the companies who invested in this technology’s development and design never foresaw what use people would have for it. Livestreaming has allowed me to witness the illegal use of military grade pepper spray, illegal suppression of peoples' First Amendment rights, and has helped opened my eyes to the very oppression that is happening in my country. The real boon, however, is that livestreams have helped me to understand that, when I am appalled by the direction our country and world is heading, that I am not alone.
Viva la Livestream!
Bio: Marshall Getto lives in Santa Barbara, is an activist, a Database Systems Analyst, a Unitarian Universalist, and writes on The Daily Kos.