Demo or die. The old Silicon Valley phrase always meant something different for tactical media, because the whole thing is about trial balloons in political airspace. Over the past twenty years an activist vocabulary has developed, and with it, an intricate web of social movements. It was done out of a feeling of existential urgency. Now, with the wars we've endured (or lost life to) and the cuts of late neoliberalism -- your school, your university, your local library, clinic or fire department -- everybody seems to "get it." From the USA to China. Demo or die. The state may call it illegal and a million corporate interests may try to stop it. But demonstrating civil liberties -- and forms of autonomy -- is what continuously creates them.
This page is about activist-artists in the face of state repression. In the US, for too many long years under the Bush administration, that phrase evoked one group in particular: Critical Art Ensemble. Theoretically speculative and artistically precise, the group has dedicated itself for twenty-five years now to the exploration of the political technologies whereby people are ruled, or in better cases, make themselves free through solidarity with others. The latter is what happened in the CAE case: tremendous support of all kinds from around the world allowed the group to stand up to a harrowing Grand Jury investigation, which was finally laughed out of court when it reached the eyes of the judge. In the meantime CAE had completed the project Marching Plague, for which the two defendants, Robert Ferrell and Steve Kurtz, were under investigation. What does the video show? It shows the waste of trust, resources and sanity -- in every sense of the word -- that has historically occurred along the paths leading to state terrorism, which in this case means biological weapons production.
Let's remember a quote from the text that Claire Pentecost wrote about the trial of CAE:
Sherman Austin, leftist activist and founder of www.raisethefist.org, a website hosting a number of leftist groups’ webpages, was investigated for having a link on his site to Reclaim Guide, which offers information on explosives. Though the information was minimal compared with what can be found in countless libraries and websites, notably white supremacist websites, Austin was sentenced for “distribution” of information about making or using explosives with the “intent” that such information “be used for, or in furtherance of, an activity that constitutes a Federal crime of violence.” He served a year in federal prison. Under U.S. First Amendment protection, publishing, distributing, reading, thinking about, or talking about such information cannot constitute a crime. Under the current U.S. justice system, it can be construed as criminal if it is associated with beliefs critical of the government, in which case the perpetrator deserves a pre-emptive strike.
Clearly under the logic of the pre-emptive strike ("pre-crime"), everything on this page is illegal to read and you are a thought criminal. Don't let your eyes linger over the work of The Invisible Committee, ten of whose alleged members faced trial in France for "terrorist acts" such as the words that appear in the sidebar (they were also tried for some material sabotage, though what they are charged with was most likely committed by the French police). Here's the message: people who look lucidly at what are world is actually becoming are strange, and must be considered dangerous. After all, the writing of The Invisible Committee is the most subversive thing to come out of France since the Situationists' report "On the Poverty of Student Life" -- and that was one of the detonators of May '68. Well, it looks like some people do remember both groups pretty well. Just read the "Communiqué from an Absent Future" that helped drive the biggest US student movement of this century, in California at the UC system in 2009-11. And check out the trial of the "Davis Dozen," for an on-campus bank occupation in the wake of the pepper-spray incident.
As far as Wikileaks, beware. A national hero, Bradely Manning, stands accused before court martial of having revealed how American democracy works, whether at war in Afghanistan or Iraq, or when conducting diplomacy with other nations. A journalist in the Enlightenment tradition, Julian Assange faces extradition to the US -- but he's defended by hundreds of thousands at national and international levels. Definitely try not to look too deeply into those files, because you might glimpse the metamorphosis of the entire system of modern journalism. The story of Weakileaks offers uncanny sight, a drama still unfolding: the press is now so integrated to the economies and governments it was supposed to critique that only a volunteer organization operating on a global shoestring can wring serious reporting from them. Which Wikileaks has done. Due to its renegade (and hotly contested) strategy of offering incredible scoops to multiple competing outlets that can't pass them up, over a hundred international news outlets reaching, mor or less, the entire world have directly collaborated with sifting, analysis, interpretation and publication, in order to disseminate the highly illegal material you're now gonna have to try so hard not to see....
Maybe you're a geek and you like to fool around on IRC channels? Don't go near Anonymous because they act against censorship -- which makes them a target for FBI infiltration. But maybe you're in a more public position, like a university professor? Act like Ricardo Dominguez and see if Glenn Beck exclaims: "Poetry can destroy the nation!" Or you're a world famous artist? So do it like Ai Weiwei: forget the auctions and the real-estate deals and go investigate exactly why your government is so corrupt (in Ai's case, why it built such unsafe schools in Sichuan province, and why it knocks you on the head when you ask the question). It turns out that fancy well-dressed authoritative people in high positions do not always do beautiful things. It's Gangnam-style everywhere!
Let's give the last word to Claire Pentecost:
Of course it’s about the art. It’s about representation. The individual cases, the kinds of cases, the facts of the cases, the arguments related to the cases, the numbers of cases and the distortions of those numbers, these too are very much matters of representation. The case against the Palestinians, the case against Islam, the case against pacifists, the case against independent science, the case against rural people who don’t conceive of their knowledge as property, the case against all people who are in the way of the cannibalistic machine of global capital cannot only be won by force. It has to be fought in the field of representation, because we know too much. And because our legal system and ideals actually provide vigorous correctives to abuse of power—but only if we fight for them. What is clear is that those correctives, the right to free speech, to open and collective knowledge, to equality of race and religion, and to accountability and transparency of power, have to be actively reclaimed as a matter of daily life. And they have to be reclaimed in every arena where proto-fascism infests governance: in the police and the courts, in the establishment of racialized hierarchies, in ethnic and financial exclusions from education, in the restriction of creative endeavor, in the criminalization of curiosity, and in the monoculture of private property as the single medium of meaningful human exchange.
posted by BH