It was so much easier in the old days, back in the seventies. Then, when there was a demonstration or a protest rally, the Police held all the cards. They were able to make “authorative” estimates of the numbers, and they could take all the photographs they wanted of the demonstrators for their files. Photographic equipment was large, cumbersome, and above all expensive. Few demonstrators even if they had a decent camera would take it on a demo for fear it would get broken. Film was expensive and difficult to develop.
The press had cameras of course, but would, by and large, go along with the Police. Then, as now, the press was generally conservative and establishment. Their photos would be well chosen to match their slants.
There were aerial observation platforms then, (not that we called them such) but helicopters were the province of the state rather than the protestor.
Then came the new technology, and it crept up on us all unbeknownst until this year and Occupy.
The protests started much as they ever did in the seventies. The protests would take place and be studiously ignored by the mainstream press and TV media. They would be studiously ignored in the hope that this alone would starve them of publicity and they would swiftly die. But the authorities had not considered the reach of the Internet and the rise of the Blog. Now there were free “Citizen journalists” unbeholden to special interests, and writers who could write openly. They set up blogs and spread the message. So Occupy grew, hidden behind the TV growing in the computer.
Then as before in every protest movement from the sixties Civil Rights or CND, the Police reacted badly. They hit out at demonstrators, safe, they thought from being recorded or identified. So far, so old-school. And then came the surprise. On that eighth day of the Occupy Wall Street event when the Police overstepped themselves, striking out with pepper spray at some girls, but now, this time they were the ones being filmed by the demonstrators, dozens of them, from 360 degrees in broadcast quality video, and with their faces being made discernable. Now it was evident every single protestor possessed in their pockets technology for taking still photos, and video that would simply have been science fiction back in the day. And these images could also be streamed out live across the world. As I observed, every demonstrator became a Director every protester their own film crew.
The authorities were very slow to pick up on this and paid the price. Numerous photos showed them out of their depth and out of control. You might even feel sorry for them. Well maybe not.
There has begun an arms race between the demonstrators, eager that the witness of the world should be upon the custodians of the state, and a state increasingly caught on the back foot forced back on closing out witnesses with “kettling”, “frozen zones” and physical obstruction by condescending to allow demonstrators “First amendment Constitutional zones”, and by definition stating everywhere else was a non constitutional zone, a non freedom of speech zone.
Still, the Police had kept the high ground with command of the air. Helicopters could still guide the Police, estimate the size of the crowd, and predict its moves. It gave the Police superior intelligence and the upper hand.
Until the above. It’s small, light, and above all, at $300 or $200, cheap. The Parrot AR drone is available now to every demonstrator or part time film maker and documentary student. The Occucopter, as Tim Paul of Occupy has christened it, is here.
It can be controlled by a smart phone, either by someone on the ground in the march itself or by distributed access so that should the Police spot the controller and take them out others can pick up the torch.
Can you imagine the possibilities with cheap easy technology like this? At a stroke the demonstration has live information of Police moves and possible actions, reinforcements, blinds and diversions. With one or two of these “Occucopters”, Occupy (and every other demonstrator group) have a live time TV channel for sale to Cable and Satellite companies. It would out Youtube Youtube. The footage would be propaganda of inestimable value to Occupy. It’s value, as evidence of possible police misuse of power, inflammatory.
Settle back for 2012 the year of Drone Wars between police and demonstrators high above any demonstration, all coming direct to you on a laptop or your living-room telly. The revolution is coming to your livingroom.
Copyright David Macadam 2011.