On Cameras: breaches of respect and solidarity

toomanyExcerpted from The Failure of Nonviolence by Peter Gelderloos

The next big issue is the cameras. Everyone needs to realize that they are endangering fellow protesters by filming everything. We should also spread the criticism that if everyone has a camera, they are nothing but a passive spectator, and they are turning their own protest into a sheer spectacle. A camera in the hands is one less rock, one less sign, one less flag, one less can of spraypaint, or one less stack of flyers, and really, one less protester in any active sense of the word. While the question of spectacularization is important, the question of security is basic. Filming at a protest exposes anyone who chooses confrontational methods to arrest and imprisonment. That’s a major lack of mutual respect and solidarity. But filming and taking pictures endangers everyone else as well. The police aren’t there just to arrest lawbreakers. They are there to help make sure our movements fail. They surveil and keep files on everyone who they think might be a threat to authority.

            It has happened in many countries before and it will happen again that democratic governments are replaced by dictatorships, and the dictatorships use the lists of enemies of the state that the democratic governments had already compiled. Another reality is that immigrants who fall under surveillance in democratic countries are deported and face even heavier consequences in their home countries. As for the democratic governments, new technologies are quickly giving them a capacity for total surveillance, and they are not holding back. It is significant, given that Facebook has become one of the primary tools of law enforcement to collect data on social movements, that most of the people taking photos are only going to upload them on their idiotic Facebook pages.

            Many people believe that there is a need to use cameras as a tool against police brutality or for counterinformation and alternative media. But a camera is far more dangerous to protesters than a molotov cocktail. No one should be using one at a protest without knowing what they are doing. Until Cop Watch collectives, legal aid groups, and Indymedia or other counterinformation activists start organizing workshops on how to film without enabling police surveillance, how to edit images to erase people’s identifying features, when it’s okay to put protesters’ faces on the internet, how to safely store, upload, and delete images, they should not take cameras to a protest. At a protest, they should identify themselves so others know they are not cops or corporate journalists. And everyone else with a camera should be asked to put it away or leave. Of course, we cannot stop onlookers from filming or taking pictures, and in the end everyone must take responsibility for protecting their own identity if that is what they want to do, but we will have created an environment much more friendly for a diversity of tactics—or just an active, non-spectacular protest—and much less friendly for police surveillance, if we can discourage camera usage within the protest itself.

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The Failure of Nonviolence is available from Left Bank Books