In the past few days I’ve written extensively about the current events engulfing the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. In my last article I went into the details of the case, trying to shed a little bit of light on the demagogic arguments that have been boasted right, left and centre by the mainstream American and Canadian media. As I stated, the specific events that led to Michael Brown’s death shouldn’t be for his namesake, for the sake of his family and loved ones and for the community of Ferguson in general, lost of sight in the intense media scrum that is unfolding before our eyes.

This being said, the events that are occurring in Ferguson have happened before and will happen again. Unfortunately in these times, many economically impoverished communities are being held at gun point by a morally corrupt system that perpetrates their submission and oppression, right across the United States and Canada, right across the Americas and the Atlantic Ocean, right across the globe.

As I stated in my previous article the protesters —I refuse to call them rioters because as was rightfully stated by many of the inhabitants of Ferguson, the protests in Ferguson aren’t ‘’riots’’— are calling for the end of inequality in the way they are treated by law enforcement, but know that it will only come when they will have succeeded in garnishing true economic equality.

Is it a coincidence that the media has portrayed as a riot every major protest challenging the economic status quo since the economic downturn of 2008? Aren’t there parallels in terms of police response and media portrayal to be drawn between the Occupy Wall Street movement —OWS— , the student strike of 2012 here in Quebec and the ‘’riots’’ in Ferguson?

Indeed there are. They are so blatantly apparent, they sting our eyes like a zephyr of tear gas. The question of police brutality and the gung ho militarization of police forces throughout the western world can only be fully understood when included into this bordered strategy of skimming any social movements for economic justice, of any traction.

democracy projectIn his most recent book, The Democracy Project, David Graeber’s main thesis is that democracy is, unlike the preconceived western idea, not a western cultural phenomenon. Quite to the contrary, democracy in itself is the product not of ancient Greek philosophers, but the result of people of various backgrounds coming together and trying to find consensus. Graeber’s thesis is that democracy’s natural habitat is found outside of the state apparatus. I would like to develop on this idea to include the notion that in the past few decades new robust forms of democracy have grown out of the conflict with the globalized neo-liberal form of capitalism enforced by the state.

It goes without saying that capitalism in its current form is completely at odds with democracy. The current form of capitalism within which we live cannot sustain democracy, for democracy can only exist among equals, or within some semblance of equality. Democracy is thus the antithesis of neo-liberalism, which wants to concentrate wealth and thus power within the hands of a few. Within such a framework democracy is bound to perish.

What does the OWS movement, the Quebec general student strike of 2012 and the events in Ferguson have common? They are movements that are at the forefront of defending our democratic rights and pushing for a greater enhancement of democracy. Fox News ran a story during this past week entitled “Forgetting MLK’s message”, lest we forget that Martin Luther King Jr died in Memphis fighting for economic justice. Martin Luther King Jr knew very well that democracy and civil rights were void, merely a nice gesture if the economic structure which had allowed the oppression of African-Americans for so many years wasn’t challenged. Ultimately he gave his life trying to make that message reverberate throughout America.

Why is there a militarization of police forces within this start of the 21st century? The answer is simple: because of inequality, political elites that have every interest in keeping things the way they are and every interest in maintaining the status-quo will not relinquish their power, and thus have to kill in the egg any such movements that calls for greater economic equality before they gain any margin of maneuver.

Not only are these movements fighting for a more democratic society, they are redefining the space for democracy as a system that isn’t about the wish or aspirations of a political elite and that doesn’t follow the tempo of electoral cycles, but rather is a tool of variable dimensions that magnifies the voices of those that aren’t heard within our current system.

Grabaer in his most recent work—maybe somewhat intentionally—provoked all the right wing and liberal media pundits by equating the OWS movement with the democratic inspirations of America’s first patriots. I not only think that Grabaer’s assertion is correct, but I would also like to extend this to all of the movements that fight for economic, social or environmental justice. The minutemen of the 21st century are to be found in the streets of Ferguson tonight.

A luta continua.

A decision handed down by the New York State Supreme Court two weeks ago regarding Twitter’s release of user information could set a precedent for court decisions in Canada.

A June 30 ruling, Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. denied Twitter’s request to quash a subpoena from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. requesting tweets posted by Occupy Wall Street protestor Malcolm Harris from September 15, 2011 to December 30, 2011 on his @destructuremal account.

Sciarrino had denied Harris’ own request to quash the subpoena on April 20. Twitter was asking Sciarrino to reverse the decision.

Shaheen Shariff, a professor in McGill’s Department of Integrated Studies in Education and a specialist in internet policies and online privacy, said that while decisions made in US courts have no bearing in Canada, Canadian courts do often look to them to inform their decisions on similar cases.

Shariff referenced the 1997 Zeran case, a US court decision that defined social media sites like Twitter and Facebook as intermediaries and not publishers, and therefore not required to disclose all offensive material posted to their site.

Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada passed a decision citing the Zeran case. In the case, British Columbian Jon Newton was sued for linking to allegedly defamatory material on a website. The case was dismissed after the judge deemed Newton, as a distributor and not a publisher of the information, was not liable for damages.

“In that regard Canada, the Canadian courts, did use the US precedent, but they’re not bound by them,” she said.

Shariff said the use of the Harris case as a precedent in Canada “depends on the circumstances of each case.”

“If there’s a case similar to this that goes before the Supreme Court and it involves Twitter, because this case particularly refers to Twitter’s agreement with its users, then it’s possible the Canadian court might come up with a similar decision,” said Shariff.

Many social networking sites have user agreements affirming user’s rights concerning what they post. While Twitter’s terms of service states that users “should only provide content that you are comfortable sharing,” it also adds that users “retain your rights to any content you submit, post or display on or through [Twitter].”

In a statement released after Sciarinno’s decision, Twitter spokesperson Carolyn Penner said the terms of service “have long made it absolutely clear that its users own their content. We continue to have a steadfast commitment to our users and their rights.”

According to Bloomberg, after the April 20 decision Twitter updated its terms effective May 17 to say that users retain their right to any content they submit, post or display.

“I guess what [Sciarrino] is saying is that if [a post] has criminal components then that agreement is null and void,” said Shariff.

The Harris decision could play an important role in Canadian legislation in the coming months and years. According to Shariff, there is emerging legislation in provinces across the country – including Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick – targeting offensive forms of expression online, notably forms like cyber bullying.

“There’s a trend to try and get some of this under control,” said Shariff.

“Now in terms of free expression, it does pose issues,” she continued.

The information sought includes tweets from Harris during his October 1 arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge along with about 700 other Occupy Wall Street protestors, as well as the IP address for each post, which would allow prosecutors to see Harris’s location at the time the tweets were sent.

In his ruling, Sciarrino upheld a portion of Twitter’s request asking that accessing content less than 180 days old would require a search warrant. Nevertheless, the American Civil Liberties Union has argued Harris should be able to quash the subpoena because his First Amendment right to free speech and his Fourth Amendment right to privacy are implicated, according to Bloomberg.

“There’s definitely a trend towards criminalization of online expression, and that is a problem because it does infringe on freedom of expression rights under the First Amendment and under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said Shariff.

Harris could still appeal the decision at the federal level. In the meantime, said Shariff, “It may be that these intermediaries have to look at their agreements with clients again and revamp them.”

As for users, she said the Harris case “speaks to the need for people to be much more aware of what they’re posting online, what they’re tweeting about.”

Photos courtesy of Paul Stein and Danilo Ramos via Flickr