Anonymous is on the Global Frequency
I sat in an uncomfortable seat on a packed AC Transit bus in downtown San Francisco, the collective aromas of collapsing civilization already congealing into a sour miasma. Overhead, the invisible blades of police helicopters thrummed, and frustrated commuters poured down from Market Street looking lost. And frustrated.
I sent Adam a text message: “I have been trapped in SF by low grade terrorists who hate trains.” Having no way to gauge my tired sense of irony, he responded immediately with concern, asking whether I was okay, what was happening. “Anonymous has shut down bart. And apparently the bus depot was torn down last year. Took forever to find the bus stop. Annoyed.”
“Are you being creative,” replied my artistic partner, “or speaking gibberish?”
“Google it,” I replied.
Last week, protesters angry that BART’s in-house police force had shot another rider tried to organize a protest during the Thursday evening commute. Cognizant of the role social media had played in London’s recent rioting, BART management immediately turned off phone access down to their underground platforms in downtown SF–phone signals won’t reach on their own, of course. Anonymous, the Guy Fawkes-masked cyber-activists who hate Scientology, love WikiLeaks and are rumored to be no fans of Facebook, retaliated by hacking a site, exposing some personal data of innocent BART patrons, and announcing that they’d shut down the Monday evening commute.
And boy did they. Activists peacefully occupied Civic Center station, forcing enough disruption that the station was closed. The protesters continued down Market Street, shutting down Powell, then Montgomery (just before I could reach it) and continuing on toward Embarcadero. By the time the Anonymous crowd had marched down past Montgomery, down the middle of Market, they were a small group, a couple dozen unmasked teens carrying a sign made of bedsheets that no one could read because the sidewalks were mobbed with briskly walking commuters hoping to make it to Embarcadero Station before the moppets of the new model terrorist army quietly shut down the last egress under the bay. Walking among those commuters, a tall young man in a natty gray suit wore the Anonymous Guy Fawkes mask, and I was surprised that no one confronted him in that resolute crowd of inconvenienced wage slaves.
I wanted to skip the whole thing and take the bus, but in the five or more years since I’d last even walked past the Transbay Terminal, where all buses bound for the East Bay launch from, they’d torn it down. It took me quite awhile to figure out where they’d relocated the station, and there I was, packed in with the stench of blue- and white-collar humanity alike, with nothing but an outdated, failing cell phone and Grant Morrison’s Supergods.
Maybe it’s Morrison’s book, an extended meditation on the Superhero and, it seems (still workin’ through it) how the concept may manifest itself in our world, that made me realize what a comic-book concept Anonymous is. There’s the way the group strikes out at whatever injustice it perceives, arguably without a lot of nuance, like a collective caped vigilante lurking in a secret hideout. Hell, many of them even wear the Guy Fawkes masks popularized in the film of Alan Moore’s brilliant dystopian vigilante story V for Vendetta. But more than a Batman analogue, more than Moore’s tale of one man’s personal and social crusade, the group reminds me of a short-lived, very attractive concept Warren Ellis blasted out around 2003: Global Frequency.
A dispersed group of committed experts, largely unknown to one another, all carry (enormous and comical, bu 2011 standards) special cell phones connected with a mysterious group called the Global Frequency. When a unique crisis hits, the members with the right skills and proximity are phoned and set to work. An extragovernmental, noncorporate entity dedicated merely to making the world a better place for no reward, it was not well loved by the Powers That Beat, as I like to call ‘em. Each done-in-one issue set up and knocked down a chilling sci-fi concept, from a tragic take on the Six Million Dollar Man to an alien intelligence that replicates itself as an idea–memelife, an idea that, actually, I can’t get out of my head and will probably write something with someday, just to purge myself. Fun stuff, and the unaired pilot to the TV adaptation, starring the fantastic Michelle Forbes, had some real potential, too.
So we don’t have alien idea monsters establishing their beachheads via SETI. We should have a civilian Justice League of scientists and geniuses, but we don’t have that, either. Instead we have random hackers, and random kids willing to march, to occupy train stations, to harass scurrilous Scientology shills. To come together when called upon, and then melt away.
I was irritated at Anonymous today. They ruined my plans for the evening, and while I don’t like BART shutting down phone service to squelch expressions of dissent, I’m not sure shutting down the commute was a fair response. I am certain that exposing private data of random commuters was a shitty, ill-considered thing. But I knew that, tweak the provocation, modify the response, and I’d be right out there with them, because the basic mission of watchdogging civil liberties and free expression is a vital task. And I salute them for both having the muscle to pull something like this together, and for doing so without violence or destruction (according to the news reports I’ve read so far).
The one thing that made Global Frequency so cool was that anyone–even you, even me–might receive one of those mad eight-pound satellite phones. “You’re on the Global Frequency” was all you needed to be told. The Global Frequency was cool because you could imagine being part of it. And watching Anonymous shut down Downtown San Francisco as a vigilante response to instruments of repression, I felt an echo of that same frisson I got almost a decade ago from Ellis’ comic.
But I was on the bus with a bunch of people who were not part of the protest collective–at least, not today. After all, how many of today’s anti-BART activists may never have protested with this ungroup before? Minutes later, I was speeding over the Bay Bridge, reading Morrison’s wild ruminations about pop comic books’ steady encroachment on our daily reality, packed in tightly with fifty other mild-mannered Clark Kents, all of us anonymous.
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