Anonymous and Orlando: Vandalism or Appropriate Tactic?

Ideas and Issues Protests

New Orleans A group called Food not Bombs has been feeding homeless people in Orlando a couple of times per week in public parks over recent years.  The Orlando City Council after complaints from park neighbors passed a restrictive ordinance a couple of years ago requiring a $25 permit for any group to offer public feeding of that kind and limited the permits to only two (2) per year per location, effectively trying to legislate away charity for the poor.  The ordinance was more or less ignored, but recently in a crackdown Orlando police started arresting some of the volunteers working with Food not Bombs and hauling them off to jail.  In response yesterday the shadowy hacker combine which is fittingly called “Anonymous,” launched a denial of service attack on the websites of the City of Orlando, the police union of sorts, the Fraternal Order of Police, and a couple of others related to this problem.

Was this a fair or foul play?  Vandalism or free speech and legitimate protest?  Discuss!

I think we can all agree that the actions of the City of Orlando are ridiculous on pretty much all counts.  If there were public services adequate to the homeless problem, then maybe there would be an arguable case, but in a situation where the right continually calls for private solutions to public problems, here we have folks stepping up to do a good and needed thing on a limited basis and they call the cops.  Shame on Orlando!  Solve the problem; don’t slap down those trying to help.

Anonymous is not a popular outfit with the establishment.  They surfaced to push back on PayPal, Visa, and MasterCard when they shut down donations to Wikileaks after the Iraq and Afghanistan disclosures.  Not surprisingly for loosely connected anarchists sometimes the “targets” of their “protests” have been obscure and hard to follow.  Hitting the FOP in Orlando is a little like that…the cops are ordered to do a job and carry out a stupid and mean spirited law, but don’t take it out on them, when the boss bears the responsibility.

The City of Orlando is a different thing.  I’m sure having a website down was an inconvenience, but cities of this size have tech departments and are more than able to handle such problems and get back on their feet.  They have resources and wherewithal.   If feeding the homeless is a crime in Orlando, I’m sure shutting down the city website is a death penalty offense there, but this is a ridiculous situation that would have gone unnoticed, and the action by Anonymous briefly balances the unequal distribution of power involved.  Even if the City of Orlando were to argue that it cost them time and money to get their website back up and running, I know it probably cost them more to police the park, arrest the volunteers, and certainly to “protect and serve” if there had been a “normal” protest by the usual suspects, easily ignored in Orlando.

The means are debatable, but the ends seem solid.  As long as voice and political expression continue to be curtailed as they are now both in the USA and around the world, such actions will force alienated, desperate and extra-legal reactions of which Anonymous is probably the most compatible and least harmful.  Power should be thankful that this is as bad as they are getting, rather than in James Baldwin’s famous warning about “the fire next time.”

If Anonymous ever gets “political,” then there really would be some rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth by the powers that be.  I wish they had been around when the right was pushing ACORN over the cliff.  I wish they understood the predatory criminality of banks involved in foreclosure heists and remittance theft from powerless immigrants and migrant workers.  I wish they could hear the protests unheeded in slums around the world.  I wish they were better at “protest” and “message,” but then they would be a real force and not “anonymous.”  Hey, I wish they knew my number…I’ve got a list of suggestions!

Meanwhile we’ll keep doing what we do and keeping it as imaginative as possible so that we can be heard and heeded, but I’m not going to lie and not admit that no matter how much I may not support the Anonymous tactical and targeting selections usually, as Chris Rock used to say, “I understand!”