Investigating Conflicts at Public Demonstrations: A Conference on the Powers of Protest, New Technology, and Crowd Control

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The Protest Study Project at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center

An informal network of students, faculty, and activists tentatively working under the banner of "The Protest Study Project" have proposed a weekend conference in New York on March 20-21, 2010 (we are awaiting final approval to hold this event at the City University of New York Graduate Center). The goals of this conference are to provide a forum for academic and activist discussions about the urgent legal, practical, and theoretical issues that emerged from Pittsburgh, and to place these discussions in larger transnational and historical contexts. The conference urges presentations, panels, roundtable discussions, and workshops on any number of perspectives and reactions to multiple issues.

Despite the lack of national conversation about it, the Pittsburgh protests during the G20 summit on September 24th and 25th last month became a bewildering spectacle of police action against crowds of protesters, University of Pittsburgh students, and even bystanders. This escalating "criminalization" of protest dates back at least to the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, and requires the attention of both scholars and activists in particular. There are pressing issues at stake: among the most obvious is the arrest of Eliott Madison for "twittering" the location of the police to protesters from a hotel room during the protest. Days after his arrest, his apartment in Queens, New York was raided by an FBI counter-terrorism unit. The evidence the FBI confiscated included books, including Marx and Lenin.

Moreover, there is a persistent belief among citizens and intellectuals that the nature of protests crowds has definitively changed since the late 1960s, perhaps as a "result of the proliferation and ever-increasing prevalence of virtual or media-based forms of assembly," or because of "long-terms trends promoting economic decentralization, suburban sprawl, increased mobility, and political disengagement," as Jeffery Schnapp and Matthew Tiews argue in their book "Crowds."

These are the types of claims this conference hopes to in part address. More generally, this conference will be an opportunity to link together scholars and activists interested in these questions, and to raise questions about subjects including (but not limited to):

* the lack of national conversation about the Pittsburgh Protests and other recent public demonstrations;

* protest literature, protest fiction, activist fiction, dissident literature, strategic literature, and civil disobedience literature;

* the efficacy of crowd formation and public demonstration;

* the notion of constitutionally recognized power of free assembly;

* the notion of citing "constitutional" infringement itself in the context of "free speech zones";

* new law enforcement techniques and technology, including the LRAD sonic gun, used on American citizens for the first time in Pittsburgh;

*the new use of digital media and social-networking technologies by protesters, such as Twitter;

* the recent history of recent protest and dissident movements in the US (other summit protests, convention protests, anti-war protests);

* comparative approaches placing these events in transnational contexts (other summit protests, convention protests, anti-war protests, post-election protests, media censorship);

* analysis of specific events, texts, or objects associated with these conflicts and issues, including reflections on the representation of protests and the aesthetics of assembly;

* personal or organizational experiences with these events and trends;

* reflections on Homeland Security, state "Defense Forces" and National Guard mobilizations, and cooperation among local and national authorities;

* crowds, crowd-behavior, and crowd control;

* presentations on connections to academic freedom, tenure review, and adjunct unionization;

* presentations on the legal issues and constitutional issues associated with this these events;

* interdisciplinary approaches to understanding these issues.

As local, state, national, and transnational security forces develop new logistical and legal techniques of crowd control, it's more important than ever for activists, scholars, lawyers, social workers, and community organizers to share and reflect on the evolving landscape of protest strategies. A new era of uncertainty around these conflicts is upon us. It's essential that the network of groups organizing within this new landscape understand the issues at stake, and that this communication takes place across disciplines and beyond campus walls.

In addition to presenting videos, pictures, presentations, stories, papers, and strategies, the goal of this conference will also try to actively form functioning networks for the purpose of coordinating information and ideas for future, on-going discussions on the nexus of issues to be explored.

Please send 300-word abstracts that propose ideas for papers, panels, group presentations, or roundtable discussions to proteststudyproject AT The deadline for abstracts is January 2, 2010.