Guest post by GEETA SESHU
The recent hologram protest projected on the street before Spain’s Parliament is an innovative attempt to subvert the country’s ‘citizen security’ provisions that criminalises public protest.
The video of the hologram protest is riveting and surreal, as ghostly figures of women and men march shouting slogans amidst night-time traffic. The figures are clearly distinguishable, the faces discernible. This isn’t computer-aided animation. It’s the real thing.
Or as close to real as a virtual thing can be.
The website ‘hologramasporlalibertad’ (Holograms for Freedom) provides for the subscriber to record her own message and, with a click, a hologram is created. An online petition explains that the ‘citizen security laws’, which obtained final assent in Spain in March, will ‘repress the freedom of peaceful assembly’.
According to the group, ‘The Protection of Citizens’ Security Bill’, alongside the Penal Code Reform and the Anti-terror Pact – collectively termed the ‘Gag Laws’, introduce intimidatory penalties like fines of up to €30,000 for protesting in front of Congress, for protesting against evictions, or disseminating photographs of police officers, or up to €600 for assembling in public places. They will also result in the automatic expulsions of people crossing the border, infringing the right of asylum. Those who resist peacefully in protests against the Gag Laws, can be imprisoned for three months to a year.
The video of the hologram protest went viral and was shared on twitter and a bunch of social networking sites. But has this technologically aided protest succumbed to the state’s ploy to push dissent away from the uncomfortable visibility of the street to the relative anonymity of a digital screen?
I am conflicted on this. No doubt, the hologram protest is a dramatic way to draw immediate attention to a repressive law. It also went a step further than all the passive online petitioning of clicktivism as it got the participation of a large number of people who recorded their own messages and created holograms of themselves.
By the time the protest was ‘held’ – in the form of a night-time projection on a big screen on April 11 in front of the Congress in Madrid, at least 17,000 people sent in their slogans and photographs and it received 53,000 views, says this report from The New Yorker on how the hologram protest was put together.
The group that has created the protest ‘No Somos Delito’ (We Are Not Crime) explained why they chose the hologram:
The Citizens’ Securities Law’s Reform is an attack on the right of freedom of assembly. This measure restricts citizens’ liberties, and criminalizes their right to protest. Turning a right into an offence for which you can be pursued, detained, and judged.
To respond to this injustice and to show the future will have to face if this bill continues its course, we saw the need to carry out a different kind of protest that would allow our demands to become unstoppable: the first hologram protest in history.
A massive protest, through which we will demonstrate, that despite the trammels imposed by the government, they will not silence our voices, and even if we have to turn ourselves into holograms, we will keep on protesting.
So, will hologram protests become inevitable?
Already, in India, our protests are confined to the Jantar Mantars or Azad Maidans or whatever invisibilised space is assigned to us by the police in different cities across India. The Bombay Police Act is routinely invoked to ban the ‘unlawful’ assembly of five or more persons in different areas of cities across India. We need to apply for permission to protest peacefully or take out marches and rallies, obstensibly so that our police is well prepared to deal with the protest and prevent inconvenience to the citizenry which, peacefully and unprotestingly, goes about their business.
So will holograms give us a digital way out? Perhaps they will result in newer forms of protests where activists can circumvent the restrictions of the real world and join up with lakhs of kindred souls locked in a digital world to express their collective anger.
But can holograms become a substitute for the real thing of flesh and blood? What happens to the mass mobilization we have witnessed in the last few years over the Delhi gang rape or over corruption? Or the Arab Spring and the Egypt uprisings of 2011.
If we acquiesce to these gag laws, don’t we allow ourselves to be reduced to an avatar programmed to perform only a very limited function? In this sense, the characters in Cameron’s movie are a step better, as they are capable of much more action, albeit under the ultimate control of a commander on a ship.
Perhaps that is what we will all become eventually: disembodied versions of ourselves, remote-controlled into projecting what we are and are not, with little or no control of the self we wish to show or even hide!
And a time may come when our ‘real’ selves won’t even be necessary for holograms of ourselves to be created and duplicated and transported into events and situations we won’t even be aware of, leave alone agree to!