Free Speech and the Olympics: An interview with Space Hijackers
Posted by Free Word on 22/6/12
There’s been much discussion of the Olympics' tight security this summer, particularly concerning how new measures will have an impact on free speech. In May, Twitter shut down the account of Space Hijackers, a group of activists who had established themselves as the ‘Official Protestors’ of London 2012, following a complaint from the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG). We asked Agent Monstris of Space Hijackers for the group’s views on how free speech is being influenced by the arrival of the Olympics, and how protestors of the Games have been affected.
What’s particularly worrying to you about the protective measures being put around the Games? And how do these compare to other big sporting events and previous Olympics?
What's not to be worried about? There are the physical measures: the surface-to-air missiles on our rooftops, and drones in the sky that will still be there away after the Games have gone. Trading standards officers have stopped florists from arranging bouquets in the shape of the Olympic rings, and LOCOG thugs rushed in during the torch relay to steal someone’s flag because it wasn’t an officially sanctioned one.
But then there are the legal measures: legislation to deter protesters from erecting tents, any sort of protest around the 'vicinity' of the Games…['vicinity' is a strange word because it's not actually defined under any of that legislation]…The fact of the matter is that once you've installed legislation - however temporary - it's difficult to get it overturned. And it's set a precedent: now further restrictions can be enacted more easily because these ones have already come in. The same goes for buildings and temporary structures being erected for the games on greenfield sites: these now turn into brownfield sites where planning permission is more easily attained.
Protest shouldn't be curated or 'sanctioned' like it is in Singapore. Beijing and Sydney had 'protest zones'. Compliance with that sort of thing only weakens the politics and resistance of an activist group. But you're not challenging anything if you play by the rules of the lot that's screwing you over.
So how are these measures having an effect on freedom of speech?
There are all kinds of restrictions on free expression. Not only are the town and the year we live in under copyright protection, but anyone who seeks to raise a stink about this is liable to have their home raided. The Olympic Games Act of 2006 is ostensibly for the protection of revenue and to put people off making knock-off Olympic paraphernalia. But it’s so loosely written that it could include protest flyers and calls to action.
We set ourselves up as the Official Protesters of the London 2012 Olympic Games in the hope of getting a form of cease and desist from LOCOG or the IOC. By having Twitter suspend our account, they gave us that platform.
We decided to call ourselves the Official Protesters because it seemed a natural addition to the Official Junk Food outlet or the Official Sports Drink nonsense. We were asking what extent LOCOG would go to in order to protect a 'brand', and to ask if that brand is even worth protecting.
Why do you think the Olympics are such a catalyst for protest, and for such extreme measures against it?
Money. The love of money is the root of all evil. Nothing says "we're rich and you're poor" like the Olympic Games.
The Games are being used as an excuse for local councils and councillors to push through economic apartheid in the name of regeneration. They’re moving out a financial underclass to replace them with a wealthier demographic. Regeneration should be where the existing community remains while facilities are improved, not where communities are shattered because someone would like to see more upmarket cafes rather than greasy spoons.
The Olympics has very little to do with sport. The sport is the sideshow for all the money that's being made - which will never be shared amongst the people who are paying for it to made.
There was a period after London made the Olympic bid and before we won it when opposition to the Games was portrayed as being spoilsport and against the economic growth of the country. But we have to remember that the bid was made and won during that pre-recession bubble where we were made to believe that the economy was booming. It was certainly booming but it definitely wasn't sustainable. That bubble has now been exposed as a lie and we’re the ones being left to pay for it.
You've said before that everyone in Space Hijackers has pet issues: what other areas are you all focused on? And is it hard to try and tie all of those together?
The common thread we all play with as Hijackers is space. Not just physical or online space but ideological, political and emotional space too. Our individual practices and interests funnel into the collective and we turn them into projects and actions. Someone once said the Hijackers were the people who thought of ideas in the pub and, the very next day, went out and did them.
All of us like dressing up and all of us like a good prank - but I'd like to think our pranking goes beyond a "You've Been Framed" premise and involves a deeper political engagement.
We’re a diverse bunch, so it's a fertile ground for creativity. But sometimes it's too fertile and ideas can shoot off all over the place. Because we're such a motley collective, you learn to lose your ego quickly - and we've learned to blend our personalities into the group. No one cares who came up with an idea - only about how that idea is executed and what the impact would be.
Other issues near to our hearts are militarisation, the arms trade, consumerism, branding, legal and policing structures, environmentalism, gender and sexual equality…everything you'd expect to see at an American liberal arts curriculum but without all the earnest sandal-wearing and yoghurt eating.
There are many different groups planning different actions throughout the summer. Is there a danger of one group’s bad publicity souring the public’s view of all protest?
You’d be surprised to hear how conventional most means of protest is in the UK - the bulk of it still either involves marching or standing outside a building with a placard and a megaphone (which is, in the right frame, fine). But whether one group's actions against the Olympics would invalidate all other protest against the Games would depend on the action and the context in which it was reported.
There will definitely be an element of the public that views Olympic protest as pointless - but we feel that the real Olympic legacy will be felt long after the Games have gone and the athletes have moved on to the next competition. Only then will the commercial interests LOCOG are fighting tooth and nail to protect through the suppression of our civil liberties be proven to be meaningless. The taxpayer is footing £9.3bn towards the games - the true cost will be felt once we realise we can't afford schools and hospitals because we were too busy trying to make things look nice for Samsung, BP and McDonalds.