Monday, October 16, 2006

CRASH Madison plan State Street sousveillance for Halloween bash

Over the weekend The Isthmus Daily Page has had a couple of terrific posts by Kristian Knutsen outlining Phil Ejercito's sousveillance plans for the State Street Halloween bash. What's sousveillance?
Sousveillance is a mouthful. It's Friday afternoon, and downtown Madison resident Phil Ejercito is talking about CRASH Madison, the text messaging service that he is in the midst of organizing for Halloween on State Street. When it's up and running, Ejercito plans on broadcasting text messages about everything a Halloween reveler on State Street would want to know: weather conditions, crowd size, stage times, and dangerous conditions created by both partiers and police, everything provided by people in the midst of it all. This, he says, is an exercise in sousveillance.

The word is clearly a play on surveillance, but sporting the French prefix for sub- or under- (as in sous chef). It's like a personal Panopticon, Ejercito explains. That ten-dollar word originally described a form of prison designed by the 19th Century British philosopher Jeremy Bentham, but has recently been popularized as a term for ubiquitous and inescapable surveillance. Ejercito suggests consulting the Wikipedia page for sousveillance, where the word is described as "watchful vigilance from underneath" by Steve Mann, the Canadian academic and cyborg enthusiast who coined it.
Check out the links. This is fascinating stuff.

Knutsen asks Ejercito about his criticisms of how the city is handling the planning for Halloween on State Street.
First off, the city needs to either lose the fencing and fees, or own up to the fact that they're throwing a festival and provide the necessary accoutrements to make it a successful one. I'm still fascinated at how the city can keep a straight face while telling people that they're buying tickets ahead of time for a "spontaneous occurrence." I'm similarly fascinated with how the city is telling people the fees are going to cover the public safety costs, while the HAC shills are telling people the money's going towards bands and entertainment.

Second, when the drunk guy asks his drunk pals at 2 a.m., "Hey, what should we do now?," the Halloween organizers need to see to it that there's a better response than "Let's go to State Street and watch the riot!" Providing compelling entertainment off of State Street that lasts into the wee hours of the morning would be the preferred way to send people home with bloodshot eyes and throbbing headaches. (I should mention here, too, that I think it's a shame the university isn't a better neighbor and doing more to help out with this kind of thing.)

Third, the city and law enforcement need to be clear and transparent about how, when, and why they'll be clearing off State Street. Despite repeated direct questions to the city and law enforcement, we're going into Halloween 2006 very much under the same conditions as the year before, that is, with nebulous warnings about unlawful assemblies and clearly defined conditions for failure. They cannot continue to act with unbridled discretion and expect anything other than what we've seen before, and I hope that CRASH can maintain pressure on the city to be transparent and unambiguous about how the night will end.

While there are also lingering concerns about oversight of private security, protection of civil liberties, and application of a sensible drug policy, I firmly believe that the three issues above are the most pressing and potentially far-reaching, and that addressing them head-on holds the greatest promise for improving everybody's Halloween.
You can find out more about Ejercito's project at at crashmadison.com and at its corresponding Facebook group.

UPDATE: Good fences make good neighbors?

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