The May Day global general strike– “A day without the 99%” is proof that, “we’re not back! we never left!”. This statement made by Felipe Andres Coronel, front man of socially aware rap group “Immortal Technique” during their free May Day performance in Manhattan’s Union Square Park was met with roars of approval from the 1,000’s of protesters and activists in attendance. The day started with massive coordinated actions in all five boroughs; OWS has previously been critiqued for its downtown Manhattan/ Zuccotti centric efforts. The unified course of action called for all marches to coalesce in union square in time for a public concert and permitted march to Wall street– however, upon arrival to USQ approximately 100 people from numerous May Day actions would participate in the largest public DIY balloon surveillance project ever undertaken.
The May Day flight took on a multitude of challenges previously unattempted. The organizers comprised of Zach Postone, and Sarah Wylie, and myself Oscar Brett arrived at Union Square Park three hours prior to the arrival of thousands of general strikers. We began by surveying the park for an ideal spot for to set up a building zone for the DIY balloon rig. We met an OWS “skillshare” working group on the north west side of the park; they had already sanctioned off a large section for free educational seminars that would be held during the rally and were more than happy to share the space with us.
Our five goals were, A) complete a community driven balloon rig build with as many volunteers as possible, B) produce an aerial livestream by flying a 4G enabled Android phone above the rally, C) capture high quality (HD) video and audio from an Iphone of Immortal Technique’s performance at the rally, D) create a map-work by shooting still images of the rally using a Canon camera, and E) have minimal interaction with authorities.
Sarah Wylie prepared the camera housing. We came equipped with an empty two liter “Ocean Spray” cranberry bottle which, given its square profile, can fit an Iphone or a regular sized point and shoot camera; we initially underestimated the size that the housing would have to be in order to accommodate the Android phone and were forced to buy a much larger (square profile) bottle of iced tea. The iced tea served the volunteers well in the 80° weather.
After the creation of the appropriately sized rigs and the testing of the livestream we received a delivery of (100) 12’in red party balloons and had (10) 10”ft cords of rope cut and attached to one central key ring for the construction process–
People, curious of the mass of red balloons, had by this time began to gather. We began the process of outreach.
We started by handing off the central ring, which all cords were attached; this volunteer stood centrally in the “skillshare” zone as ten additional volunteers were handed strings and asked to fan out, into a circle around him. From here the “people mic” was used to communicate with the large crowd of volunteers. People were quickly explained the technique of tying (10) slip knots to each of the 10 cords. This process, which i anticipated would take a decent amount of time, occurred almost instantaneously. This process also encouraged community building among diverse groups of activists. Conversations began as some volunteers taught others how tie slip knots and even more volunteers explained time and time again to passersby what was going on.
The following step was to attach the 100 balloons to the 100 slipknots. The eleven volunteers managing the key ring, cord, slip knot apparatus stayed put while the mass of protesters, strikers, and activists cued up and were given balloons by Zach Postone and Yaeir Heber. Each volunteer fastidiously attached one balloon to one slip knot; the rig now began to take on the qualities of a ten legged red octopus with 100 little red ribbons dancing underneath it. This next step was my favorite; Zach, myself, and two volunteers began to talk about the idea of leaving on or cutting off the dangling red ribbons. Arguments were made that the strings should go, because they might obstruct the camera, and that they should stay, because it added to the striking visuals of the satellite itself. In the end we decided that we could not make this call on our own, we put the decision up to a general consensus. Using the “peoples mic” we posited the issue to the crowd (cut the string or keep them) and allowed for a general consensus vote of confidence in order to decide our course of action– The people spoke and we cut the red ribbons off.
For the most part the fly was uneventful; except for one instance in which one of the lines got caught on a light pole and had to be cut and another time when one of the string reels was “crowd surfed” around the rally, creating a huge tangled mess. We first shot a 24 minute (15 minutes of good stuff) live stream which captured some speakers and musical performers.
The video quality was not the strongest but it was better than any other aerial live stream I’ve seen; the audio was fantastic.
We saw Immortal Technique was getting ready to play so we quickly put an Iphone up. We shot 15 minutes, including most of the Immortal Technique performance. It ruled.
We finished with a flight using a Canon point and shoot which, due to the inability to set the shutter speed and ISO individually, did not yield any strong visuals.