Summit of the Americas: FTAA

On Friday 20 April 2001, the Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) performed in two different locations in New York City. Timed to coincide with the first day of international protests against the so-called Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), a little-known international treaty that was to be discussed in secret at the third "Summit of the Americas" (held this time in Quebec City, Canada, on 20-23 April 2001), these performances were staged in front of surveillance cameras installed in Thomas Paine Park (at high noon) and Times Square (1 pm). At both locations, the SCP performed SCP Headline News. Chosen in part because it includes an image of a huge raptorial bird surmounting the globe and bearing the word CAPITALISM on its swelling breast, Headline News was expanded especially for the occasion. A picture of the self-avowed President of the United States, one George W. Bush, was adorned by the phrase "death penalty" and added to the report from the SCP's "National News" desk; and -- in sympathy with those who protested, demonstrated and rioted in response to yet another fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by the police in Cincinnati, Ohio -- the image of a police officer in full riot gear was added to all three news reports (Local, National and World).

A group that has timed previous performances to coincide with protests against "globalization," the SCP are opposed to FTAA because "free trade" -- the elimination of "unfair" "barriers" or "obstacles" to the ability of multinational corporations to do business any way they like and anywhere in the world it is profitable to do so -- has already proven to be disastrous. In the seven years since the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which FTAA would expand to Central and South America (except Cuba), "free trade" has proven itself to be a nice-sounding phrase for the subversion of the democratic system, that is, for the effective repeal of local, state and federal laws against such crimes as commercial exploitation of protected areas, environmental pollution and sweat-shop working conditions (to mention but a few).

Located in Manhattan, Thomas Paine Park is bordered on the east by the New York County Court House and on the west by the Federal Building and the International Court of Trade. As a result, the small park that memorializes the famous 18th Century American political extremist who once proclaimed "Give me liberty or give me death!" is surveilled by a great many video cameras, some of which are clearly visible to untrained eyes. But the SCP's unpublicized, 15-minute-long performance of Headline News aroused little interest, at least when compared to what happened in Times Square (see below). None of the reporters with whom the SCP has recently been in contact were in attendance, and no one from the New York Police Department showed up, though the NYPD's video-surveillance van was parked down the block. (Its driver was in fact asleep for the entire time the SCP was in the area.) And yet the performance went very well. Guided and accompanied by two experienced players (Bill Not Bored and Miranda), two brand-new players (Dolomite Bill and Carrie) were able to get acquainted with the SCP's style of performing without having to deal with any external distractions. Thanks to the presence of a fifth player (Susan), the group was able to hand out flyers and talk to those by-standers who were interested in the performance.

Unlike its performance in Thomas Paine Park, which was directed at any and all of the surveillance cameras that monitor public space in the area, the SCP's performance in Times Square was directed at a single camera: one of the seven "webcams" (video cameras that upload to the Internet) installed in Times Square by a company called Earthcam. Widely and thoroughly publicized on the Internet in advance, the SCP's webcam performance was a resounding success. It documented by two video crews (one from Brazilian TV and one from NYC's Metro Channel); it was watched on-line and "recorded" by no fewer than three members or friends of the SCP (to view these images, scrowl down to the most recent entries under "SCP Headline News" on the SCP's page of photographs); and it was followed by an incredible and completely unprecedented series of moments in which the group managed to get nearly a dozen people to raise their middle fingers and yell things like "Mind your own business!" and "We like our privacy!" at the webcam.

Contact the Surveillance Camera Players

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By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998

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