Sunday, October 30, 2011

Statues of Freedom and Movements of Freedom: Differing Images

by Gary Berg-Cross

This past Friday, Oct 29, 2011 the iconic Statue of Liberty, Auguste Bartholdi's great work, turned 125 years old. Lady Liberty is based on the Libertas, the Roman goddess symbolizing“ freedom”. The history of the building of the statue is quiet interesting in itself and lots of papers have dusted off histories to refresh our memories including that the Statue was 10 years late in arriving and the arm and torch lay in NY for almost that time waiting for the body to arrive. The snippet below is from the Brooklyn Eagle, which is used to deliver as a boy. (Brooklyn housed many immigrants who poured across the Brooklyn Bridge and flowed in masses around City Hall Park, where the inaugural ceremony was held.)

Bartholdi went to his Paris studio, where he started on the statue’s arm and torch in hopes of having the lady raise her lamp at the start of the American centennial celebration in Philadelphia in 1876. The statue missed the opening, but the arm and torch arrived in time to become a major attraction. Meanwhile, Bartholdi needed an engineer to design his statue’s “skeleton.” Though its copper skin was quite thin, it was clear Lady Liberty would eventually weigh tons. The artist took on railroad bridge designer Gustave Eiffel to build an iron framework. Eiffel arranged the framework so it could be easily taken apart to ship across the ocean.

As the statue neared completion in France, funds for its pedestal ran out. Publisher Joseph Pulitzer, himself a Hungarian immigrant, ran editorials in The World calling for help. The poor and middle class answered, and the $1 and $2 donations mounted. In all, Americans gave $350,000 for the pedestal. Among those who helped were New York artists who organized an exhibition in 1883 and auctioned manuscripts by Bret Harte, Mark Twain and other writers. A poet named Emma Lazarus was asked to contribute a sonnet, which is mounted on a bronze plaque on the statue. She wrote a poem titled “The New Colossus,”…

In NY harbor this October there was lots of celebrate and at Friday's ceremony some125 candidates from 40 different countries, took the oath of citizenship, although some other “immigrants” may have feared attending due to a “papers please” attitude abroad in the lands. One thing the main stream media celebrated was the new high-tech gear - added in the form of five webcams. These are located inside her torch. Four of the cameras now point towards Ellis Island, Governors Island, Liberty Island and the Freedom Tower respectively, while the fifth gives viewers a unique look at the torch itself.

Roman ideas of a free Republic were popular in the founder’s time and so Libertas has served a symbol for some time. It is good to be reminded of her in these time, but the addition of those extra camera does serve to remind us of a few lingering issues of freedom. One is made by Roberto Lovato in his “Of America” blog who noted the increasing surveillance of ordinary citizens and not just at stop lights:

“Much is being made in the media about the “live web cams” that are part of the high-tech makeover of the Statue. Less (or not) reported are the dozens of infrared surveillance cameras, vibration sensors, experimental facial recognition monitors, and other now ubiquitous electronic surveillance devices that capture the image of visitors and send them to databases of national security agencies. The profits from this kind of multi-million dollar makeover of Liberty go to corporations invested in redefining freedom.”

If Big Brother is watching, videos by protestors and observers play an important role in getting the actual experience of current Freedom efforts, like the Occupy movement, out to the citizenry. In the early days of Occupy Wall Street (in the newly named Liberty Park) videos suggested that mainstream, corporate media wasn’t isn’t telling a fair or complete story about its aims, process, ideas or even its general schedule which is available online as shown below:

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Agenda Sunday, October 30

3:30pm Multi-Faith Service

5:00pm What Is Wrong With Capitalism? Occupy Wall Street Forum w Alex Callinicos

6:00pm Internet Working Group meeting

7:00pm General Assembly

People wonder about what participants are saying and you can read to your heart’s content at OWS article sites like But pictures can be more compelling than long arguments, even when cogent. Early on OWS protesters were able to capture detailed and often graphic jarring images of police tactics and even spot violence in what seemed to concerted effort to intimidate citizens who were exercising 1st Amendment rights. Streaming media could show the attempts to speak out for rights by way of what seemed reasonable peaceful and lawful public demonstrations. This was the case in late Sept. when some 60 - 70 armed police officers surrounded the park in which 200 to 300 peaceful Occupy Wall St. protesters were encamped.

You can see some of these videos on, but not much appeared on mainstream media at the time. Things have changed a bit with tear gassing and mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge and now the war-like scenes from Oakland.

Such images seem to have advanced the movement which is more popular than the earlier Tea Party movement. But now it seems that there are some efforts to darken the citizen’s eye view of events by removing electrical power, confiscation media etc. We’ll have to see how this struggle over rights to protest and be heard plays out. It’s an open question whether Occupy Wall Street media team will be able to sustain their operation without things like confiscated generators. But for now sites like Global Revolution still bring you live streaming video coverage from independent journalists on the ground at Occupy and other nonviolent protests around the world. And of course you can see images of Lady Liberty, whose generators at least are working fine.

P.S. Some online sites have collected interesting parcels of Lady Liberty related images.

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