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  • Virtual Disturbance
  • Diana Taylor (bio)

The news hit us hard. New York University's Stern School of Business had invited Domingo Cavallo as a Distinguished Visiting Professor for 2002/03. Cavallo, ex-President of the Banco Central of Argentina during the last military dictatorship; Cavallo, ex-Minister of the Economy during Argentina's violent spin into bankruptcy; Cavallo, ex-jailbird, released from prison but not cleared of charges of arms trafficking. But, he was also Cavallo, an expert in financial matters, the Dean of the Business School maintained, and NYU business students could learn a lot from him—though they were never told who he really was. NYU had recently closed its flourishing international center, NYU-Buenos Aires, because of the financial and political crisis following the crash of the economy in December, 2001. And now it had hired the architect of the crash.

We decided to protest—students and faculty from NYU and other universities in the area. But what to do? Some of us had experience with street protest and wanted to organize a public shaming, or escrache, as Argentina's children of the disappeared (H.I.J.O.S.) had taught us. Others wanted to host a conference. Others wanted to stage a virtual sit-in on-line. We decided to do them all. Marsha Gall, an Argentine PhD student in Performance Studies and a fellow in the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics took the lead. She designed a web site on the Institute's server—an "emergency activist site"—that included newspaper articles and other materials explaining our reasons for opposing Cavallo's appointment ( Fliers with Cavallo's glaring face went up around campus and across New York. Students attended one of his public lectures and posed their questions to him. Upset, he asked if they had been sent by the C.I.A., while his wife accused them of being "commies." On a cold, rainy day, students gathered in Washington Square to publicly protest Cavallo's presence on campus. But the interesting trouble began when we started the on-line protest.

With the help of Ricardo Dominguez, founder of Electronic Disturbance Theater, we organized a virtual sit-in. Activists around the world who belong to our various networks were notified that the virtual escrache was set for 12 December and would run for 48 hours to give people a chance to participate. The excitement was building. On 12 December all of our combined e-mails would flood Stern's web site, temporarily shutting it down.

The phone call came on the morning of 11 December. The head of NYU's informational technologies services, who has long collaborated and supported the Hemispheric Institute, called to tell me the Secret Service had informed her that we were out to destroy NYU's web site. I assured her this wasn't so—we were going to target the Stern School of Business. I explained why. Protest is not terrorism, I added. OK, she said, understandingly. But how did the Secret Service know anything about our activities in the first place, I asked. She'd look into it. I called my Dean. She was doubly [End Page 140] shocked—first that Cavallo was at NYU; and second that the Secret Servicewas obviously monitoring us. She advised me to call the Provost. The head of Instructional Services called back, this time less understanding. The FloodNet attack would indeed shut down the NYU site. She reminded me that all NYU employees signed agreements on receiving Internet privileges that we would not attack the NYU site.

I received calls from various deans that day. It's simply not acceptable to use FloodNet for the virtual sit-in, I was told. It would affect all of NYU. I understood that, but observed it wasn't acceptable to bring people such as Cavallo as visiting professors. It affected all of us at NYU. Academic freedom needed to be observed, they said, and the Dean of Stern had the right to offer appointments without consulting the rest of the university, no matter how unfortunate the appointment might appear to many of us. Their understanding and good...