Pigeonholed: The story of a PR game Occupy can only lose.
BY BRYAN PERKINS
Occupy Baton Rouge
In the beginning, no one knew how it all started. No one really could. I’m not even sure we’re far enough away from then to be able to say with any certainty still today. So, I’m not going to try to get things exactly right. There’s no use for that now. Instead, I want to give a brief outline of my experiences of the Occupy movement, and extrapolate from there as to where I think we need to go.
In its earliest incarnations, I heard of the movement as a planned day of rage. I was unimpressed. At this point, I was still firmly inside the machine, both body and mind. As such, I ignored that initial spark that started off the occupation of Wall Street.
For some time before Adbusters made their call to occupy in New York, Stop the Machine had been planning an occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington D.C. These were no starry-eyed activists. They were veterans of anti-war protesting, and veterans of wars, and they were composed of an advanced layer of the working class. In October of 2011 their occupation started and it has not stopped to this day. But, the mainstream media didn’t care about them. They had been rabble rousing for years by that time. Much too long for cable TV’s attention span.
About a month earlier, a small group of anarchists set up camp in Zuccoti park. It wasn’t their first choice of sights, and it wasn’t their only option that first day, but that’s how history played out. In the beginning, they too were ignored.
Some time passed, and those anarchists were still in the park. In fact, their numbers had grown. The police started to take notice, and the media tagged along. Soon, everyone was following the story, especially after the first two activists were subjected to unnecessary force in the form of pepper spray to the face.
Not too long after that, I was clicking around reddit and someone mentioned that they wanted to start up Occupy Baton Rouge. I might have literally laughed out loud. I definitely posted a comment saying it would never happen here, we are too deep in the south for anything like that to work.
Luckily, whoever came up with the idea–I think it was Chris–wasn’t daunted. He came right back asking why I thought not. After a few more comments back and forth, I realized that the only reason it wouldn’t happen is if we didn’t do it. So, from then on out I was dedicated to making Occupy Baton Rouge a success. I was officially a part of the Occupy movement.
As we fought our own personal ups and downs in Baton Rouge, the entire movement, nationally and internationally, faced similar–if not worse–adversity. There were attempts to thwart the movement, not just from police, politicians, and provocateurs, but from the media as well. It’s this very attack by the media that inspired this essay.
From day one there was a single talking point repeated by every mainstream, corporate news source no matter which capitalist political party they appeared to support. “The Occupy movement has no demands. They don’t know what they want.”
This is when the game began.
Before then, I, and many people like me, believed there were two sides to the mainstream media. The right and the left. Fox News and CNN. Glenn Beck and someone else, I don’t even care to remember their names anymore. What a lot of people learned from this experience was that they were only two wings of the same avaricious beast.
And so, with a new threat to the status quo afoot in these anarchists sleeping in a park, a threat that required a different tactic than the ignorance that had been working with the anti-war activists who had started fighting long before Occupy became a meme, the entire corporate media machine banned together to spin a tale of a movement with a thousand problems and no solutions.
Cornered as we were, and I do mean we because I include myself in this criticism, we went on the defensive. We rushed the process of filtering through the problems of hundreds of thousands of distressed working class citizens, who finally found some camaraderie in realizing they weren’t alone in their recognition of the flaws of our political-economic system, and in doing so, we managed to find one problem, one cause, that we thought everyone could rally around. We found the solution the media was begging us for and we shouted it from the rooftops: Money has too much influence on politics!
With our new banner flying overhead, we clung to easy-to-digest, tweet-sized buzzwords that supported the one singular cause we could agree on and get the media to follow.
End corporate personhood! Reinstate Glass-Steagall! Overturn Citizen’s United!
We started playing by their rules, the very thing we tried so hard to avoid. We dropped our other complaints, and some of our other activists with them, along the way. We weren’t coopted by MoveOn or the Democratic party, sure, but we were coopted by the media machine. We fell into their trap. They knew we were dangerous when we were allowing all the problems to froth out of the oppressed masses, when we understood that they are all interrelated, that the solution must be equally complicated. They couldn’t let that go on, so they focused our ire on one issue and one issue alone. To dissipate our initial energy.
That is where we are today. We’re playing their game and losing. We can only lose if we continue to play their game. It’s rigged that way.
Instead, we must return to the roots of the movement. Not just the anarchist space-making that gave it its media hype–which is nevertheless still important–but to all that activism that before and since has helped to build the Occupy movement, that has lent it experienced guidance, and that has revelled in its ability to finally inject some young, new life into the working class movement, into the antiwar movement, into the feminist movement, the lgbt movement, environmentalism, anti-capitalism of all sorts. We must return to all those long ignored philosophies that advocate for humans in general, not the privileged few.
Until then, we’re just playing their game. And that’s a game we can only lose.