Curious about the current issues of the Occupy movement? Check out this article in The Stranger to learn about the repercussions of the May Day protests in Seattle.
I found this photograph moving around Facebook and I thought I’d post it. I thought the Occupy protests were winding down, but based on this chaos, I’d say I was quite off the mark.
The focal point of the image is the young man guarding himself against a police officer, as well as on the overwhelmed and scared woman with the camera. I feel like this image represents three main elements of the entire Occupy movement really well.
The young man represents the generic Occupier: the recent college graduate, possibly a hipster, who feels the need to stand out against the current regime and say that he doesn’t approve of the current status quo. His hands are up to shield himself against the night stick, but the look on his face isn’t necessarily one of fear. There is determination there, a confidence that comes out if you stare a little longer at him, and you can see that he isn’t just going to defend himself against the police officer, he is willing to take him on.
The police officer is not only representative of police presence and the issues that have come out of that during Occupy, but the illustration of faulty government itself. The police are supposed to protect citizens, just as the government is supposed to benefit the people, but clearly the police were not protecting anyone but themselves in Chicago today, and clearly the system is not working for the governed because groups like the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers exist.
Finally, the woman with the camera represents media, more specifically social media. Before social media took off, people heard about things like this through news articles or segments done by professionals. Ideally, the news is supposed to be unbiased but it rarely is. Now, with social media, people who were actually there in the moment can show their own evidence to anyone they want at lightning speed for free. With these kinds of resources, the moments like this will always be available to the public and the truth will never be forgotten.
The Occupier, the current system and social media. Put them all together and what do you get? Based on this photo, a real Charlie Foxtrot.
I’m going to keep this short and sweet. To me, the Occupy movement is all about stereotypes based on bias.
Occupiers are considered to be radical socialists and anarchists, criminals, racist (this too), lazy and homeless, except when members of this diverse group are none of these things. The police are overly violent and are under the control of the big bad government, except when they are just trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability (llaurenfrank, asulkin, kjonach, ivazuka). Corporations are always evil, unless they fund Occupy, and everyone in the 1% are trying to keep the 99% down, unless they use their power and influence in favor of Occupy.
People are quick to judge the movement and place labels on it, just as Occupiers are quick to judge and label those who oppose them. But when those labels are laid out so simply, and the incongruities are able to surface, does it still make any sense? No? My thoughts exactly.
Police brutality is nothing to be overlooked or downplayed. It is a serious offense. However, it is not the all-encompassing defining action of the police against Occupy. Mostly they are just trying to do their job.
As mentioned in my previous post, there has been an increase in criminal activity in and around Occupy protest sites. As a result of that activity, the police force has to be ever more vigilant at those sites to continue to protect their cities. But as the numbers of police officers increase to survey the areas of protest, tensions between the protesters and the police force rise.
Sgt. Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, explains this tension. In a Fox News article, he states, “paralysis is occurring across law enforcement. It’s becoming a Catch 22 […] To go in there to clear the [Zuccotti] park is going to cause confrontation. To not do so is detrimental.” Regarding the specific pepper spray incident in Kara Jonach’s post, Mullins told the Staten Island Advance to “remember who created the atmosphere,” referring to the rowdy protesters that caused many well-mannered, professional police officers to respond on-scene. He goes on to say that Bologna, the man responsible for pepper spraying the girls, “made a decision to use the pepper spray and it wasn’t popular,” essentially saying that it was one man’s decision and his actions should not be reflected on the police force as a whole.
Since this event, the way the police interact with protesters at Zuccotti park has changed greatly. A New York Times article reports that “most uniformed officers have remained on the perimeter of the park since the third week of the protest, rarely venturing in,” and the only officers within the park dress in plainclothes and are just there to keep the department privy to planned marches and the like. This new hands-off policing has “pleased the protesters, who have had numerous run-ins with law enforcement officers and tend to view them negatively.”
Based on what happened with the pepper spraying incident, there is good reason for protesters to be weary of a heavy police presence. However, I do not see why Bologna’s unlawful actions should somehow equate the entire police force. An anonymous police official at Zuccotti Park stated, “We try to maintain a low profile and not antagonize the crowd […] and once you go in there, there’s a sense of hostility.” Is it important for protesters to watch out for the police that act out? Sure, absolutely. But does that mean that every boy in blue is a threat? Not at all.
As explained in my previous post, there tends to be a bias against the Occupy movement regarding crime. People tend to believe that when one person, or one group of people, act out and they happen to be participating in Occupy, then those crimes somehow come to represent the entire system that is Occupy, including all the protesters as a whole. However, this is obviously not the case.
A Komo News article reports that a man had been arrested for exposing himself in Seattle at least five times to children, and it turned out that ”he had been at Westlake Park taking part in the Occupy Seattle protests” before his arrest. Does that mean that all Occupiers are perverts? Absolutely not. He is just one man. He does not, in any way, represent the Occupy participants who actually take part for a cause–there are discrepancies as to what that cause may be, but that is for a separate post.
A Yahoo News article explains “at ‘Occupy Baltimore’ rape victims are being urged to not report their attackers to the police, but rather to a ‘security committee’ that will investigate the incident and, if necessary, provide ‘counseling’ to the perpetrator.” Occupy Baltimore has chosen to deal with it in this way to protect the protesters’ anonymity. However, just to be clear, this is in no way the norm for nearly all Occupy protest sites. The volunteer security guard from Zuccotti Park states in an ABC News article that ”‘we always encourage victims to go through the proper channels and contact police.’”
A Fox News article gives a pretty in-depth look into specific examples of known sexual assaults at Occupy movements around the country. I encourage you to read it for yourself if interested. Furthermore, it highlights a few events where mobs of protesters acted out, such as setting off Molotov cocktails in Portland and threatening local establishments when they refuse to give their services to the protesters for free. One such instance is explained here:
At the site of the Occupy San Diego camp, street cart vendors were forced to close up shop Monday when protesters, angry that they stopped receiving free food, ransacked and vandalized the carts. The angry mob not only scrawled graffiti on the carts, they reportedly splattered them with blood and urine as well. In addition, the vendors received death threats, according to local radio station KNX 1070.
And then, of course, there is the problem with the homeless population taking advantage of the movement. Said Fox News article reports that “in Boston, homeless protesters were removed from Dewey Square after they were discovered to have knives and stashes of illegal drugs.” However, if you read Sam Toolan’s post, you’ll know that no serious Occupier wants their name and their causes tarnished by those who take part in the movement for selfish reasons. This does not only apply to the homeless, but to the sexual assailants and small radical groups within the movement as well. Their actions may gain the most attention, mostly because it is bad attention, but they do not represent Occupy as a whole, and that is what many onlookers tend to forget.
In fact, because of crimes against Occupiers by other Occupiers, many protesters have joined together to create ”a de facto security team [...] bolstering their numbers with volunteers from outside their ranks, including former gang members” to try to keep protest sites as safe as possible at all times, as reported in a New York Times article. One volunteer security guard at Zuccotti Park–the same one mentioned earlier in the ABC News article–explains that “‘it’s much harder with the tents’ [to spot crime] but, he added, criminal activity was ‘very low,’ according to his observations.” Members of the security force are there to de-escalate tense and potentially violent situations, and women-only tents, as well as tents for transgender individuals, have become havens for those who might worry about the few who act out during the demonstrations.
It seems the true representation of Occupy, in terms of criminal activity, is to prevent it.
I happened upon that YouTube video when looking for evidence of crimes that occur during Occupy protests. The video sounds like a great resource at first: they haven’t articulated their mission, you say? Why yes, having read their call to action, it does seem like they are without a specific goal. They seem to be protesting “everything under the sun,” you say? I agree, it does seem like people just label everything as “Occupy something” nowadays. But wait a minute, “unorganized group of punks and entitled socialist dirt bags”? Okay, maybe this video isn’t so unbiased after all…
However, putting the opinions of the vlogger aside, there is a lot of solid content about crimes that occur to and by Occupy protesters. This lead to my search for unbiased reporting on the criminal acts at Occupy protests, and let me tell you, this was no easy feat and I feel that I am still very unsuccessful. As David Meyer said in an ABC News article, “’These protests have a history of welcoming everyone and just assuming they’re on your side’” and as a result, people with maligned intentions have the ability to misuse the cause for their benefit. However, onlookers do not simply consider that the relationship between crime and Occupy ”was just random variation and no causal relationship had been definitely established,” like Ben Adler did in his article for the Nation. Cara Buckley explains in her article for the New York Times that “stories of crimes and dangerous behavior [...] have been used as fuel by those who say the protesters must go.” As a result, especially within the media it seems, the actions of the few somehow end up representing the masses who attend the Occupy demonstrations. Thus the bias.
Such is the case in a Yahoo News article by Mark Whittington. When delivering a break-down on crimes that occurred during the Occupy movement across the country, he muses that “’Occupy Oakland’ has devolved into something resembling Lord of the Flies” and reports that the protesters who are a part of Occupy Oakland are ”a group described as ‘bullies, the mentally ill, drunks, thugs and anarchists’ [who] have turned the encampment into something resembling a state of nature, where the strong terrorize the weak, and where ad hoc rule making has caused a combination of anarchy and oppression. ” Whether this be the case or not, there is no need for name calling.
Social Media has played a vital role in the transfer of information for the Occupy Wall Street Movement. However, from what I can see, I do not believe that without the technology, the message would not have spread as much or as far as it has. I believe social media just provides a new outlet for communication that would have occurred, regardless of the technology’s existence.
This is supported in Gladwell’s New Yorker article. He speaks of an incredible Civil Rights sit-in that spread across state lines in the 1960s and highlights how this was able to happen without any of today’s technology to help get the word out. Yes, social media sites make “it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coördinate, and give voice to their concern,” but if they were not around, the cause would still be very much alive (Gladwell).
Now, I would not agree with everything Gladwell stated about the impact of social media on movements. In Brandzel’s article in The Nation, he points out many areas of interest, such as strong ties verses weak ties, where Gladwell seems to miss the change social media has on interpersonal relationships; Gladwell underestimates the strength of the ties people create and nurture with the help of social media sites. Nevertheless, it almost furthers the idea that social media does not add much more to movements besides acting as another tool for communication.
Even with this technology, sometimes the message still gets mixed up. Occupy Wall Street’s call to action, posted on their Tumblr and Blogger, is very well-written, but what is the movement really protesting? The four-page-long letter to the world continues to state that there is injustice in America, but it never directly highlights actual, specific instances of injustice or reasons people should take part in the movement. Without a strong message, no one will know what to support, and in effect, nothing will change. Today, that is exactly what has happened. Everyone heard about the movement, but no one knows for what they are fighting, not even the movement’s spokespeople.
Personally, I first heard about the Occupy Wall Street Movement by word of mouth and continued to retrieve information about it through the news and through conversations with knowledgeable people. After exploring through different social media sites, I can still say that I have gained a clearer and more in-depth message about the movement through those pre-social-media techniques than I have on any social media site, including the movement’s official sites. I am an artifact showing that social media is indeed just a tool of the cause, and not an innovation.