Tag Archives: government

Occupier + current system + social media = ?

20 May 2012: The police crack down pretty hard on the Occupiers in Chicago today during their Anti-NATO protest.

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.



From Alcatraz to Zuccotti: The Trajectory of Popular Occupation (part 1)

Two of the American Indians occupying Alcatraz in 1971. Photo by Ilka Hartmann, via the National Park Service.

Much has been written by our colleagues and others about similarities/differences between Occupy Wall Street and past populist-protest movements, but I have not seen much discussion of the 1969-71 Occupation of Alcatraz by American Indians. The trajectory of this occupation and its impact on the larger American public has, I believe, strong potential to be a good model for OWS – or at least the more prominent OWS locations in New York, DC, California, and elsewhere.

In the 1960s, the First Nation peoples were protesting the Indian termination policies that dismantled their sovereignty. Though Alcatraz’s prison closed in 1963, the island still had many facilities on it and it was these that people from the nearby Indian community in California decided to take over. A large group of UCLA college students, with instructor Ed Castillo, joined them and further energized the occupation.

At first the federal government – under a Nixon presidency – demanded that they leave, but eventually agreed to hear their demands. The demands were specific at first: “They wanted the deed to the island, they wanted to establish an Indian university, a cultural center, and a museum.” (Johnson) The government denied all of these, and the people stayed. Over time, other people outside of the American Indian culture joined the occupation, as well as American Indians who were not local or UCLA college students and hailed from different places – factions arose, and the de facto organization/leadership fell apart.

The occupation continued, but its demands grew less flexible – full title to the island, and no compromise on the university/cultural center. The press, initially sympathetic, began focusing on violence within the occupation when it did cover them at all. Soon the government found a reason to invade the island and remove everybody left.

While the occupiers failed to get their specific demands satisfied, public awareness of their grievances was raised and the Indian termination policy was gradually ended. Obviously the comparison with OWS is not exact, and I will explore this topic in more depth in my next post, but I think that the general arc is close enough to what has been observed with OWS that it is worth looking at the occupation of Alcatraz. How has the local or federal government response differed between these protests, for example? (Is this just standard procedure for populist protest by those less well-off than those in charge?) Is there anything for OWS to learn for Alcatraz, or is it too late for that?

Whether you disagree or agree with the basic comparison, I’d like to hear your thoughts.