Tag Archives: protests

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.



Occupy Bias

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.


“Don’t tase me, bro!” ~ “I wasn’t planning on it, sir. I’m just trying to do my job.”

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.


What is Occupy Wall Street? Global and Flexible!

What is Occupy Wall Street? Such an abstract question would seem difficult to answer — no broadly accepted standard definition exists, not even within the movement itself. Nevertheless, we can arrive at an answer to this question by examining some prominent characteristics of this movement. Occupy Wall Street is a broad platform used by individuals or groups of people as a means of raising awareness of their grievances. However, these grievances differ across nations, and even across regions within the same country.

OWS is a global movement, the most widespread in modern history, with locations in 951 cities in 82 countries. Although Samuel Huntington’s “civilisations” theory is deeply flawed in an academic sense, it is useful to us in our attempt to see the extent of the popularity of OWS. According to Huntington’s theory, the world is divided into nine “civilisations” — geographic areas which share the same general culture, ethnicity and values. The civilisations are as follows: 1. Western (most of Europe, Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand), 2. Orthodox (Russia and the Slavic nations of Eastern Europe), 3. Islamic (the Maghreb, the Middle East, Central Asia and some parts of South Asia), 4. African (African nations not included in the Maghreb), 5. Latin American (Mexico, Central America and South America), 6. Sinic (China and parts of Southeast Asia), 7. Hindu (parts of India, Nepal and Bangladesh), 8. Buddhist (Mongolia, parts of China and Southeast Asia), and 9. Japanese (Japan).

Huntington's civilisations

Map of Huntington’s civilisations

OWS protests have been reported in each of Huntington’s nine civilisations, even in countries like China and Russia which are known to be politically repressive and which have responded violently to peaceful protests in the past. Some of these protestors are “occupying” despite a real possibility of mistreatment or physical harm from their governments. Clearly, there is something about OWS which is motivating people all over the world to join in. This far-reaching appeal speaks to the movement’s status as a broad platform for the airing of various grievances. All these people throughout the world are not agitating against the same set of perceived ills, they each have their own grievances which they would like to make known. Indeed, in its current state, the movement as a whole can hardly be referred to or thought of as merely “Occupy Wall Street” — this term suggests a too-narrow set of goals and ideals. When discussing the movement in general, it is more appropriate to use the broader term “Occupy,” in order to better reflect its status as a sort of springboard for countless divergent agendas.

Map of OWS protests

Occupy Wall Street protests across the globe

At its inception (when “Occupy” was still confined to Wall Street), OWS was a movement against economic inequality. For many of the original protestors, this problem lay at the root of many other issues, such as government corruption. As Occupy spread nationally and internationally, its functions and purposes were adapted by the newcomers to better reflect their desires.

In some countries, the broad ideas evinced by the original OWS protestors are preserved, but some aspects of Occupy are tailored to address issues more specific to that country. This trend is especially evident in European Union nations, who merged Occupy with a local movement known as “Indignados” (the indignants). Europeans were “indignant” over the same general issues which had enflamed the protestors at Zucotti Park, and they took to the streets to oppose government bailout for banks and the luxuries enjoyed by elites at the expense of the common people. In Slovenia, the movement earned the nickname “Za več svobode,” meaning “for more freedom.” The EU protests shared the New York protestors’ desire for a more egalitarian society, feeling that a reduction of economic inequality would reduce government corruption and therefore allow for a more free society. However, European Occupiers also spoke against the austerity measures being enacted by their debt-ridden governments. Austerity was not an issue commonly mentioned by New York City occupiers, since the American government has not enacted any such measures. Therefore, EU Occupiers added this EU-specific issue to the Occupy movement. Thus, Occupy protests in the EU exhibited both broad themes and region-specific themes, which illustrate the adaptability of the Occupy platform.

Indignados protestors in Spain

Indignados protestors marching against austerity measures in Spain

In other countries, Occupy is being used as a means to show solidarity for those suffering economic hardship. This is especially true in the socialist nations of Scandinavia, where income inequality is low. Thanks to the extremely high taxes of the Nordic Model, citizens of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland receive many high-quality services from their governments, and all four countries are consistently ranked among the top ten happiest countries in the world by the Legatum Institute. Rather than protesting the conditions in their own countries, several Scandinavians have joined the movement to encourage other countries to adopt the Nordic Model as a solution to their problems of economic inequality.

Solidarity for OWS in Finland

A young man from Finland shows solidarity for the Occupy protestors in the United States

In other countries, Occupy is being used as a vehicle to demand a different sort of change. In Iran, “Occupy Wall Street” protests have been staged to make a political statement against the West itself, not merely against some of its practices. A Reuters video shows protestors burning American and Israeli flags. These protests were ostensibly organised by students, but there has been speculation that they were in fact orchestrated by the government. Whether the Iranian protestors burned those flags on their own volition or under orders from their government, the fact remains that they did this in the name of Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Wall Street is so adaptable that it can be used by virtually any group, for virtually any purpose.

In some areas, Occupy is being used to bring attention to other causes which are not intrinsically related to the movement. In Plymouth, Massachusetts, a one-day event was held to occupy Plymouth Rock in a show of solidarity for Wampanoag indians. This manifestation was a yearly event, and was merely renamed “occupy” in an attempt to raise interest for the event. Here, the “Occupy” name is being adopted without the adoption of any of its original ideas — it is merely being used as a vehicle to increase the status of an unrelated cause.

These widely divergent agendas of Occupy protestors are made possible by the movement’s loose structure. Jenna does an excellent job of describing two perspectives on this. Some people, like founder and CEO of Psych Central John Grohol, Psy. D. would claim the movement is entirely leaderless. For Grohol, the lack of named and recognised leadership stands as an obstacle to Occupy’s ability to achieve any real change. Comparing the movement to the American Revolution, he argues the American independence movement was successful largely due to the founding fathers’ willingness to step forward as publicly-known leaders. Grohol also sees Occupy’s lack of clearly defined objectives further impedes the movement’s success. Grohol does not feel the protestors will get anything accomplished by using the current Occupy methods.

Journalist Nigel Underleider disagrees with Grohol, arguing that Occupy Wall Street does receive a measure of guidance from its nine “key players,” individuals and organisations who hold sway within the movement. Underleider also feels that Occupy has been successful at accomplishing “things,” although he does not give any specifics as to the nature of those “things.”

Ultimately, I believe Occupy has been successful in raising awareness of grievances which had been largely ignored by mainstream society. This consciousness-raising is, after all, what I believe the ultimate function of the movement to be. The movement’s ability to bring public and media attention to grievances so diverse as austerity measures in Europe, anti-American sentiment in Iran and the colonial era abuse of Native Americans in Massachusetts is a function of its loose structure and fluid nature. The movement’s broadness, the attribute which makes it the most difficult to define, is also the attribute which is most important to its adherents. Thanks to that broadness, Occupy can serve as a broad platform from which virtually anyone can raise virtually any issue. That broadness has also helped the movement achieve success in its goals of raising popular awareness. Occupy Wall Street may have gone global, but it was able to do so thanks to its most important characteristic: its flexibility.

As always, I welcome your comments. Thank you for reading my posts!


One Bad Apple Spoils the Bunch

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.

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.

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.'”

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.


Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

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.

You can find my post on the Occupy crime report findings here.


Far from Kent State: The UC Davis Pepper Sprayings through a Lens of Technological and Cultural History

One of many videos from the scene: this one shows Lt. John Pike stepping over the protesters and includes a second cop deploying pepper spray.

On the afternoon of November 18, 2011, a group of peacefully-assembled Occupy student protesters were pepper-sprayed directly in their faces. Onlookers recorded this police action with their cell phones, uploading image and text updates to the internet. As the images spread, commentators both in and out of the mainstream media began comparing the event to the Kent State shootings of 1970 (Kennicott). This is in part because “protest images that become iconic show us faces in anguish” (Judkis), and arguably in part because of how the images and news were disseminated.

A sample news report on the Kent State shootings.

While the Kent State shootings did see coverage as soon as the night of and the day after, both on television and in the newspapers (which is where John Filo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph was disseminated), those mediums are still not as immediate and personal as the internet. After Louise Macabitas’s photograph of Lt. Pike using the spray was posted on Reddit, meme versions of the image arose and quickly proliferated (Jardin). The institution of UC Davis faced protests in response to the incident, which is where most of the backlash seems to have been concentrated outside of the internet, and various already-existing Occupy sites expressed solidarity; after the Kent State shootings, not only were there student protests across the United States but there was a large protest in Washington, DC less than a week later (Doyle).

The Kent State/Cambodia Incursion protest in DC – around 100,000 attended.

The comparative lack of nationwide, in-person turnout after the UC Davis incident would seem to support Gladwell’s position that the “weak ties” of the internet do not often lead to “high risk” activism. However, it could be argued that the lack is due in part to there being no fatality and, by extension, less emotional impact. Either way, because there is no period so remote as the recent past, it is still difficult to accurately gauge whether the UC Davis incident has had an outsize cultural impact. Creating imagery that is then made indelible through both common media and memes is one thing; being a catalyst for significant change is something else entirely.

(Food for thought, or for the “arts in the movement” bloggers among our colleagues: had the photograph of Dorli Rainey, discussed by Jardin, not been superseded by the UC Davis imagery, could the discourse around OWS be different today? Why was it superseded in the first place?)