Police, Media Struggle To Understand Occupy
BY ALLISON KILKENNY
Oakland mayor Jean Quan is surrounded by members of the media as she attempts to leave a press conference regarding upgrades to the Bay Bridge on October 28. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Groundbreaking civil disobedience movements have never been welcomed by the establishment with open arms and Occupy Wall Street is no exception. However, never before have we been able to see society's institutions experience their DABDA-like stages of grief in real-time, neatly documented online for posterity.
First came the mocking and indifference, then the violent confrontation, followed by utter confusion, and now we've entered the dismissal phase. Really, everything is running right on schedule.
There's no better archetype for the "mocking and indifference" phase than the New York Times. Between Ginia Bellafante's woeful opening salvo (talk about "faulty aim,") and Andrew Ross Sorkin's confession that he only attended OWS at the behest of his buddy, who works as a chief executive of a major bank, The Grey Lady surely has the market cornered for how not to cover a social uprising of this magnitude.
Police covered the "violent confrontation" stage by pepper spraying innocent young women, stampeding horses into crowd, performing mass arrests, and mowing down protesters with tear gas, flash bang grenades, and rubber bullets.
Now, OWS appears to be confusing the establishment. The movement hasn't gone away, and yet it hasn't been absorbed by traditional government institutions. OWS seems hellbent on existing outside the system entirely, and this simply isn't a reality the country's institutions can process.
The Oakland Police Officers' Association released a brief open letter to the citizens of Oakland yesterday that used some version of the word "confused" four different times. The officers expressed confusion as to why Mayor Quan ordered them to clear out the Occupy Oakland encampments only to allow the occupiers back in the next day. They then wondered why city workers are being encouraged to take off from work to participate in a "Stop Work" strike when they themselves are part of "the establishment" being protested.
The message of the letter appears to be: We're part of the 99 percent. Why do you hate us?
It's almost sweet, and also fascinating, to watch the police struggle publicly with their identity like this. Clearly, they detest being made into the villains of this narrative, and a large part of the blame is being directed at Quan who has been giving mixed messages during this entire affair.
Quan also seems confused by her role in all of this. Is she part of "the establishment," as the police put it, or is she a public servant fighting for more resources for the 99 percent?
Once again, OWS has managed to hold up a magnifying class to society, forcing citizens to confront these questions: Are police a tool of the upper one percent, used to squash popular uprisings? Or are they protecters of the people? Likewise, does the mayor represent the people, or is he/she charged with violently suppressing protest?
The confusion extends to some in the media who are precariously close to collectively yawning. Marketwatch's Jon Friedman declares "Occupy Wall Street is 99% dead," adding on behalf of the entire establishment that though the media was "once curious," they "have moved on."
Friedman also writes that the media is "impatient and bored by what outwardly seems like a marked lack of progress." To be fair, Friedman will probably only ever understand OWS if they start selling ad space, incorporate, and then start trading on the stock exchange.
Friedman declared Occupy dead on the same day Oakland hunkers down for the general strike protests, which were largely organized with the help of Occupy Oakland. But his poor timing isn't just the mark of bad journalism. It's also an indicator of a man who just doesn't get that the Occupy movement isn't isolated within the barriers of Liberty Park.
Over 2,000 cities house Occupy Together chapters. And you can be sure if OWS is having a slow day, Oakland is preparing for a large protest with union support, or nine people were just pepper sprayed in Tulsa, or Occupy London readies for its own stand-off with authorities, or Occupy Nashville celebrates victory over its city's thoroughly un-Constitutional curfew.
The stories are there if journalists are prepared to accept that this movement is global, and the "end goal" isn't going to look like anything we've been conditioned to accept as a victory. The movement is in itself a victory.
The solidarity between peoples of different countries is in itself a victory. As a peaceful movement, Occupy won't traditionally battle with the police, but when Tunisians wage a surprise spam attack on President Obama's Facebook page in response to police brutality against OWS, make no mistake that this is the act of a support army running to the aid of its comrades.
Every day sleeping in a park, every moment of resistance, is a victory.
Admittedly, this is more cerebral than I think many beat reporters are willing to get. They'll want clearcut demands from OWS, but thus far the movement has wisely resisted performing for the sake of the media. There's no point in catering to hack reporters who wouldn't know where to begin covering OWS unless some hot, young blonde girl disappeared at Liberty Park.
In the meantime, expect to see the odd reporter lash out in confusion, yawn, spit, cry, whine that things aren't exciting enough - that this is new, and different, and weird. And the police will scratch their heads and wonder how they've become the bad guys in all of this. That's good. They should be asking these questions.