Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupied Wall Street Journal

Last night I visited Occupied Wall Street on my way home from work. I strolled around the encampment, took in the sights, and came home with the best example I have yet found of the depth, complexity and reach of this movement: a copy of the encampment's newspaper, The Occupied Wall Street Journal.

The front-page stories by Naomi Klein and Chris Hedges were nothing that you couldn't read in The Nation (not that there's anything wrong with that fine publication.) But the inside pages, with pieces on the "The Progress of Revolutions" and an international timeline on this year in dissent, and back pages featuring union endorsements of the occupation, and articles on the principles and practices of the occupation, give a sense of the movement's range and principles.

My Spanish-language edition of Occupied contained the most interesting thing I've seen on the encampment: a map of the site. As it shows, walking from the northeast corner of Zuccotti Park to the southwest you'll go from the library to the general assembly to the info desk to the kitchen to the sleeping area to the medical service.

There are plenty of flaky types participating in the occupation, but the people I met running the kitchen, library and information desk were all smart, hard-working, welcoming and organized. Their organizational capacities, which seem to hold the whole operation together, are the embodiment of new forms of politics and participation.

As Alexander Hamilton might have told you when he founded the New York Post to support the Federalist Party, newspapers are a great way to build and maintain a movement. Even in the age of Web, the local and global dimensions of The Occupied Wall Street Journal give the occupation a kind of gravity that should be taken seriously.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Lost in the Headlines

In the Daily News and the New York Post, the peaceful nature of last night's protest at Zuccotti Park, which brought 10-20,000 people to downtown Manhattan, was lost in headlines that emphasized a confrontation between police and maybe 200 of the protesters that took place late in the evening.

The front page of the News trumpeted "Brawl St.," complete with a cop blasting pepper spray at a protester. Inside, a news story provided a much more accurate depiction of the evening's events and stressed how clashes broke out only after nightfall. And a column by Jimmy Breslin grasped the importance of the rally and its union presence.

The Post gave over its front page to the death of Steve Jobs and ran "It's Brawl Street" on page 7. The Post acknowledged that the protest was peaceful before it turned violent late in the evening but emphasized the confrontation, thus allowing the last act in the drama to define the story about the rest of it.

The New York Times ran "Seeking Energy, Unions Join Wall Street Protest" on the front page above the fold beneath a four-column photograph of the demonstrators. This piece, clearly the product of lots of reporting on the unions and the occupy Wall Street movement, relegated the post-demonstration violence to one paragraph. But what the piece ignored in breaking news was compensated for with strong analysis and a great map of Zuccotti Park that helps explain the organizational depth of the protesters who set up camp in the park.

As we saw in the Sixties, a peaceful protest was defined by disproportionate coverage of a trouble-seeking minority of protesters. As is so often the case, it was the photos and headlines that were most misleading. Photographs are great for capturing action and anger, but they just can't carry the nuances best conveyed by words.

Journalists can and should do better. At the same time, the protesters who ended the night by looking for a confrontation on Wall Street, which was beyond the site of the rally, made their own mistake. Their actions made it easier for headline writers and photographers to misrepresent their movement. At the next protest, we need to see wiser heads prevail.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Marching on Wall Street

A few days ago, I walked through Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan to check out the occupation of Wall Street and found a ragtag mix of earnest protesters, young people, and homeless-looking folk. Tonight, I returned with thousands of marchers who trekked down Broadway to protest the our country's unjust and inadequate responses to the economic crisis. I marched with union members, teachers, musicians, white collar workers, peace activists, and environmentalists. This is a real movement for economic justice and the Democrats ignore it at their peril

The breadth, spirit and order of tonight's march were impressive. These were the left end of the people who elected President Obama--from radicals to liberal Democrats--and they are the foundation for any consequential movement for progressive change in the United States. They are also people who understandably feel ignored by the current administration.

Old faces from other protests, union members from Local 100 of the Transport Workers' Union and the Communications Workers, and smiling onlookers brought a great sense of energy, steadiness and purpose to the procession. The best piece of sloganeering I saw was a sticker that many people wore on their lapel, simply reading "99%." It was a great reminder that the marchers were part of the majority in the country and that the economy ought to serve us and not the other way around.

Up to now, reporting on the Wall Street occupation has depicted the protesters as everything form Sixties holdovers to nut cases. Gina Bellafante's piece in the Times was an example of this kind of journalism, managing to be snide and shallow at the same time. She focused on the weirdest people in the park, dismissed the rest of them as unrealistic, and then left. Tonight's demonstration is an answer to her. So was the occupants' committees organized to deal with cleanup, security, and arts and cultures. Some of those folks may be anarchists, but that doesn't mean that they don't know how to govern themselves.

After months and years of being kicked around by the Great Recession, tonight thousands of New Yorkers kicked back. It felt great.

If we find a just way out of this crisis, it will be because people in power--starting with the White House--hear the voices in Zuccotti Park.