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Nov 08 2011

The lies told about the Occupy movement

This past Thursday, I spent an hour trying to explain the Occupy movement to a friend of mine. Because ze is (depressingly) not particularly well-versed in current events (I say depressingly because this seems to be a common phenomenon), I had to re-cap about 15 years of history and economics – topics I am enthusiastic about but am not an expert in. What followed my careful explanation of the reasons for the protest was a torrent of stereotypes and derrogations of the people present at the protest. When I asked where ze got the information from, all ze could offer was an admission that it had been from “people”.

It is not surprising to me that sources in the larger media are doing a depressingly awful job of reporting about Occupy. It is not a ‘protest’ in the sense that they are used to – loud, focussed, sponsored, targeted. The diffuse and amorphous nature of the problems facing the financial system and the way we think of the economy will not be solved through a single legislative package or a new political candidate; a new avenue of change is needed, and Occupy is trying to be just that. This poses a problem for the media – no leaders, no spokesperson, no head office, no stationery, no logo, no easily-digested sound byte. However, if a part-time blogger like myself can understand and explain the Occupy movement to a naive friend in an hour, then every media talking head that says they “don’t get” the Occupy movement should be fired. They are clearly grossly incompetent and unfit for their job, which is to relate current events and place them in context.

But what bothers me far more than the artificial “confusion” of media outlets is the constant stream of disinformation and propaganda that flows incessantly like rusty tap water from politicians and media outlets. For example:

Lie #1: Occupy Vancouver has become unsafe

A 20-something female died late Saturday afternoon of what authorities are calling a “medical emergency” after she stopped breathing in a tent at the Occupy Vancouver site. The woman, whom Occupy participants were calling “Ashley” was found unresponsive by Occupy’s medical team around 4:30 p.m. and was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

The death, following an overdose at the site Thursday, prompted Mayor Gregor Robertson to say there is an urgent need to shut down the site due to “life safety” issues. “Obviously really really tragic circumstances – this loss of life and the overdose just a few days ago clearly demonstrate though that the situation here in camp has deteriorated. Life safety is paramount,”

One of the major issues under discussion by the Occupy Vancouver movement is adequate housing and increased availability of drug treatment. It is also concerned about the fate of women in a city where they are often ignored by social services and police alike. In short, Vancouver is a dangerous place to be poor, and is a potentially fatal place to be a poor woman. A woman died of overdose in Vancouver, which has absolutely nothing to do with the Occupy Movement, except insofar as OV is concerned with preventing these types of occurrences.

The cowardice and craven exploitation of the death of a drug addict to justify pushing an inconvenience under the rug, couched in the language of “life safety” no less, is disappointing. I had, up until now, supported Mayor Gregor and the way he and his police department were handling the protest. Now I am more likely to spoil my ballot than I am to cast it for Vision (Gregor’s party).

I should add that the trivialization of Ashlie Gough’s death because she may be a drug addict is sickening. Nobody deserves to die on the streets, regardless of what medical condition they have.

Lie #2: Police are simply concerned for public safety, and are following procedure

“But legally, we’re allowed to stay until the cops come and say, if you don’t leave you’ll be arrested. But what was unknown to us and to a lot of people that day, including those in Times Square, was that there were undercover cops already there, paid to be disruptive and to be loud. One undercover cop present [at Citi] was louder than the entire group.”

I scoffed when people started talking about undercover police infiltrating and disrupting the movement. I thought that surely they wouldn’t be so brazen and so stupid, when everyone is looking for them. Then again, I suppose I should stop underestimating people’s stupidity, since I’m always proven wrong. While there are scattered stories of police officers doing the right thing, being respectful, even in some cases disobeying unjust or illegal orders from their superiors, the right actions of a few does not excuse the abuses of the many. More and more light is being shone on the corruption and insularity of police departments. Until fundamental changes are made, I will remain skeptical of even Vancouver’s PD, which has shown nothing but restraint so far.

Lie #3: Occupy has “worn out its welcome”

We keep hearing that Dems who whisper a word of support for Occupy Wall Street risk alienating blue collar whites in key swing states — voters who tend to find outsized protest tactics culturally alienating. But some new polling suggests that in Pennsylvania, at least, this simply isn’t happening.

Franklin and Marshall is out with a new poll gauging attitudes towards the protests. Overall, 57 percent of Pennsylvania voters say they would be very or somewhat likely to vote for a candidate who supports the movement’s goals, versus only 33 percent who say the opposite. And a plurality of 49 percent generally supports the protests, versus 37 percent who oppose it.

It is interesting that at first the protest is dismissed out of hand as foolish, scattered and entitled. Once it gains ground and political steam, it is dismissed as being out of touch with reality. Once that tactic fails, people shift to a stance of “okay, but now people are getting tired of you. You’ve made your point.” That doesn’t seem to be the case. Now, admittedly, that’s only Pennsylvania, but as a major industrial swing state, Pennsylvania often represents major political ground to be gained in a general election.

How about Canada?

Most Canadians who know about the Occupy Wall Street movement view it favourably, a new poll has found, reflecting anxiety over job prospects and savings plans amid Canada’s fragile economic recovery. The Nanos Research poll conducted for The Globe and Mail and La Presse found that 58 per cent of Canadians who are aware of the protests have a favourable or somewhat favourable impression of them.

Many of those who see the Occupy movement in a positive light said it’s because they either support the demonstrations or think protesters are expressing valid concerns.

When a larger percentage of Canadians support a protest movement than they do their elected government, you’ve got a pretty good reason to feel confident that wherever the line of a “worn out welcome” is, Occupy isn’t quite there yet.

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15 comments

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  1. 1
    Ian

    You don’t need to spoil your ballot, there are about a dozen candidates for mayor, not all of whom are jokes (although some almost literally are). One option you might be interested in is Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver, their mayoral candidate Randy Helten, has taken a stand alongside OV. My split fears though are that Suzanne Anton would be much worse than Robertson. I may end up voting Robertson for mayor, but then NSV/COPE for council. I haven’t decided yet though.

  2. 2
    Crommunist

    I looked into NSV, but wasn’t particularly impressed with the platform – thin on details. I should take a closer look at COPE’s platform though. Anton is trailing pretty soundly in the polls, AFAIK, which means that I don’t have to vote against her, which is nice.

    BTW, who beat you out for school board from COPE? I want to doodle something filthy next to their name on my ballot :P

  3. 3
    Zombie

    I know Vancouver isn’t Oakland, but I’m pretty incensed over the shooting of the videographer that went around a couple days ago. It’s *really* difficult to buy any “police are there to help” story after seeing that.

    Speaking from a US perspective, Occupy is happening because people are out of other ways to express their frustrations with the current system. I believe its really about true political representation as much as economics. We have a government where one party openly represents the interests of a handful of sociopathic plutocrats, and another party that …isn’t as open about it, and isn’t serious about challenging the status quo with real reform.

    So Occupy will necessarily continue as long as that continues to be true. It may get quiet over the winter when only the really hardcore are willing to brave the weather, but I’m guessing it’s going to get huge come spring.

  4. 4
  5. 5
    Crommunist

    That one just makes my heart hurt. Victim blaming is pretty easy to do, and you always get back-pats from other assholes who think it’s better to shit on someone asking for help than to ask why there is no help in the first place.

  6. 6
    Ian

    I can’t say any one person beat me out for School Board, the 4 others were essentially the establishment slate. Gwen Giesbrecht was the only non-incumbent, but she’s a good person so I don’t hold it against her.

  7. 7
    Zugswang

    More than the lies, the attitude many of these columns take is very telling, especially in Forbes, where (even when columnists find some common ground) the condescension is about as subtle as a boot to the head. It reveals a group of people that believe the social contract to be one-sided, and that the woeful title of “job creator” is thrown around to transform business executives into economic deities that must be appeased, lest they become angry and punish the mortals of the working class by downsizing and outsourcing.

  8. 8
    CanadianSteve

    the thing about “worn out their welcome” really bugs me. What good is a protest if they don’t stay long enough to make people uncomfortable? The whole point is to get people out of their routine – force them to take notice, get people unfortable and if at all possible make them think. In that light, staying long enough to “wear out your welcome” isn’t a bad thing, it’s critical to the success of the protest. (and exactly why those in power would like to see it quietly dismantled)

  9. 9
    Trickster Goddess

    One thing I’ve heard several times lately that really grits my teeth is the dismissive claim about Occupy Vancouver and Occupy Victoria that “most of the real protesters have already left and now it’s just homeless people and the mentally ill” who are camping out. By this they infer that no one there is seriously protesting anything anymore and it has “just” become a hangout for street people.

    There’s a couple very arrogant assumptions in there:

    1)Homeless and mentally ill people have nothing they need to protest about and don’t have any stake in the goals of the Occupation,

    2) people who have a mental illness and/or are homeless are incapable of political participation, and

    3) even if they actually are protesting it is reasonable to ignore them since they are just a bunch of homeless crazy people who don’t really count in society.

    These people are so blind that they can’t even see that the very fact that there are homeless people is the biggest symptom of the social dysfunction the Occupiers are protesting.

    Homeless people: the other 1%.

  10. 10
    Dunc

    You couldn’t ask for a better demonstration of System Justification in action.

    [E]very media talking head that says they “don’t get” the Occupy movement should be fired. They are clearly grossly incompetent and unfit for their job, which is to relate current events and place them in context.

    That is not their job. Their job is to attract audiences for the benefit of advertisers. The flower does not exist to provide the bee with nectar.

  11. 11
    bob

    I’ve long since given up on the idea that police are there to help. One reason people are so confused is that the people higher in the hierarchy send in the nasty cops when they want to be nasty, these are not the normal people that help you report your house being burgled. They are the psychos. Also lookup “cop culture” and “the blue wall of silence”, there is a major, major culture and morality problem among police forces of all sorts in all areas.

    The way people are locked into a particular career path probably does not help either. In some cases they are justifiably concerned about the public jumping to conclusions, but I’m betting they are in the few percent range.

  12. 12
    bob

    I really think so much of the misunderstanding and misconception comes from propaganda. Really, almost all media companies, not just the mainstream, are run by 1%ers. Fact. Not saying there is a conspiracy, but motivated reasoning etc. necessarily produces heavy bias in this situation. And many, perhaps most of the time it is nastily intentional too. 1%ers tend to live in their own little worlds, they have that luxury, and they are used to getting their way.

    Once you know what to look for, it is very interesting to see. Even things like saying oakland “clashed with police” instead of “was viciously attacked by police” helps to distort things.

    I mean of course there are propaganda rags by the ton out there, but even MSNBC etc. is highly biased. They ignore the fundamental issues here, the corruption of our democracy itself. I saw just a while ago on conan o brian they had obviously deliberately chosen a protester to interview to make the protesters look bad (or maybe it’s fake) see “protester admits rocks and bottles were thrown at police”(there is no video evidence whatsoever that I can find of any throwing and they are very good about policing themselves so if there was any it must have been very little, and I can see plenty of other things she screwed up much worse than any honest/normal person would).

    Another example is even say the maddow show’s insistence that this is liberal, when the people at the protest say very loudly, and it is confirmed through the GA so it really does represent what people are saying, that this is NOT about liberal ideology. Conservatives are invited and encouraged to come 100%, and that it is important to not be slotted into politics as usual like that. But of course they don’t because they were told it is a liberal protest, so the whole thing does end up biased, *whoops*, coincidence, eh? No, conspiracy.

  13. 13
    Crommunist

    I don’t think anyone would expect MSNBC not to be biased – it is not claiming to be an unbiased organization, or even one that polices its own bias. The problem is that “liberal” and “conservative” have become brand names in the USA, with little relationship to the denotative meanings of those terms. I think people came to the conclusion that it was a “liberal” protest when it wasn’t about abortion or Jesus, and advocated fiscal policy that included taxes as opposed to benefit cuts. It needed little help from the media at that point – people just had to be supplied with their talking points.

    Conan and Jon Stewart are comedians, so of course they will be looking into the most ridiculous aspects of it. I don’t LIKE that, but what are you going to do?

  14. 14
    Dunc

    Herman & Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media” still does a very good job of laying out why our ostensibly “free” press nevertheless ends up behaving as a propaganda system, purely as a result of systemic factors and without any need to invoke conspiracies. I’d highly recommend it to anybody interested in these issues who hasn’t read it already.

  15. 15
    Brian Macker

    What “Social Contract”. I didn’t sign any social contract.

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