Thoughts on the state of the occupation – update

So I’ll confess I sounded a bit maudlin on Monday when looking at how things were shaping up for the Occupy Vancouver movement. I don’t know that my mood has changed much since then, but I have some new insights.

As some of you know, the city was granted an unjunction to remove all persons and structures present on the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery so that the city could ‘clean’. I put this in quotes because I sincerely doubt the city’s intention to remove anything other than protesters they don’t like. Antipathy toward the movement has been turned up as the movement has progressed. Some of the blame for this can probably be laid at the feet of the protesters themselves, who failed to articulate the reasons why the occupation itself was necessary. The majority of fingers, however, can be pointed at the ridiculously one-sided media coverage it has received.

There was no shortage of people capable of articulating the ideology of the occupation at the site. There were passionate, coherent, well-informed people running sound equipment, organizing marches, working at the library and info tents, plus volunteer medical staff always within earshot. What the media has done instead is consistently focussed on the more flamboyant members of the group. I am not so cynical as to consider this an intentional campaign of misinformation by a media that wishes to maintain the corporate status quo. At the same time, however, considering that this criticism is leveled at them regularly – to the point where protesters have stopped talking to the media at all – makes me think that they are either just really stubborn in their stupidity, or that there is indeed an element of intentionality:

Earlier this week, CTV reporter Mi-Jung Lee was shouted down by an Occupy Vancouver participant who urged viewers to “stop listening to their lies” — and he’s hardly the only one unhappy with media coverage of the protest. The man, who was arrested protesting former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney’s recent Vancouver visit and charged with assault, stood behind Lee as she reported on the Occupy encampment during a live TV broadcast Tuesday night.

“It’s just a lie, whatever she tells you is a lie about what’s going on here,” he yelled. It wasn’t the first tense moment between journalists and protesters. Last Wednesday, as ambulances arrived at the camp to help a woman in medical distress, protesters blocked cameras and accused the media of “spin-doctoring everything that goes on here.”

So whether the media is just incompetent or corrupt, they have been instrumental in undermining public opinion of the movement. This is unfortunate, because as I pointed out earlier today, the problems are germane to a wide swath of the public who would, given the right information, stand in solidarity with the aims (if not the means).

I took the day off on Monday (every time someone says that people need to “Occupy a job” as though that’s something clever’ I want to shake them violently and tell them that some of us are taking time away from careers we are passionate about in order to participate) and went down to help the cleanup effort. Occupy Vancouver had a library, a food pavillion, an info tent, and a wide variety of other services it was providing for free. The essential element that everyone seems to be missing is that the reason the protests are attracting the homeless and jobless is because they don’t exactly have a lot of other options:

With city shelters stretched to capacity, Occupy Vancouver is needed to give many homeless a place to stay, a lawyer for one of the protesters argued in B.C. Supreme Court Wednesday. Urging the court not to grant an injunction ordering the month-old tent city dismantled, Jason Gratl said the protest encampment has become a key refuge for those with nowhere to go at night. About half of those sleeping at the site are homeless, he said. “There are insufficient shelter beds in the city of Vancouver. … They have nowhere else to go.”

Outside court, lawyer Michael McCubbin, who represents several protesters, said a survey by Occupy Vancouver estimated that upward of 30 occupants of the site are homeless. Those involved in providing overnight shelter confirm that, as winter approaches, capacity in the city is virtually full.

This connects to a larger issue that I think hasn’t been explored elsewhere. The occupation is attracting First Nations people, the mentally ill, the disabled, and the otherwise fringe elements of the society. It is not because Occupy is a fringe issue – it’s because these people are ignored in larger society. Imagine facing major problems every day and being ignored by the courts, the media, the political establishment, and even by your fellow human beings. Try to picture the sense of hopelessness and despair that accompanies that. Maybe some reading this are newly out atheists – remember the feeling when you first encountered another godless person who actually understood what you were going through? That’s the feeling that many attending the occupations have every day. They are finally being listened to, and being invited to take part in and shape the direction of society for the first time ever.

That is what Occupy is about – finding a new way to engage with each other to make changes to society where the voice of the minority is truly heard, rather than simply being a photo opportunity at a campaign stop, or a promise that is quickly forgotten once elections are over. Our democracy is sick, and these are people who feel, some for the first time, that they can actually participate in a way that doesn’t end up with them being shut out. People who are impatient that Occupy hasn’t changed the world yet (yes, I have actually heard this expressed by critics) are failing to recognize the depth and scope of the problems. These issues take a lot of time to work out, most of which is the time it takes to get someone to actually listen and understand an idea that is foreign to them.

The occupation in Vancouver has vowed not to stop their work, even as they have been displaced. The city has promised to house some of the people who were sleeping in the tents – I’m sure they wouldn’t tell you that the protest didn’t accomplish anything. The longer-term and more diffuse goals of the movement, however, will be achieved at a pace that is far more languid than the average attention span can keep track of. As the camp itself stops being the symbol of the movement, action will have to be taken by those who can work from behind the scenes. Crucial to this, however, will be the need to continue the dialogue with those underrepresented persons, or the movement will succumb to the social pressures of corporate greed and the supremacy of economic ‘growth’. The movement will need to be kept honest, and will need to sell its message to the public at the same time. I hope to be able to contribute in my own small way.

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  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    The majority of fingers, however, can be pointed at the ridiculously one-sided media coverage …

    If it’s been anything like what we see in the US, only two fingers (one per hand) are necessary.

  2. Beauzeaux says

    Homeless and jobless are always going to be attracted to any sort of 24/7 demonstration because
    1. It’s safer to sleep in a big group.
    2. An Occupy site will have food.
    3. Occupy people are relatively tolerant of differences.

    A sit-in in a public place is just that — public. From what I’ve seen, most Occupy sites have devised ways to police themselves. It’s not perfect but I don’t notice that any other parts of Vancouver are crime free.

  3. Dunc says

    I am not so cynical as to consider this an intentional campaign of misinformation by a media that wishes to maintain the corporate status quo.

    I am. They’re an absolutely central part of the corporate status quo – in essence, they’re corporate propaganda channels. Remember, their core purpose is not to inform the public, it’s to sell advertising.

    OK, maybe not “intentional”, in the fully-premeditated moustache-twirling sense… But you don’t get the gig in the first place if you aren’t signed up to the corporate values.

  4. Crommunist says

    Interestingly, CBC’s reporting on this has been equally bad, and they are perhaps the least invested in the status quo of all major Canadian news outlets. They’re heavily subsidized by the government, precisely for the purpose of being able to provide news coverage that isn’t beholden to advertisers or the bottom line. Whether or not that’s true, or whether there’s a culture of newspeople that is pro-business, I’ve found more useful information in the Opinions section than in the actual news. Twitter is helpful too.

  5. bob says

    “not so cynical”
    You’re not?

    Then you are a complete fool, although not alone so I lay no blame really. But search “noam chomsky propaganda” for some info and history about this propaganda network that the metaphorical 1% have set up.

    But really don’t take Chomsky’s word for it. I already simply assumed the sort of thing he describes was happening. I mean seriously, just look at the structure of the whole shebang. These companies are technically dictatorships, populated exclusively by 1%ers at the top. Of course over time this has produced organizations with a ton of bias just built right in.

    There doesn’t have to be any sort of real proper conspiracy (although there has been in history e.g. the trilateral commission type stuff). They are just heavily biassed towards supporting the system that benefits them and their cronies and their sprogs.

  6. Crommunist says

    I draw a distinction between the kind of actions borne out of unthinking bias and those of intentional actors. I am wary of any explanation of human behaviour that relies on deliberate evil; while I recognize that it exists, my observations have inclined me to think that we should not chalk up to malice what is easily explainable by stupidity. What I meant when I said I was not so cynical is that I don’t think there are editors at CBC and the other news outlets saying “these protesters are a threat to our bottom line – let’s start spreading some disinformation.” While that may happen in some circles (it certainly seems to be the way the banks are going with it, if Chris Hayes is to be believed), I’m more inclined to think that the newspapers are set up to serve the 1%, and do not spin out of malice but out of a culture of incompetence.

  7. bob says

    Nah, it’s been subject to the equivalent of regulatory capture long long ago. Plus you have to realize that the vulnerability of it to doing so stretches back to when it was made.

    We literally inherit the systems that were, in ages past set up by the wealthy and privileged when they had and even bigger share of power (apparently) than they do today. That rotten seed has grown into a corrupt tree.

    Think about it for a second, would a bunch of rich white men sit on their duffs a hundred and a bit years ago and decide to set things up so they were truly under the control of the people? Horrors not, blacks, women, non-landowners and the landowning rabble might mess things up, trying to be all equal and shit. Goodness, can’t have that.

    Google “madisonian democracy”. These people view the media as a means to “regiment the minds of men just as armies regiment their bodies, thereby preserving the existing power structures, and fulfilling the main purpose of government – to protect power of the opulent from the people”. Borrowing some various bits and pieces from the horses’ (wealthy founders of america, I’m assuming canada is the same there pretty much) mouths as recorded in the history books (and just think what they managed to keep out).

    This is what the *liberals* among the 1%ers think, too, by the way. The conservatives are just upfront about the whole exploitation and plutocracy shit, at least in private.

  8. bob says

    It’s not incompetence. That is what they get paid for. If the CEO saw the bias and didn’t like it they would wave their hand and make it go away. The higher ups like things just they way they are, thank you very much.

    There is evil here, maybe not in the rank and file but it is there. Plus I maintain that no matter what your excuse or how much you were deluded you can never completely be forgiven for causing serious unjust harm to another, as is happening here. You are always at least a bit responsible for your actions – because you are one of the ones that can best prevent them.

  9. Crommunist says

    It is never my intent to excuse them for being incompetent and biased. Like with racism or sexism, I absolutely hold people responsible for their actions. At the same time, if I am looking for ways to change it I am disinclined to blame a shadowy conspiracy of evil 1%ers, but rather to recognize that we get our professional news from a shitty system that is structured to benefit those at the top.

  10. bob says

    I keep saying, it is not shitty. That is exactly the way they like it. If you try to change it they will try to stop you. That is malice, not stupidity.

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