Occupy Wall Street activists as they march over the Brooklyn Bridge on April 1 to mark six months since hundreds of them were arrested on the bridge. (AP Photo)
If 25,000 people rally in midtown, is that a story?
COMMENTARY | April 15, 2012
The Occupy movement, active all winter, has been mostly ignored by the press. Now, along with other groups, it is stepping up its rallies and protests against corporate influence and militarism in America. Will there be any press coverage to speak of?
The first of two articles
By John Hanrahan
The Occupy movement hasn’t gone away or dissolved but is in action, along with scores of progressive organizations, on a wide front that deserves the attention of the mainstream news media.
Plans are being set for at least one large antiwar demonstration, scores of smaller-scale, nonviolent actions, Wall Street-related issue-education sessions, and civil disobedience training for, possibly, many thousands of people. In addition, various Occupy groups have been setting up forums and teach-ins on aspects of militarism and corporate influence on the nation’s economic and political life.
A main question for the press is whether it will cover events on their merits or not. Some news organizations were visibly weary of the Occupy movement by last December, and editorials often called for protesters to get out of their communities, or be ousted. Will they go back to their pre-Occupy Wall Street policies of generally ignoring significant events involving the political left, as Nieman Watchdog has previously pointed out (here
, for example)? Much of the press has reverted to that practice already, as shown by lack of coverage of numerous events in recent months.
During a supposedly quiet winter, there were significant protests by Occupy and other organizations directed at big banks to stop foreclosures; the occupation of houses in various cities to block evictions and foreclosures (resulting in what organizers said have been more than 100 homes being saved to date); at Sallie Mae to relieve college student loan debt; the launching of a campaign to break up Bank of America; demonstrations against agricultural giant Monsanto; protests at various corporate and Wall Street-related locations to get rid of big special-interest money in politics; demonstrations in various state capitals against voter ID and other onerous voter registration and suppression laws; likewise in state capitals, protests against mandated pre-abortion vaginal ultrasound probes; and in support of slain black Sanford, Florida, youth Trayvon Martin. Also notable were well-attended and spirited rallies in Washington, D.C, and nationwide on the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which authorized unchecked and obscene amounts of corporate cash from often undisclosed sources to be pumped without restriction into political campaigns.
Another sign of activity has been the arrest of some 1,130 Occupy protesters just since January 1 (409 arrests – including those of six journalists – came in one violence-tinged police raid
on Occupy Oakland in late January). Since the Occupy movement kicked off in late September, there have been almost 6,900 documented arrests
in some 113 U.S. cities nationwide as of April 13. Police actions in some of those arrests – the use of heavily-armed, riot-gear-clad officers, indiscriminate use of pepper-spray, the breaking up of peaceful assemblies, overreacting to nonviolent protesters – has made the militarization of the nation’s local police an issue that has produced much concern among civil libertarians.
In late March and the first two weeks in April, NOW-DC (the National Occupation of Washington, DC) – with endorsements from Occupy movements from 25 other cities – focused on education and strategy on issues of concern to the movement to identify “the next steps to build an independent nonviolent movement for transformation of our society.”
Participants in one impressive all-day session, some of them distinguished in their fields, took on corporate power and money with panels on strategies for countering the impact of corporate control of the electoral process; on holding corporations accountable for their crimes; on protecting the “commons” from the influential, well-heeled advocates of privatization; on creating economic models that provide jobs and increase minimum wages; on mobilizing for action. The three-dozen panelists included long-time activists, as well as Occupy movement organizers, leaders of several national citizen advocacy organizations (Common Cause, Citizen Works, Fair Vote, Public Citizen,Taxpayers Against Fraud, U.S. PIRG, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Food and Water Watch, Knowledge Ecology International, Good Jobs First, Organic Consumers Association, among others), academics, economists, journalists, union representatives, elected officials, former federal officials, voting rights advocates, single-payer healthcare advocates, and attorneys.
Among the more well-known participants were former Rep. Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause; Chris Hedges, former Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter and war correspondent, now an on-line columnist with TruthDig; author and economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research; David Freeman,, former head of the Tennessee Valley Authority; author Gar Alperovitz, professor of political economy, University of Maryland; William K. Black, author (The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One), former litigation director Federal Home Loan Bank Board and professor of economics and law, University of Missouri-Kansas City; author Lou DuBose, editor of The Washington Spectator; and consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, whose own battles with – and exposés of – corporate power, money and influence pre-date the Occupy Movement by five decades. Despite its expert line-up and its relevance to today's economic crisis and the Occupy movement, the event received no mainstream press coverage.
NOW-DC also organized more than 70 workshops in the first two weeks in April, before turning its attention to rallies and direct actions such as one planned for Congress on April 17 and another at the Justice Department on April 23. Workshop topics included direct action strategies and tactics; public relations and dealing with the mainstream press; the possibilities for coalitions on specific issues with the labor movement, the libertarian right (for civil liberties and against war and empires), and the faith community; co-existing and cooperating with outside groups on a case-by-case basis without being co-opted; reining in the power of corporations; the relationship of electoral politics to the 99% movement; lessons learned from, and the future of, the Occupy movement to date; fighting against the prison-industrial complex and its mass incarceration of African-American and Latino men and immigrants, among others.
Current campaigns -- such as Move to Amend (a Constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United case); to boycott Wells Fargo; to break up Bank of America; to impose a “Robin Hood tax” (a Wall Street financial transaction tax) -- were also featured in workshops. NOW-DC also coordinated a March 30 protest at the Environmental Protection Agency featuring long-time anti-nuclear energy and weapons campaigner Dr. Helen Caldicott, Ralph Nader and two EPA whistleblowers.
As for the days ahead, one thing is certain: the press won’t be able to say there is nothing going on.
One likely highlight is an anticipated major antiwar protest during the NATO summit in Chicago the weekend of May 20-21 by the Coalition Against NATO-G8 War and Poverty Agenda, a broad-based group of some 80 organizations including antiwar, labor, social justice and Occupy organizations.
That protest is aimed at redirecting priorities to spend federal dollars on jobs, healthcare, education, pensions, housing and the environment, and not on war. It will call for ending the war in Afghanistan, not attacking Iran, cutting military spending, and renouncing militarism. The event will feature what organizers plan as a massive march in downtown Chicago on the 20th. Earlier that same day, Iraq Veterans Against the War -- including veterans of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- will gather in Grant Park
and "march to the NATO summit and ceremoniously return our medals to NATO generals" to renounce the "global war on terror, a war based on lies and failed policies...(that) has killed hundreds of thousands, stripped the humanity of all involved, and drained our communities of trillions of dollars, diverting funds from schools, clinics, libraries, and other public goods."
Originally, the G-8 also had scheduled a summit in Chicago the same weekend, but President Obama shifted that event to isolated Camp David, the rural Maryland mountain presidential retreat far removed from where large numbers of protesters could gather. (Anticipating even the possibility of a smaller protest near Camp David, U.S. Secret Service agents – citing “security concerns” – in early April got Maryland officials to close nearby Cunningham Falls
State Park in Frederick County for that weekend after rumors surfaced that protesters were renting a large number of camp sites at Cunningham Falls in order to carry out a protest against the G-8.
In Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pushed through legislation
making it harder to get a march permit, providing tighter protest regulations and tougher penalties against arrested protesters, and city officials attempted to impose a march route far from the McCormick Place site of the NATO gathering. Organizers saw these actions as part of a “series of efforts by the city to stifle our efforts to have the largest protest possible.” Ultimately, a compromise route
was agreed upon by protesters so they could begin publicizing the event, even though they feared that the march route, plus likely future Secret Service-imposed restrictions, could limit their visibility to, and impact on, NATO summit attendees.
Rick Perlstein, in a devastating portrayal
in Rolling Stone, noted Emanuel’s new powers and his recent use of $200,000 in discretionary spending to purchase new full-face police shields and his solicitation of “bids for medieval joust-style riot armor for police horses.” All this indicated that Emanuel “is no friend of democracy” and that using “draconian measures” he seems to be making “an apocalyptic smackdown during ‘Occupy Spring’ almost inevitable.” This possibility has “long-memoried lefties…freaking out,” Perlstein wrote, thinking back to the beatings of protesters in what was later officially ruled a Chicago “police riot” at the 1968 Democratic national convention.
That same May 20-21 weekend in Chicago, Peace Action and the American Friends Service Committee and various other peace, faith, economic and racial justice organizations have scheduled a “Counter Summit for Peace and Economic Justice.” Peace Action, working with CREDO and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, in March gathered some 70,000 petition signatures, which were delivered to the White House and State Department, calling on the Obama administration to renounce any intention to attack Iran.
Absent the tent communities, shut down when cities barred Occupiers from sleeping in parks, it’s an open question whether most of the press outlets will be willing to provide substantive coverage of the issues raised by the protesters. It will be disappointing but not surprising if major press outlets provide coverage only when there is a police angle – that is, when there are mass arrests or injuries at one of the protests. Without decisions by editors to cover all aspects of protests and not just the arrests, it is likely that, once again, the substance and message of the various actions will be ignored or muffled.
Over the last few months, mainstream news outlets such as The New York Times and Washington Post generally adopted the story line that the Occupy movement was fading. The Times, for example, in its April 1 edition, all but pronounced the movement as being on life support in an article
written by Michael S. Schmidt, a national reporter in the paper’s Washington bureau.
Schmidt wrote: “Now, six months after the Occupy movement began, it needs to find new ways to gain attention or it will most likely fade to the edges of the political discourse, according to supporters and critics...Driven off the streets by local law enforcement officials, who have evicted protesters from their encampments and arrested thousands, the movement has seen a steep decline in visibility. With less visibility, the movement has received less attention from the news media, taking away a national platform.” The article also gave credit to the movement for what many regard as its top achievement to date: “Whether Occupy has a resurgence, it has already had a significant influence on American politics, making economic inequality -- and specifically the top ‘1 percent’ -- a major issue in the national dialogue.”
Some mainstream reporters, though, did spot the winter Occupy activity and the spring preparations that most of their colleagues insisted wasn’t happening. For example, Margot Adler of National Public Radio broadcast this piece
in early March, headlined in the print version: “Occupy May Seem to be Receding, but Look Closer.” And on-line journalists were most attuned to Occupy’s winter actions. In an optimistic piece sensing a renewed attitude among the Occupy movement as spring arrived in late March, Salon.com’s Natasha Lennard
reported that it was important to note what the movement had already achieved in just six short months: “homes Occupy saved from foreclosure; the policies and mainstream political conversations that Occupy has influenced, both directly and indirectly; the growth in awareness about income inequality, police brutality and racism; as well as the port shutdowns and short-term disruptions to consumer and corporate activity Occupy has notched on its many belts.”
Of course, the Times’s more pessimistic observation could prove to be correct. But given the heightened level of planned activity, to say nothing of more spontaneous actions against banks, home foreclosures, student loan debt and the like around the country, the Times just might want to reconsider its premature, one-foot-in-the-grave notice in the weeks and months to come.
Over the last few months bloggers and on-line alternative media, as well as commentators and reporters on lesser-viewed television outlets (such as Al Jazeera English and the Russian RT channel, and by Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! program on Pacifica and other public radio stations) have been covering the dozens of actions by various civil rights, labor and other progressive organizations. The fact is, however, that they have mostly been ignored by the mainstream media.
For example, among the protests The New York Times ignored, right in mid-town Manhattan (which means, to much of the population that still reads newspapers, that it never happened) was a December rally
of as many as 25,000 people protesting voter-suppression and restrictive voter-registration laws
that have taken effect or are proposed in more than 40 states around the country. There can be no journalistic excuse for The Times and other major news outlets not covering this significant national civil rights event that was organized by a coalition of civil rights, organized labor and community advocacy organizations including the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Urban League.
The Times also has an annoying practice of putting newsworthy Occupy stories on its on-line City Room blog, but not printing the article in the paper that gets delivered to my Washington, D.C., doorstep (and presumably across the nation) each morning. The New York edition of the Times may sometimes carry a scaled-down account of the on-line version, but that isn’t good enough: Occupy Wall Street is a national story and what happens in New York, the birthplace of the movement last September – including the increasingly heavy-handed police response to protesters who even dare to assemble in large numbers in Zuccotti Park or elsewhere in the city – should be in all Times editions.
For example, consider this story by Times reporter Colin Moynihan, who has done a consistently good job of reporting police confrontations with – and oftentimes abuse of – Occupiers gathered in Zuccotti Park or Union Square, or who were marching on city streets. In mid-March, Moynihan had a solid, straightforward story regarding questionable police actions that produced 73 arrests among several hundred nonviolent protesters in Zuccotti Park exactly six months from the start of Occupy Wall Street. Mayor Michael Bloomberg
had previously stated, to much publicity after OWS activists were evicted from the park last fall, that protesters could certainly assemble in the park, but they couldn’t put up tents or sleep there.
Nothing of the mass arrests appeared in the next day’s hard-copy edition in Washington, and nothing appeared in the D.C. edition on the following day, a Monday, either. Finally, on Tuesday, the Times redeemed itself with a substantive story
on Occupy that included the news of the Saturday arrests and Mayor Bloomberg’s new, even harder-line, anti-First Amendment attitude. The article quoted city council members and a retired Episcopal bishop as saying police used brutal tactics in arresting people and had no authority to evict peaceable, non-sleeping protesters from Zuccotti Park, which is open to the public 24 hours a day. The article had such gems as Bloomberg saying, in his most authoritarian style: “You want to get arrested? We’ll accommodate you.”
Next: The lineup of spring Occupy and Occupy-related protests, already under way.
John Hanrahan is a former executive director of The Fund for Investigative Journalism and reporter for The Washington Post, The Washington Star, UPI, and other news organizations. He is now on special assignment for Nieman Watchdog.
Enough with the victimhood stuff already.
04/17/2012, 05:28 PM
The Tea Party has gotten much less attention since they stopped having huge rallies too, and the media rightly doesn't pay much attention to things that aren't big. They only have so much time in their shows, or space in their papers - they have to pick the things that are the biggest. Like it or not, the Occupy Movement hasn't been accomplishing much of anything in the last several months.
Enough with the victimhood garbage... it's especially sad to see it on a site like this.
04/18/2012, 11:12 PM
An Alternative to Capitalism (if the people knew about it, they would demand it)
Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: "There is no alternative".
She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.
I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider.
Please click on the following link. It will take you to an essay titled: "Home of the Brave?"
which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."
~ Albert Einstein