Occupy’s Reach Exceeds the Media’s Grasp
“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” — Mark Twain
steno pool media is anxious to write the obituary for the occupations around America. Early drafts of the predictable death notice are already appearing. Like the papers that supposedly* got their facts slightly wrong concerning Mark Twain’s demise, the media may be completely off the mark when it comes to the occupy movement circling the drain.
Given the media’s hunger for “colorful” stories, this rush to be done with Occupy might seem surprising. After all, we’re talking about news ghouls who would gleefully exhume Anna Nicole Smith’s body if they thought they could extract a few more cable news bites or column inches from her dessicated form. But somehow, for the media eulogizers, Occupy’s funeral can’t come soon enough. They are all taking a number to see who gets to act as pall-bearer.
We know better, though. Yes, Zuccotti park is shut down, Boston’s been evicted, Oakland hauled away. But Firedoglake’s own Occupy Supply is clothing protestors at nearly a hundred occupations large and small across the country. And they aren’t dying, they don’t even have the sniffles (not with those scarves anyway.) We know there are active occupations from Saint Augustine to San Diego and all the saintly places in between.
But overlooking that multiplicity of occupations all over the country isn’t the media’s only mistake. The other, possibly bigger, story they are missing are the less photo-op-worthy activities happening away from the tents and the sleeping bags.
The right-on-the-money initiative of occupations to turn their attention to home foreclosures is not just a great idea, but possibly a glimpse of what the movement will ultimately bring us.
It’s instructive to be in a city who’s occupation is under threat of eviction. Here in Pittsburgh, the camp has been served it’s notice to vacate from Bank of New York/Mellon “property.” Property in quotes because Mellon Green is mandated by a zoning requirement to be accessible public space. Occupy Pittsburgh’s legal team is fighting the eviction.
Beneath the drama of legal wrangling, though, a change is occuring, quietly, steadily. The occupation has energized every progressive organization and group that’s been slogging in the trenches for years. It’s cleared a common meeting space for all the activists who have toiled thanklessly in lonely forests of not-so-benign neglect.
I went to a party over the weekend filled with just those kinds of progressives. Older, more than a little tired. The talk was mostly of work demands and the joys of children and grandchildren. But one idea kept coming up again and again – that this was the moment they’ve been waiting for, working towards, for 30 years.
And then the young occupiers arrived, fresh from a general assembly. It was as though someone had turned up the stage lights, as though Nigel Tufnel had reached over and cranked the amp up to eleven. Eviction threat or no, they were not discouraged. They were energized – they were energy – and it spread through the room.
This is the moment, and it’s not being wasted. The outreach working group here in Pittsburgh is organizing ambassadors to advocacy and neighborhood groups to both take Occupy’s message out to them, and to bring the perspective and experience of the those groups back to the occupiers. This is slow work, hard work – retail organizing. But it’s under way.
There was an action here that involved 300 people entering a Target store to draw attention to the lack of full-time work and union representation. It made a bit of a media splash. What didn’t make the news though, was that the day began with a rally in one of the city’s more at-risk neighborhoods. The speakers were all people working on minority and poverty issues from that neighborhood.
At the camp, often drivers will honk their horns in support as they drive past. On the march through the neighborhood, the cars came to a halt in the middle of the street, drivers rolling down windows to call out their encouragement, to beckon marchers over and to ask for the literature.
When the occupation began there was tentative suspicion that this movement would ignore underserved communities like this. That suspicion is beginning to melt in the warmth of common interests.
Here in this town rich with labor history, the unions have been stalwart supporters of the occupation, especially the steelworkers and the SEIU. They have supplied tremendous organizational assistance and the participation of many individual people. In the early days, at the first general assemblies, there was a fear that organized labor would co-opt the occupation. Those fears, too, are fading.
The story that the corporate media is studiously missing, is what might be the enduring legacy of the occupy movement. There are no guarantees, of course, but when the last tent is hauled away, what could be left is a unified spirit and structure to bring back the social and economic justice America has lost by attrition for over a generation.
The story might be that 99% becomes not just a slogan, but a statistic – a realization – of how many of us share common dreams and common interests.
*There is some doubt that Mark Twain actually said this.