Like many Americans, I watched the events unfold in Oakland this week with some trepidation. Occupy Oakland tried two new tactics in protesting, and both were very successful at achieving a key goal -- that of getting your message across. Both the general strike and the temporary port shutdown were successful, in this regard. Later in the night, however, a group of jerks came close to ruining all this, by their criminal behavior.
I was not present -- I live too far away from Oakland to have taken part. In fact, like most Americans, I watched the news coverage on television. And, finally, the video images which the news media has been waiting for occurred -- video of idiots vandalizing anything they felt like, setting bonfires in the streets, and battling with cops.
What was missing from the media coverage (at least the coverage I witnessed) was a spokesman for the Occupy movement denouncing the violence and calling on all their supporters and fellow protesters to do the same.
This is a weakness in the movement. In fact, it is a critical weak point. Not the lack of denunciation per se (I did actually see people interviewed at the Occupy sites who strongly disavowed the violent jerks) but the fact that there is no media contact for the movement.
This needs to change, or the Occupy movement leaves itself open to being defined by anyone who shows up -- and gets their image on television by being a jerk. This would be a shame, but it seems to be inherent in the structure of the protests.
To be part of the "99 Percent" all you have to do is show up. The problem with this is, some people are going to show up who do not hew to the utopian rules of behavior. Even if the ratio of jerks to protesters-with-hearts-of-gold is extremely low -- let's just say for the sake of argument one percent versus 99 percent -- they can spoil the whole show for everyone. What the protesters need to consider is: why let the one percent of the jerks define your movement in the media, while the wishes of the 99 percent are not heard? Isn't this kind of the point of the movement in the first place?
Occupy Wall Street (and all its sister Occupy sites) is famously against "leaders." It's communitarian. Well, that's all fine and good, but what this means in a practical sense is that the media -- looking for a soundbite -- will just show up and randomly interview people. Since conflict makes good television, they will run the clip of the one jerk who says (or does) something monumentally stupid, and the other 99 interviews will wind up on the cutting room floor.
A media spokesperson is not a "leader" -- he or she is merely a conduit of information. If the Occupy sites (starting with the Occupy Wall Street site) would only realize this, they would do their cause a lot of good. Do it by consensus. In any group of people, there are some who are much better at articulating things than others. Hours are spent in General Meetings talking, so it shouldn't be that hard to identify a few who choose their words better than others. Select one of these per week, say, and rotate people through the position of Media Contact Person, to give more than one person a chance at it.
Then issue a press release, or call up all the major networks, and introduce the Media Contact Person concept to them. They will doubtlessly be pleased by this development, because it will mean when they need someone to define (or defend) the movement to the media, they will have one person they can contact, one person who can speak for the movement, and one person they can invite into their studios for a sit-down interview.
This is crucial, and this week proved why. The Oakland violence happened very late at night. Imagine how it could have been handled if there had been a Media Contact Person available to appear on all the morning television news shows -- in the same news cycle as the violence. One person strongly stating: "We disavow violent tactics, that is not what we stand for, and we call on Occupy Oakland to stand with us and strongly denounce the hooligans who hijacked their peaceful general strike, their peaceful daylong march, and their peaceful shutdown of the port of Oakland. Thousands of people from all walks of life participated peacefully, and then late at night a few dozen idiots tried to make the Occupy movement something it is not. We strongly denounce these violent tactics, and any who practice them."
Now, ask yourself: would that have been better for the movement's goals as a whole, or not? Would it have been better to have one go-to person available to speak for the movement, or is it better to spend a few days discussing it and watching random television interviews with protesters who cannot say they speak "for the movement"?
Or you can put it another way: why not "occupy" the media itself? Why not give one person (rotated weekly, perhaps) the power to speak for the 99 percent of the people on the streets who were disgusted with the violence? How can your movement not be strengthened and more successful by having a sole contact for the media? This shouldn't be some philosophical issue, it should be seen as a practical and sorely-needed solution to a very real communications problem.
Continue reading this full article at ChrisWeigant.com, complete with our weekly picks for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week and Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards. Then we end with a special "talking points" section which expands the idea of a Media Contact Person for Occupy Wall Street.
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