A consensus is growing in many quarters that Mayor Bloomberg et al. may have done OWS a favor, in the long run, by evicting OWSers from camps. But of course, a lot depends on what the OWSers choose to do next. A few reflections.
I know many of them wouldn’t agree with this, but at first OWS got remarkably positive media coverage from the centrist press, far better than what I would have thought possible. Fox News and the New York Post were crusading against it from the get-go, of course, but many voices speaking from other media, including the New York Times and even the Washington Post, were mostly casting it in a favorable light.
Of course, the Right got nastier and more hysterical and eventually overcame the favorable voices, and in the past few days polls have showed a sharp decline in public approval of OWS. Again, I’m not sure how many of the OWSers realize this, but public support is their only possible power source. Broad approval brings with it broad leverage. If they’ve lost that, then it’s time to do something else, anyway.
Steve M writes that OWSers seem to suffer the same media tone-deafness of many Democrats —
Yes, there are differences: Insider Democrats think the centrist press is far more influential than it actually is. These Democrats also believe that, in terms of influence, MSNBC cancels out Fox and talk radio. The average OWSer, by contrast, seems to believe that the media is reprehensible across the board, in a uniform way, but that vivid, in-your-face protests can go over the heads of the media and speak directly to the people.
The reality is that the media still decides what we think, and the far-right media works much, much harder at driving that consensus than the centrist press does. The centrist press keeps the coverage bland, and then the Murdoch/talk radio axis declares its fatwas, and those decide what we think.
The Occupy movement, like the Democratic Party, doesn’t grasp that it needs to do everything it can to minimize the damage from right-wing-media demonization. Both groups think they can just be heard above the noise from the right-wing noise machine — neither group realizes the utter necessity of throwing sand in the gears of that machine.
Come on, Occupy. You have to do better than Democrats, dammit.
Steve M has numbers from Public Policy Polling showing that OWS has lost significant support, especially among independents. It is now less popular than the Tea Party. The controversies and hysterical news coverage have completely swamped the message.
And yes, it was all very unfair. If the country were “fair,” we wouldn’t need OWS, would we?
And I take no pleasure in saying this, but … toldja so. Listen to me next time.
So, what’s next? Todd Gitlin advises that “Liberty Park can be anywhere,” and says that the activist functions of the OWS movement do not have to depend on urban tent cities. He suggests maintaining some token encampment somewhere in lower Manhattan, but says the real problems OWS is trying to address will not be solved by occupying turf. Indeed, it appeared that the day-to-day problems of maintaining the tent communities were eating a lot of time and energy and becoming something of a fetish.
And, you know, there’s that Internet thing that wasn’t around when Gitlin was organizing protests against the Vietnam War. You could do a lot with that, I bet.
Naomi Wolf suggests that OWS get more involved in electoral politics.
I have argued that the organizers need to become a major electoral block and make the case that they will get out the vote for leaders who support citizens’ rights to First Amendment expression (especially during those critical congressional elections) and will call for the defeat of city leaders who brutalize and suppress citizens. They could even lead a recall drive for abusive mayors. Dozens of city and state leaders, like California’s Gray Davis, have been successfully recalled by voters since 1911. New York State does not have a legislative recall mechanism, but Occupy can put it on the ballot through a referendum. And New York Governor Andrew Cuomo can recall Bloomberg by presenting charges. So Occupy Wall Street has to put pressure on Cuomo by showing that it will organize to get out the vote for or against him based on thousands of registered voters.
Occupy has an ill-advised resistance in some quarters to engaging with the voter-registration process, but that may be changing. They are terribly vulnerable now without electoral organization and can expect only further violence and aggression. But if they register voters in recall drives and start to field their own candidates, they will send a powerful message to cities’ leaders across the country that suppressing constitutional rights is a political death knell. The next place to Occupy? The voting booth.
Hmm, I disagree. Right now OWS doesn’t have the popular support to swing elections. They’d just be another Green Party, some political fringe everyone ignores. I’d say they’d be more effective by focusing like a laser beam on economic injustice issues, trying to bring these issues to public attention to change the public dialogue. They’ve made a good start on this.
But they also absolutely have to learn how to finesse the media. The media are not “reprehensible across the board, in a uniform way.” Some parts of it will be an intractable enemy, but other parts of it can be worked with to get a message out. The OWSers must get more sophisticated about this. I should hope some of them have, already.
Update: See Angry Black Lady about the rumors that the DHS coordinated the clean-outs of OWS encampments. She traced all the sourcing for this back to one article in the Examiner. It looks like there is more sourcing because people all over the Web are citing each other, but if you trace all the links and all the citations back to the beginning, she says, that’s it. One article in the Examiner.