Don't Dismiss a Vibrant Movement So Easily
(The following is a response to Davy V's piece "Occupy Rochester: What a Waste" http://rochester.indymedia.org/node/12702
After initially ignoring Occupy Wall St last September, the corporate media tended to report mostly on the lack of focus and organization of the occupy movement. An oft-heard refrain coming out of media outlets in those early days was; “What are the demands?” Suggesting that the tens of thousands of people out in the streets at Occupy encampments and demonstrations were there because there was nothing better to do. As the occupations lasted into the winter, another phase of corporate reporting started declaring the movement dead, a blast of activity now fizzling away. Many of us are familiar with this sort of dismissive reporting about peoples’ movements. I'm afraid Davy V’s opinion piece falls into a similar pattern.
I’d like to address some of the fallacies I see in Davy’s piece. First, Davy’s initial hope that the Occupy movement was one in which “hundreds of people every morning march to financial institutions such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo and rally outside, putting pressure on these companies. My question is “Do you know of a movement that could sustain this kind of activity right from the start?” especially in Rochester. While there is mass sentiment against banking institutions, organizing daily street demonstrations and effective campaigns takes sustained effort and time. To expect a movement, in its infancy, to mount that sort of effort is delusional. It would be great if organizing was this easy, but we know its not.
Second, Davy’s assertion that “Occupy Rochester set up tents, had their charges dismissed, and did absolutely nothing, except occupy a park” is not borne out by the facts. Perhaps a little research and some interviews might be in order. Some highlights of success of Occupy:
- Occupy Rochester, along with Take Back the Land and Band of Rebels, participated in a number of anti-foreclosure actions. In particular, contributing to Wells Fargo retracting an eviction that the Steidel Family was facing
- Occupy Rochester has maintained an going presence at city council meetings, spurring discussions about justice issues at this forum that would’ve never taken place without this intervention
- Occupy Rochester showed up at school board meetings using “mic check” to call the board out on its undemocratic superintendent selection process.
- Occupy Rochester developed dozens of Working groups to deal with social justice issues such as the epidemic of mass incarceration, injustice against workers, urban gardening, hydro-fracking, and electoral reform- just to name a few.
While there has been lots of debate within and outside of the Occupy movement about the efficacy of the encampments, the taking of public space in hundreds of towns and cities has been one of the reasons the Occupy movement has captured the world’s imagination. To call Occupy Rochester "a waste" because of the efforts spent to hold Washington Square Park is to completely miss one of the most important sparks to come out of this new movement.
I do think it’s useful, as activists, to be honest about the shortcomings of the Occupy movement. But it’s important to be informed about the movement before passing judgment. I got the sense in reading Davy’s piece the he made a judgment at the beginning of Occupy Rochester, and is only finding cause to support that initial negative judgment.
Davy has done some important work exposing police abuse and corruption. In RPD exposed, he talked with families who lost loved ones that were shot by the police. As he did in those works, it would’ve been great if he looked beyond the surface, questioned his assumptions and engaged in conversations with Occupy participants as well. Journalists need to check their versions of reality. Don’t dismiss a vibrant movement so easily and fall into the same uncreative rut that the corporate media is known for.