A friend and I were talking today about the “Occupy Wall Street” protests, and specifically about the role of Internet social media in those protests. For anyone reading this who has not followed the movement, or does not know its roots, here is a short excerpt from an Internet news site:
“The movement began in July after anti-consumerist group Adbusters called for an occupation of Wall Street on Sept. 17. It quickly gained support from groups like Anonymous. Around 1,000 showed up for the first protest. Over the next two weeks, the protests gained steam and drew the attention of the mainstream media.
“The protests reached their crescendo on Oct. 1, when thousands of protesters started blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. More than 700 were arrested as police officers and protesters clashed during the unauthorized march.”
The movement really began as a response to The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, which were also instigated and fueled by Internet social media.
What I find very interesting about the Occupy Wall Street movement is the total lack of coverage by the mainstream news media. While I do not watch TV news much, when I have in the last few weeks I have seen next to nothing on the protests. (I do get AOL news, but they consider Dancing With The Stars to be headline-worthy). It doesn't surprise me. The mainstream media has become something the Founding Fathers took vast precautions to avoid it ever being: a mouthpiece of the right wing. I know that's not news to anyone, but I am old enough to have lived in a time when journalism took great pride in its role as an independent observer, reporting what it saw without prejudice, disseminating thefacts and going where those facts led. I vividly remember Woodward and Bernstein breaking the Watergate scandal, and I also remember the photos of U.S. soldiers murdering Vietnamese civilians. These reports made Americans angry, and they changed the course of U.S. history.
During W's presidency that all changed. In the aftermath of W's election (or appointment, really) to office much U.S. journalism came under question. I recently heard a report in the alternative media about how W weeded out journalists in the White House Press Corps who would ask questions he did not care to answer simply by not calling on them during press conferences. In time, their employers saw them as a financial burden, because you don't want to pay someone who never gets to report, and their employers cut them loose. Problem solved! This tactic of controlled news began with the farcical 2000 election: I recall one of the major networks being quoted as saying (I may be paraphrasing here) that “Fox news reported that Bush had won, so we reported it too.” That Fox news is a tool of the right wing is no surprise to anyone reading this (Democratic National committee chair Howard Dean went on record calling Fox news "a right-wing propaganda machine" ). What I find shocking is the ubiquity of Fox news. The fact that other news sources use Fox as a guidepost is horrifying. More so, when I travel on tour, it seems every public venue I enter, such as MacDonalds, Subway, and even some Starbucks, have huge TVs mounted on their walls showing Fox News 'round the clock. This to me has much more frightening Orwellian overtones than the Right Wing simply having a media mouthpiece. They can say what they like, but the fact that mainstream service industry businesses are making the Fox message mandatory viewing is terrifying. The W administration attempted to equate right-wing thought with American thought, and the use of Fox news as a universal experience is a strategy of that attempt (and looks a LOT like Fahrenheit 451).
And of course, this Brave New World does not allow reporting of dissent, such as the Occupy Wall Street movement, by mainstream media.
But despite it's conspicuous non-existence in mainstream media reporting, we all know about Occupy Wall Street, because of the Internet.
Here's the rub of what I am getting at. Going back to how very ancient I am, I was dimly aware of the '60s anti-war movement in America for my entire childhood. In High School I remember being FINALLY old enough to march in Moratorium rallies. In the long run, the '60s anti-war movement strategy was extremely successful. The Vietnam war ended, and American society was forever changed by the values of that movement.
But there has been a continued Peace movement in the U. S. and elsewhere since those early days of the '70s which has not been an effective movement. In the last thirty years there has been dissent against U.S. aggression and U.S. government policies, but the movement(s) has caused almost no discernible difference in mainstream attitude or culture. Part of the reason for the failure of these movements is that there has, until now, been no imperative threat: the anti-Vietnam war movement was made up of people who were at risk to be drafted, along with their loved ones and families. They were fighting for their lives. There was no peril of being put unwillingly into a war in the '80s, '90s or Millenium. The current Occupy Wall Street movement is being led by people who have lost their jobs, lost their savings, or face a bleak financial future. But also consider that the voice of dissent has for decades used the blueprint of '60s anti-Vietnam war protest.
Another reason for the failure of the dissent movements of the last 30 years is that U.S. government learned its lesson in the '60s, and created strategies to thwart the anti-war strategies of the '60s. The strategies of that movement no longer work, because the government has put massive obstacles in place. These efforts have been successfully diffused by such strategies as the '60s “lone gunman” model: the mainstream media reports “don't worry folks, it's just a few nuts who are too discontented or crazy to function in our great U.S. society. Ignore them and they'll go away.” (Remember the huge spin used to blame the Oklahoma City bombing solely on Timothy MacVeigh, and the insistence that he had no accomplices? This was based on the media blueprint effectively used to calm public panic and halt any investigation of the Kennedy assassination by solely blaming Lee Harvey Oswald, hence the name 'Lone Gunman.'). One of my little pet rants for decades has been that the movement of dissent needs new strategies, strategies that will work in the current social climate.
And now, for the first time since 1972, the movement has finally adopted new strategies centered on the unifying voice of the Internet and social networking sites. While major news media continues to black out social dissent, we have finally learned a way to both incite social dissent and report on it through the Internet's social media structure (or perhaps lack thereof).
Now this is not anything new...just new to U.S. dissenters. If you buy the info coming from our government, the terrorists have been using the internet to organize for ten or fifteen years now (this is a boy-who-cried-wolf situation for me: I am so disgusted with the info the government has given us about “the terrorists” in the wake of 9/11 that even when the info makes sense I am loathe to believe it). But the strategy is giving the current movement new strength. Not just in the use of the Internet to rally people and give immediate information about time and place, or even in giving up to the minute information on the issues we as dissenters fight against: the bail-outs, the disregard of Wall Street for our financial well being, the dissolution of unions; the Internet prevents tried and proven government strategies, created in reaction to the '60s, from working. The “lone gunman” response to the Occupy movement would be “don't worry, folks, they're just a bunch of losers who can't hold a job or don't want to work. They're lazy, they live off of your taxes. Ignore them, everyone, and go on with your lives.” That would be the strategy. But the Internet allows the people involved in the dissent to tell their stories, and rather than rely on news media to decide whether those stories should be heard or not, to put them out into the world immediately, into the hands of anyone interested in who is Occupying and why they are doing so.
The U.S. government and its agencies will devise strategies to combat this generation of dissenters, you can be sure of that. But when they do, it will be because we've scared them. Like the anti-Vietnam War demonstrators, we've shown them that the people who make up their voter constituency have a voice, and do not want to go with the status quo that the people we have put into power decide to set.
I'm going to end this little rant with a quote from an e-mail sent by a 25 year old woman to her mother, who asked in a slightly condescending way why her generation is protesting (and mind you, I know that people of all ages are protesting...bear with me):
“I don't think you understand how bad it is for people my age right now, especially those of us with college degrees. These corporations could be the ones that could give us jobs, but almost none of us have jobs. Look at all my friends in C* * *. Almost all of them have more degrees than I do and all of them are willing to work hard, yet almost all of them are waitressing or working at gas stations because there isn't anything else. Look at people like K***, in your own profession, who are losing jobs as fast as they get them because of the state of the economy and the government.
“A lot of my friends who just turned 20 are totally lost right now. They have absolutely nothing to look forward to. Their education can't get them anywhere. Its not like 20 years ago when you could go and work at the factory and make a living wage and be fine. Those jobs don't exist anymore because of wall street's insistence on outsourcing. This generation is either lost or so completely in debt, they can't get out of it.
“Why is protesting a bad thing at this moment? Maybe my generation hasn't figured everything out yet, but at least they're starting to try. And I think it"s scary that the result they're getting is the police brutality and the government hauling peaceful protestors off to jail and people from your generation laughing at them. Where is your anger at the current state of things? Where is the generation that protested for womens' rights and equality, where is your generation's support of my generation who has never done this before? You would think that people your age would want to go and do this just as much as my generation. They've been there and done that, maybe they could help my generation actually accomplish something that would help our country get out of this rut and move on. Maybe if people your age were willing to stand up and guide my generation's protest a little more, greater things would be accomplished.”
From NOLA, this is Kenny Klein, explaining it all.