FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Retaking the Offensive in the Battle of the Story

by STEVE STALLONE

For the Occupy movement, as in battlefield of the narrative, whose story is being told, whose perspective is the dominant frame, who are perceived to be the heroes and villains, the criminals and victims, is crucial.

Remember when the stock market crashed in late 2008, how it was talked about around the office printer, in newspapers and on talk shows? Remember when Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs and Bernie Madoff were household names spoken with disdain? When there were outraged cries for justice, televised Congressional hearings, and calls for accountability and restitution?

The mainstream media, spurred on by its journalistic tendencies, actually covered the real story of what happened—for a while. Then the right-wing spin machine fought back.  Somehow the crisis was now all the fault of the greedy public sector unions, with their outrageous salaries and pensions that were bankrupting local and state governments everywhere, causing cuts in services, lowering living standards and expectations, putting popular programs like Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block again.  No more mention that most all those pension funds were doing fine until Wall Street speculators and the big banksters lost so much of the money in them.

That version had some success for almost a couple of years. Then a handful of brave souls in New York City did something bold, sort of silly in its symbolism really, certainly unrealistic as a tactic. They pitched some tents, created an urban campsite and said there’s something dreadfully wrong here.  So they were going to “occupy” Wall Street and refocus attention on the real culprits of the crisis.

The call to hold the masters of the economy responsible for the mess they created made a comeback, this time with a deeper understanding born of the bitter experience of the last three years.  And that shared experience brought a new consciousness of the sharp class divide in modern American society, simply but effectively expressed in the “99%” slogan.

The clumsy repression of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYPD broadcast the occupiers’ voices throughout the national and global media, inspiring and provoking echo demonstrations in cities everywhere, just as the Madison, Wisconsin Capitol occupiers had called forth spontaneous actions supporting public employees and services earlier this year.

The message of the “99%” resonated with working people everywhere and “normal” folks started occupations in their hometowns.  Mainstream media began doing stories about heartland white people losing their jobs through no fault of their own, having their homes foreclosed on and their dreams crushed. On national TV news and in daily newspapers around the country phrases like “income inequality” and “corporate greed”—code for class society—were being constantly repeated.

Natural allies like unions saw their concerns being voiced by workers outside of the official labor movement, and joined in. Liberals and leftist clamored to be part of the new dynamic movement.

We defined the terms of debate so thoroughly that even the Oakland police, after violently trying to evict the occupation there, are now claiming to be part of the “99%.”

The right-wing spin machine was caught off guard again, but, reworking their mainstream media sources, began a new offensive.  They painted the encampments as public health and safety problems, and the participants as an unruly, leaderless and unfocused mob.

The mainstream media keeps trying to say the Occupy movement has no message. What part of 99% don’t they get? The message is that America, and the world, has a highly stratified class structure and is becoming more so all the time.

But class consciousness is precisely the message the right needs to suppress most. While camping laws are minor infractions, and health and safety issues have been addressed by the occupiers organizing themselves, the fear of violence is the right’s greatest message-diversion weapon.

In Oakland the police were all too willing to oblige with that. Like the NYPD, the Oakland police attacked the campers with an unprovoked and over-the-top violent response. Nearly killing an Iraq War veteran set them back enough for the General Strike to gain momentum and the movement to claim the moral high ground.

But the mainstream media reported a few broken windows as the violence of the movement they had predicted. Somehow smashing windows was equated with bashing heads. Then the shooting death of one young African American man on the perimeter of the encampment, related or not to the occupation, seemed to confirm the right’s narrative and gave Mayor Jean Quan her excuse to evict the occupation again, as if the city had ever cared about the other more than 100 deaths in Oakland this year.

So now we are no longer talking about the 99% or the crimes of the 1%. The talk is all about violence and evicting an encampment that is both dangerous and a drain on city resources. Now the movement is all taken up with defending a batch of tents.

This has become a political liability, distracting from our real message and real work. Occupation as a tactic has outlived its usefulness. It was meant to get attention, and Occupy has certainly done that. It’s time to move on.

The vast majority of people who have participated in Occupy events, who have been moved by and echoed its core messages, have never slept over in an encampment. More than 10,000 people joined in on the General Strike activities in Oakland Nov. 2, but the encampment has never even had 200 tents there.

Which is not to say we give up on holding public space, especially Oakland’s significantly symbolic Oscar Grant Plaza. But if everyone went home at night and returned the next day to plan and carry out the continuing actions of the movement, the enemy would be disarmed—no more camping law infractions, no more health and safety issues, and hopefully the violence can be corralled. We eliminate the distractions from our core messages and focus on the real work ahead of us.

The only ones among us who would lose out are the truly homeless, who have found a relatively safe place to crash and eat. Perhaps one demand the Oakland Occupiers could make in talks with Mayor Jean Quan and the city should be for sufficient housing and services for them. It would both be practical, especially with winter weather moving in, and in line with the movement’s goals.  We could claim a victory, and indeed it would be one for the poorest of our 99%.

If the Occupy movement and its resonating messages of class division and corporate accountability are to regain the offensive in these PR wars, we have to recognize when the enemy has won a battle, and readjust to the changed field of engagement. We need to rethink our tactics and perhaps reinvent them.

STEVE STALLONE was the editor of the ILWU’s newspaper The Dispatcher from 1997-2007 and worked with Jack Heyman on the Neptune Jade, Mumia and Charleston 5 campaigns. The union’s International Officers fired him for his politics in violation of his union contract. He won his arbitration against the officers and continues working as a labor journalist for Northern California’s largest public employee union, SEIU 1021, as President of the AFL-CIO affiliate the International Labor Communications Association and as Secretary of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA 39521.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 08, 2016
John W. Whitehead
Power to the People: John Lennon’s Legacy Lives On
Mike Whitney
Rolling Back the Empire: Washington’s Proxy-Army Faces Decisive Defeat in Aleppo
Ellen Brown
“We’ll Look at Everything:” More Thoughts on Trump’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan
John Stauber
The Rise and Fall of Obamacare: Will the Inside Story Ever be Told?
Ted Rall
Ameri-Splaining
Michael J. Sainato
Mainstream Media Continues Absolving Itself From Clinton, Trump Election Failures
Ralph Nader – Mark Green
Divest or Face Impeachment: an Open Letter to Donald Trump
Gareth Porter
US Airstrikes on Syrian Troops: Report Data Undermine Claim of “Mistake”
Martha Burke
What Trumponomics Means for Women
Ramzy Baroud
Fatah, Hold Your Applause: Palestinian Body Politic Rotten to the Core
Steve Horn
Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General Pick, Introduced First Bill Exempting Fracking from Drinking Water Rules
Joe Ware
The Big Shift: Why Banks Need to Stop Investing Our Money Into Fossil Fuels
Juliana Barnet
On the Ground at Standing Rock
Franklin Lamb
Aleppo Update: An Inspiring Return to the Bombed Out National Museum
Steve Kelly
Hidden Harmony: on the Perfection of Forests
December 07, 2016
Michael Schwalbe
What We Talk About When We Talk About Class
Karl Grossman
The Next Frontier: Trump and Space Weapons
Kenneth Surin
On Being Caught Speeding in Rural America
Chris Floyd
In Like Flynn: Blowback for Filth-Peddling Fascists
Serge Halimi
Trump, the Know-Nothing Victor
Paul DeRienzo
Flynn Flam: Neocon Ex-General to Be Trump’s National Security Advisor
Binoy Kampmark
Troubled Waters: Trump, Taiwan and Beijing
Tom Clifford
Trump and China: a Note From Beijing
Arnold August
Fidel’s Legacy to the World on Theory and Practice
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix a ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
John Kirk
Cuba After Fidel
Jess Guh
Repeal of Affordable Care Act is Politics Playing with the Wellbeing of Americans
Eric Sommer
Team Trump: a Government of Generals and Billionaires
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro
John Garvey - Noel Ignatiev
Abolitionism: a Study Guide
Clancy Sigal
Caution: Conspiracy Theory Ahead!
December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Warmongering 99 – Common Sense 0: the Senate’s Unanimous Renewal of Iran Sanctions Act
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
CJ Hopkins
Manufacturing Normality
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail