Since the very beginning of the movement, Occupy has had a tense, and very often adversarial, relationship with the mainstream media. This should not come as any surprise—corporate media outlets are considered by Occupiers to be the mouthpiece of the One Percent’s policy preferences, and could therefore be expected to attempt to stifle the movement’s message, whether through a lack of coverage or through aggressively biased stories.
However, this did not change the standing fact that an act of civil disobedience needs some kind of publicity in order to be effective; otherwise, the act is simply a criminal one.
Very little of the American public saw the grand summitry on display at the NATO Summit in Chicago; rather, much of the public perception came from a CNN news reel showing Chicago police surrounding a few protestors and beating them repeatedly with batons. Despite the implicit violence shown in the repeating images, the protests were largely peaceful, if perhaps ineffective in advancing Occupy’s cause.
The protestors had originally planned to gather in Chicago to demonstrate against both the G8 meeting and the NATO Summit, scheduled consecutively. After the G8 was moved to Camp David for security reasons, the hackitivst collective Anonymous called for 50,000 people to descend upon the Windy City, to defy and overwhelm the “police state” while advocating for anti-capitalist beliefs.
“Orthodoxy is experienced in debate and controversies, in those tacit agreements that are masked by overt disagreements.” – Ronen Palan, Global Political Economy: Contemporary Theories.
With the eviction of Occupy groups from their months-long encampments across the globe, and the cold of winter pushing people indoors, the general consensus was that Occupy had failed. Without long-term access to public spaces to practice their namesake tactic, few believed the movement had – or ever could – affect any meaningful change. However, this belief ignores the subtle ways in which the Occupy movement has come to, well, occupy our dialogue.
The Occupy movement grew out of a grumbling dissatisfaction echoed by youth around the world over broken promises from the increasingly globalized and interconnected economy. The broader concerns of the movement have resonated across the globe with people from all walks of life, and were reinforced through conversations over Facebook and Twitter. Every continent but Antarctica has seen its own version of the Occupy protests. Even recent protests that did not adopt the Occupy “brand,” such as the anti-Putin protests surrounding Russia’s elections, can point to it for both tactical inspiration and motivation, even if their specific goals may differ.
From Greece to Chile to the U.S., protesters spoke out against government policies such as austerity cuts, education policies, bank bailouts, and restrictions on internet freedom. With each step, the movement expanded the boundaries of what was acceptable criticism in our civic dialogue. Before Occupy Wall Street, there was little discussion of income inequality, underemployment, and living wages in U.S. dialogue about the economy. In Hungary, India, and Russia, corruption is under the microscope like never before. Protesters in Italy, Canada, and the United Kingdom are forcing a reexamination of the role of the state in support of the arts and university education.
The 6-month anniversary of the Occupy movement in the United States brought much rhetoric along with promises of the blossoming of an American Spring. From elections to high-profile summits, 2012 will be a busy year for protesters. Meanwhile, the U.S. government and local governments will no longer be caught flat-footed in response, and are gearing up for a year of civil unrest.
Nowhere will local restrictions on protest be more publicly displayed than in Chicago next month. As the city prepares to host the NATO Summit, Occupiers are making plans for hundreds of thousands of protesters to descend on the city in order to speak out against international displays of violence by NATO forces and the “effects of the economic crisis caused by the leaders” who will be gathering in the city.