Last night on KQED’s “This Week in Northern California,” I discussed how Rick Santorum’s exit from the presidential race will affect California. Southern California Public Radio’s Julie Small talked about the UC-Davis pepper spray report, and KTVU’s Tom Vacar talked about filmmaker George Lucas’ decision to pull the plug on a major development project in Marin County.
I was on KQED’s “This Week in Northern California” last night to talk about Occupy Oakland:
As I expected, some within the Occupy movement weren’t happy with what I said. Here’s a few of the many tweets sent last night by @OccupyDavis:
To change the behavior of the young, we must 1st change the conditions which lead to their frustrations!
Some role models —> @Josh_Richman @dylan20 & @cmarinucci are! 😛 They would rather disparage the young than listen 2 young voices #ows #oo
Hey @Josh_Richman @dylan20 @cmarinucci & other #MSM talking heads! Our children & grandchildren are fighting 4 freedom on U.S. soil! #ows
@Josh_Richman We are not afraid to stand in solidarity with our young sisters & brothers. The movement is not dead. You are Wrong! #ows #oo
To this last one, I replied that I hadn’t said the movement is dead, but I’d tried to convey that it’s at a crossroads. @OccupyDavis agreed with that, and we resolved to continue the conversation today. I’d prefer not to do so in 140-character bursts, so here we are.
I was on Oakland’s streets covering Occupy soon after police rousted the camp for the first time; for about 21 hours on the day of the general strike; during the West Coast port shutdown; and at other times. I thought it was amazing – especially at the general strike – how much support there was, across age and socioeconomic lines, for Occupy’s complaint against economic injustice. I think the widespread support for that movement is still out there; I think actions like that which targeted banks in San Francisco’s financial district a few weeks ago are still building upon that momentum.
But I think that support disappears when the movement’s priorities become taking over vacant buildings and deliberately provoking police into a severe response – which were the only priorities on display in Oakland last weekend. And you can’t build a movement by alienating more and more people.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You can’t tear down fences, try to take over a building, throw things at police, and march toward police lines with reinforced corrugated metal shields without expecting police to respond with force. It’s asinine. It’s juvenile. It’s pointless.
Most people I’ve talked to don’t want Occupy to be pointless. Most of the blogs, many of the tweets and a lot of the other sources I read online say it. The polls say it. People – even self-identified liberals who are sympathetic to Occupy’s original focus – are not down with this. I’ve found precious few who thought breaking into a money-starved city’s City Hall to smash art exhibits and burn a flag was wise.
So Occupy must choose, which isn’t an easy task for a leaderless movement. It can let itself be coopted by those who are consumed by the need to break the law in order to communicate, by those whose only aim is to bait an undeniably troubled and occasionally brutal police department into further transgressions. That’s a path for which Oakland taxpayers – not the 1 percent – foot the bill, and which many believe will guarantee fewer and fewer people rally to the movement’s name over time.
Or, it can find ways to reach out to existing community entities – nonprofits, unions, student groups, whatever – to find new, creative ways to keep hammering home the message of economic inequality that gave the movement its momentum in the first place. This is the path that many believe will eventually benefit Oakland and all other cities in which the movement has manifested itself.
It’s a difference between some vandalism, provocation and cheap headlines now, and a lasting movement that will effect real change. It’s all up to those who call themselves Occupy.
UPDATE @ 6:26 P.M.: Well, I’ve really put my foot in it this time – the tweets have been coming hot and heavy today from those I’ve offended. Thanks to those of you who talked to me instead of yelling at me; I enjoy and learn from dialogue like this, and I hope it’ll continue. To the rest: I don’t have time or the inclination to respond to junior-high locker room taunts.
Here’s another way of expressing what I was trying to say earlier: Every social movement needs a mixture of idealism and pragmatism, and I think a lot of people have come to feel that Occupy Oakland has lost that balance. Put simply, if you’re interested in building a social movement that will effect real societal change and yet fewer people are supporting you as time goes by, you’re doing it wrong, no matter whether your heart is in the right place. Either you’re no longer communicating the message clearly enough, or the message you’re communicating isn’t resonating with people.
Lots more, after the jump…
Watch KQED “This Week in Northern California” tonight when I and my colleague Josh Richman and KCBS reporter Barbara Taylor talk about redevelopment, redistricting and the woes of SF Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.
The show airs live at 7:30 p.m. on Channel 9 in most of Contra Costa County.
News Panel: The latest on the Citizens Redistricting Commission, Oakland layoffs, and Ross Mirkarimi
The California Supreme Court considers which Senate maps to use in the fight over the new lines drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission. The City of Oakland will send layoff notices to hundreds of city workers to make up for the loss of redevelopment funds. There are calls for the resignation of newly-sworn in San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who may face domestic violence charges.
UPDATE @ 11:10 A.M. SATURDAY: And here we are…
Last night on KQED’s “This Week in Northern California,” we talked about the Occupy movement’s status and future; new evidence of income disparities in California; and whether the movement has helped spur new moves toward tax increases here and around the world. Also, Scott Shafer led the discussion on this week’s Prop. 8 action before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
After spending 21 hours on the street covering the Occupy Oakland general strike Wednesday and early Thursday, I’ve talked to a few other media outlets about what happened.
On Thursday, it was BBC Radio 4’s “The World Tonight;” the pertinent segment starts at about 36:25. On Friday, I talked with Scott Shafer of KQED’s “The California Report.” And on Friday night, I was on KQED’s “This Week in Northern California.”
Even as “This Week” was ending, a viewer e-mailed me with a critique.
On KQED this evening, you said how unfortunate it was that the powerful message was being lost with the Occupy movement because of the actions of a vast minority (the midnight vandalism). But then, with valuable television time, having a real opportunity to discuss this fundamental unbalance in our society you, what do you do?
You lay an egg.
An opportunity to relay the message of the majority (aka the 99%) and to provoke a real debate, you continued to focus on the fringe.
You’re right Josh, it is unfortunate. Next time I guess.
I understand Gary’s disappointment, but I disagree. We made it abundantly clear – as our Bay Area News Group coverage this week consistently has – that most of Wednesday’s strike was peaceful and powerful, with a cross-section of the community united in voicing its frustration over income inequality, lack of economic opportunity and a dearth of resources for education and other public services.
But it only takes a few dozen morons to muddy the water. Anyone who thinks the media (or the world) can ignore their deliberate provocation of police action – by invading and defacing private property, by building and burning barricades on public streets – and the resultant damage to property and civic reputation is being disingenuous at best.
Civil disobedience entails accepting consequences. Breaking the law to make a statement with a peaceful but defiant sit-in or camp-out may still lead to arrest; if protesters are truly nonviolent and police are brutal anyway, it only lends more credence to the protesters’ cause. But you’d have to be a fool to think that burning things in the streets and hurling things at police won’t get you tear-gassed, as well as alienate the majority whose hearts and minds you were trying to win. Nonviolence worked for Gandhi. It worked for Martin Luther King Jr. Oughta be good enough for this, too.
Yet Gandhi and MLK were leaders, of which Occupy – by design – has none. A leaderless movement that can’t define specific means to its general ends is ripe for co-option by interlopers, be they “anarchists” eager to strike a blow at tyranny by smashing Tully’s Coffee’s windows, or be they juvenile morons who get off on tagging up on any available surface.
We – on the show last night, and in our ongoing coverage – have tried to communicate that the Occupy movement knows what it wants, but can’t seem to decide how to get there. To truly tap into the widespread frustration out there, they should be thinking of Lennon (and McCartney) instead of Lenin. “You say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world.”
The big “Death to Capitalism” banner stretched across 14th Street at Broadway won’t help keep a cross-section of the nation engaged in this movement. 99 percent of America doesn’t want a Marxist revolution; those who do constitute a 1 percent that’s scarier to the rest than the 1 percent that everyone has been smack-talking recently. “If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.”
“F— the police” rhetoric, barricade burning, window-smashing and graffiti won’t build a movement, either; making downtown Oakland look like an old-school New York City subway car wasn’t a deft rhetorical statement. “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.”
You know what brings about change? Hard work, painstaking organization and incremental progress. Years of it.
The Occupy movement’s ideological opposites learned this long ago. Read Thomas Frank’s 2004 bestseller What’s the Matter With Kansas?, a study of how arch-conservatives took over that formerly moderate state’s politics from the ground up, conquering the GOP one county at a time until the entire political landscape had been dragged to the far right.
Or consider the Tea Partiers. They got some people elected, not by smashing windows and spray-painting graffiti, but by walking precincts and getting out their votes. Now the Speaker of the House – hardly a moderate himself – has trouble wrangling them.
The lesson is: If the party you’d counted upon to represent you has betrayed you, let you down, hung you out to dry, then go take it over and make it your own. Camping outside city hall sends a message; running city hall – and then the state legislature, and then Congress – lets you make the message a reality. Calling attention to problems is good – finding practical ways to fix them is better. “You say you’ve got a real solution, well, you know, we’d all love to see the plan.”
Last night on KQED’s “This Week in Northern California,” we talked about Gov. Jerry Brown’s public pension reform plan; the Occupy Oakland situation; and San Francisco’s mayoral race.