The Occupy Wall Street movement is commonly criticized for having unclear goals and an incoherent message. Mainstream media outlets often frame the self-proclaimed 99% as a chaotic, leaderless mess that lacks real political potential. This is not surprising, given that many of the Occupy members who are interviewed reflect similar sentiments. These critiques from a broad political spectrum are understandable since many of the original organizers are dedicated to anarchist principles that are assumed to uphold decentralization over legitimate organizing.
However, this type of press coverage fails to account for various segments of the Occupy movement that do have concrete goals. This video from the Minneapolis grassroots media justice organization, The Uptake, interviews one of the local organizers about Occupy MN’s mission to occupy foreclosed homes. As he explains, this move acts as both a strategic symbolic demand to defend working class homeowners over banks, and also as a pragmatic method of sustaining protest throughout the winter.
On November 8, I participated in the first residential occupation in Minnesota, which took place at Monique White’s foreclosed house in North Minneapolis. In grand Minnesota tradition, the weather was already bitterly cold, and the group of about 60 supporters was prepared with gloves and determination. Large spray-painted bed sheets with messages like “US Bank Stop Foreclosures” and “Had Enough?” covered the windows of the two-story home, and when Monique’s living room was full with sleeping bags, remaining protesters set up tents in her yard. At 5pm, an organized rally began, with speakers including Monique, a representative from SEIU, and neighborhood high school students offering personal stories of hardship and powerful calls for justice. The only camera to be found was that of an Occupy organizer’s laptop computer.
Two hours later, after both the rally and the ensuing march were over, the local FOX News station van showed up. The lack of coverage can’t be blamed on the news’ propensity for the “sensational”; occupying a home with signs, chants, and tents is an inarguable spectacle. So what deters the media from focusing on actions that are proving wrong the claims that Occupy-ers are nothing but goalless troublemakers? Mainstream media have never been good at disseminating nuance; perhaps it is too much for these outlets to acknowledge that the movement is complicated: both clear and unclear, both organized and messy, both politically weak and politically necessary.