In my recap of the May Day event in New York City yesterday, I briefly summarized the inaccurate crowd estimations published by major publications like Reuters and the New York Daily News. Reuters declared the protest was a “dud,” though eventually walked back that diagnosis to make the exact opposite claim that the resurgence was “far from being a dud,” and the Daily News absurdly claimed that mere “hundreds of activists across the U.S.” participated in the marches even though in New York City alone, tens of thousands of people took to the streets.
But that was only skimming the surface of bad establishment media coverage. CNN published a screed from Amitai Etzioni, a professor at George Washington University, titled “Why Occupy May Day fizzled,” that appears to make the argument that Occupy failed because capitalism still exists.
Part of the issue seems to be that certain media outlets believe the protest failed because there wasn’t a general strike, mostly because general strikes are illegal in the United States. No Occupy Wall Street representative I ever spoke with genuinely believed there was going to be an across-the-board general strike, which is why the group started to rebrand the event as a day of “economic noncompliance” that they continued to call a general strike. The title was kept for a number of reasons, including to draw as many laborers into the fold as possible and also to bring attention to the fact that workers showing mass solidarity in the United States is illegal. Which is kind of insane.
However, keeping the “general strike” theme also gave lazy journalists an easy out to dismiss the entire protest as a failure.
In a prescient article titled “Occupy and Failure,” Salon’s Natasha Lennard laid out pre–May Day exactly the course the establishment media took with its coverage of the protest, in which journalists rested their narratives on a fulcrum of success or failure. This has always been the mainstream media’s approach to OWS. Occupy failed to shut down Wall Street on September 17. Occupy didn’t successfully occupy the Brooklyn Bridge. The Oakland General Strike wasn’t really a general strike. And so on. Oh, and there are also oodles of Occupy success stories, but weighing the wins against the losses is a waste of time, Lennard argues, because the whole point of mass resistance is the struggle itself:
Queer theorist Judith Halberstam pointed out in her explorations of failure and success that failure, simply put, “connotes effort without achieving the desired result.” As such, broadly speaking, Occupy—the weird, ever shifting assemblage of actions, gatherings, and connections that it is—technically avoids the logic of success and failure altogether. The consistent refusal to pose demands or set out specific goals as a movement means there has never been a “desired result” to achieve or fail to achieve in the first place. But that’s speaking about Occupy as a (loose) whole. Different Occupy groups have certainly set out plans (crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to set up camp on the other side on October 1st, stopping the Stock Exchange bell ringing on November 17, occupying Union Square overnight to name a few New York examples)—and they’ve failed. Granted, they succeeded in escalating energy and garnering media attention, but in terms of enacting a plan or stated goal, these actions were duds.