Perhaps the single biggest factor that helped lead to the Occupy movement’s success in capturing the media and public’s attention has been its creativity. Novel protest strategies have served as OWS’s foundation since its first days. The very idea of occupying, and sleeping in, a park twenty-four hours a day was new and exciting.
Up until Occupy, most protests had become exercises in futility. Protesters would show up with their sad, limp carboard signs, march around for a little while—maybe press would show up, but most likely not—and then everyone would go home. Hardly effective stuff.
Even when the protests were massive, say during the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, media had learned to ignore protests as being the hallmark of a bygone era of granola-munching hippies. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the media helped hand protesters loss after loss, perhaps recognizing the fact that protest waged within the perimeters constructed by city officials is completely ineffective.
Demonstrators need a permit to march, and even then must remain on the sidewalk and never disrupt traffic; they need a permit to use a bullhorn, a permit to play music, etc. Protesters, in other words, can protest as long as they never disrupt the normalcy of everyday living, which of course defeats the concept of meaningful protest in the first place.
After a while, all protests began to look the same. Protesters show up, march around, chant X or Y slogan, and if it’s super-exciting, clash with the police and everyone goes to jail. Repeat chorus. It’s no wonder the corporately controlled media were so easily able to write off protest culture as being unimportant or ineffective. The horrible truth was, it had become futile.
That is, of course, until Occupy showed up and refused to play by the city-written rules. No, they wouldn’t be getting permits. No, they wouldn’t be going home at curfew. They would remain in camps as permanent monuments to the injustice and inequality of America’s society. There was no “normal” anymore. There was only what Occupy chose to do, and to not do.
Beyond the creativity of the camps themselves with their libraries, clinics, food tents, media centers and very own newspapers, Occupy chapters are full of young protesters who are extremely savvy to what captures the media’s attention.
Hero Vincent, a young man who is one of the more well-known Occupy protesters and who has been arrested four times since the beginning of the occupation, one day casually remarked, “We need a bat signal. The 99%.”
And that idea came to fruition as thousands of protesters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge Friday. (photo by @OccupyJudaism)