Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Occupy Movement : The Public Perception ...

OccupyLSX has been a whisper in the street.

Since October 15th, as well as regular visits to the @OccupyLSX camp at St Pauls, the @OccupyLFS at Finsbury Square, and more recently the wonderful @BankOfIdeas, I have been engaging, with others, the flood of misinformation on Twitter and other Social Media platforms, as well as promoting the Occupy Movement as a whole; blogging, discussing, following and spreading the news about various issues.

Two things struck me initially, and have continued to do so: The clear public support for the Occupy Movement's position on most of the issues; and the relative *lack* of public engagement on the methods, tactics and strategy used by the Movement worldwide.

In short: They mostly agree with what we say; but they don't always approve of what we do.

Public support, even media support *on the issues* is quite clearly in favour. Early on (17th October), The Guardian polled an 87% 'Yes' in response to the question "The protesters [OccupyLSX] are taking a stand against the bankers and the financial institutions. Are you with them?" [1.]

But strangely, only two weeks later (31st October) The Sunday Times polled only 44% in response to "whether or not they supported the anti-capitalists’ aims" ... without being clear, in the poll, what the aims actually were. It didn't help that the Poll was in Murdoch's Times, of course, nor that OccupyLSX was referred to - again -  as 'anticapitalist'. [2.]

Since then there hasn't been a clear poll taken, but what *has* happened is that mainstream media have finally ended discussion about the protest itself, the Church and the resignations; and started highlighting the root causes behind the protests. Even The Sun and The Daily Mail, this week. All of the broadsheets and many news bulletins are now talking about what *we* have been talking about for nearly 10 weeks, and there is clear public anger over the inequalities in our system, our forms of government, our taxation policies, and almost everything else OccupyLSX has stood for.

But OccupyLSX is still seen by too many as a bunch of (brace yourself) non-working, benefit-claiming, lefty/entitled, smelly, bearded (even the females) socialist/communist lentil-eating sitar-playing borderline-criminal terrorist-agitators. (various descriptions taken from far-too-many vitriolic tweets)

Our public persona has failed. Our most publicly-known spokesperson is probably Laurie Penny. We never intended to be a brand - but we needed an image, and the image we put out there failed to deliver the support that OccupyLSX fully deserved.

So why is that? I would put this down to 5 factors as expressed constantly on Social Media; "We don't 'get' you"; "You're breaking the law"; "You're too few"; "We hear all this about..."; and "You've achieved nothing."

1. They Don't Get Us...

This is because OccupyLSX is protesting in a new way that the general public haven't seen before. They expect us to march, sing and shout - and go home. Occupations and long-term protesting were for the Maze Prison, Greenham Common, and Dale Farm - all over single issues, and all outside the capital, all overlooked (after the first few days) by the media, and hence, the populace.

They fail to understand that the Occupation is an ongoing process, an experimental journey. We're doing things that have rarely been done before, right in the public eye; Creating a community at St Pauls and Finsbury; Taking over empty spaces and using them; all under one umbrella movement.

We march on certain set occasions - and then *go back* to the encampment.

The British people (and all over the world) are struggling to understand this - partially *because* we have failed to explain it properly.

2. We're Breaking The Law...

Hmmm. Tricky one, this. On some things, the Occupy Movement is the *right* side of morality but the *wrong* side of legality. If you're being pedantic. I counter this by comparisons to history - and I think the Occupy Movement has earned that comparison.

MLK
The Tolpuddle Martyrs, The Battle of Cable Street, Womens Suffrage, Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Tianemen Square, The Arab Spring, Tahrir Square, Libyan and Syria uprisings.. (feel free to add your own examples); all broke the laws of their countries; because if the laws are wrong, I believe you have a moral *duty* to choose which ones you break and which ones you comply with.

And that list? Everyone on that list is seen - today - as a hero or heroine. Let history judge us, because *no* social change can happen within the rules of the old regimes.

If it was good enough for Mandela...

3. We're Too Few...

The Public read and watch (a little) about London, and perhaps New York. I tell people about the scope of the Movement, and they are always surprised. 'That many?' I hear. Yes, over 951 occupations in 82 countries, at the last count. [3.]

Anonymous say 'We Are Legion'. And we are. Add in those who support in mind but cannot in person; and we are countless.

4. We Hear All This About...

Ask anybody about the Occupation in London and they'll tell you that they know about the 'empty tents'; The faeces in the Cathedral; The drugs, the fighting, the sanitation issues, etc.

The misinformation in certain parts of the media has been apalling. I've spent countless hours online with fellow troll-fighters @YMAHTrolling and @EX fighting these myths, and gradually grinding them down.

Many of the 'Trolls' who intently spread these messages know full well that the myths have already been debunked, yet they continue to do so under their own private agendas, *always* anonymously. The two worst offenders have been 'outed' as expat tax-dodgers, living abroad and working in the forex trading business, not actually paying *any* UK tax, (that would be @fatcouncillor and @MockTheLeft) and having never visited the sites to view with their own eyes. And yet these people are watched religeously by right-wing followers who post on their comments.

But it's harder to fight the misinformation in the mainstream media. We are still referred to as 'anticapitalist' despite the variety of views within the Movement. We have had no apologies forthcoming from those titles who have knowing printed false information. We expect none.

A little truth and balance from the media would be nice, but as the Leveson Enquiry has clearly indicated, we may have to wait a while on *that*.

5. You've Achieved Nothing...

Well, a) We have.. and b) We're just getting started.

Because this is such a radical *way* of bringing the issues into the public domain, I think perhaps many people expected us to get results in a few weeks. I think - I hope - most people within the Occupy Movement have realised that the only way to effect Social Change is not to convince the Governments, or the Financial Institions, but to educate and inform the Public, and get *them* to demand the changes that are required; and the Public Conciousness is a slow-moving beast. But it is gradually rising, sniffing the air and finding that it doesn't like what it smells.

It is a crawl. It's a fight.

But we can display some small wins so far; HMRC's boss will resign, and the Department is being investigated. All Political Parties agree on taking firm action against City excesses. Tax procedures of major companies are under the microscope. The Church has been forced to re-evaluate itself.

People mostly agree with what we say; but they don't always approve of what we do.

But more importantly, people are beginning to question the status quo. And that's a beginning, not an end.

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Citations:

1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/poll/2011/oct/17/occupy-london-poll
2. http://www.londonlovesbusiness.com/news/occupy-london/londoners-divided-over-occupylsx-says-yougov/913.article
3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/oct/17/occupy-protests-world-list-map