Saturday, November 26, 2011

Changing the Narrative of Protest: How Creative Protest and Occupy Wall Street Have Garnered New Media Attention (and Why That's Only Part of the Point)

Allison Kilkenny's article, "Occupy Wall Street and the Importance of Creative Protest" (The Nation Blog) explores the ways in which the creativity of the movement has garnered more media coverage partly because their protest has been novel in ways that excite the novelty-addicted mass media. 

Yet part of the anarchism of the movement (and some of its anarchy) is related to its attempt to create something beyond hailing the Other, of performing dissent for the news media.  By making the movement about making the movement, OWS has shifted the eros inward, which is partly why the media (and we) are so fascinated--and frustrated--by the way in which OWS partisans refuse to play to the rules of traditional dissent. 

The article, to my mind, does not push far enough in this direction, though its valorizing the creativity of the movement is welcome and necessary.  She's also embedded video of some of the most effective moments of the OWS--in particular, the silent protest at UC Davis.  This from Kilkenny:

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.

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