Note: This is Part II of the piece that I composed with Zac from Fatal Downflaw. The article will be posted on both sites. Part I can be found here.
Portrayal in the Media
With mega-conglomerate-controlled mainstream news media being the norm for America, it comes as little surprise that Occupy Cincinnati has some very strong feelings about their portrayal in local media. All present felt like the media was almost waiting in the wings for the group’s next big action – probably hoping for some more arrests or similar fireworks.
Sonnet: “In Cincinnati, one of the things I’ve been surprised at is how much the media picked us up in the beginning. A lot of that had to do with the fact that Wall Street had been going on for several weeks, so we didn’t get blacklisted like they did in the initial phases of Wall Street. That being said, the overall tenor I would say has been very negative as of late, but we’re still getting coverage. I mean, we still have people picking us up on a regular basis, we still get press calls all the time. One of the things that we’re going to have to constantly battle is that the Enquirer… their board is incredibly conservative… and members of their board are also members of 3CDC, so we’re gonna have to constantly battle that, but we still have great independent sources like The Beacon, StreetVibes, even CityBeat has done a pretty good job covering us, so I take heart in that.”
Chelsea: “We’re all kind of waiting to get arrested again, too”
As expected by the Occupiers, there was another round of Occupy Cincinnati arrests a few days after Chelsea made that statement. Along with their definitive feelings about local media, when asked if there was anything that they felt that the media was getting particularly wrong or particularly right when characterizing the movement, there were immediate complaints and similarly immediate dismissal of comparisons to the Tea Party, and some other issues:
Sonnet: “I’ve been asked so many times, even by you guys, ‘What’s your end goal, what’s the point, why are you out there, what’s your message’ and there was a great article on Slate.com about how journalists are either plugging their ears, closing their eyes, or just being lazy because we’ve been telling people over and over and over again that we’re out here because we’re the 99%, because we believe in putting people before profits, et cetera, but nobody can understand those large concepts, or they’re unwilling to. So that’s my little soapbox about Cincinnati media because they are so not getting it yet.”
Aaron: “Also, there are other people out in the community who have access to these media channels and influence over these media channels, so while we were occupying in the park, this narrative came out that the park was a mess, that people were pissing in the alleys, that there were rats everywhere, and that’s just not true…. That’s been a cohesive message from the people that oppose us throughout the country; that the Occupation is dirty, it has all these homeless people involved, and it’s just gross. That’s just way overblown.”
One thing that does seem to have been portrayed accurately by the media is that their relationship with the police has been pretty cordial. Aaron even described it as “good” between them and the rank-and-file officers. They emphasized that these rank-and-file officers were themselves part of the 99% that they claimed to represent, and Chelsea mentioned a couple of extremely positive personal conversations that she’d had with police.
We were curious about how the decision to Occupy Piatt Park had been made, and how their removal from that park had affected their day-to-day activities. Aaron, Josh and Justin explained that they had originally chosen to occupy Fountain Square, but had left after one night out of respect for a breast cancer benefit that was taking place the next day. Piatt Park was their second choice of location, but it stuck until they were prevented (via arrests) from being in the park after hours. While they still use the park during it’s open hours, they claim that the park was cleaner and had less crime (zero, actually) while they were staying there 24 hours a day than it does under normal circumstances.
Aaron: “(The removal) has negatively impacted the park. It’s also negatively impacted us. I mean, it’s a central organizing principle for the Occupy movement, and it’s difficult to work around not having 30-50 people in the park at all times.”
Occupy Cincinnati was the target of it’s fair share of complaints. We asked about one in particular that was echoed by some local politicians, and given quite a bit of press in the local media: that the local businesses felt that OC’s presence in Piatt Park was detrimental to business.
Aaron: Sorry ‘bout it. I mean, really, free speech and freedom of assembly is an inherent right of Americans, and I feel like of people around the world… If they’re minorly inconvenienced by it, I think it’s a small price to pay for the First Amendment. We get a free society out of it, and sorry that your front lawn looks like crap.
Josh: But it doesn’t even, and to refer to them as “local businesses” is a little capacious, because it’s not all local businesses. There are plenty of local businesses here who like and support us. The prime people who complain are these large, money-interested property owners who have building spaces. I mean, we could name the Bortz family and their Towne Property interest as one; LPK, which is a big design and branding firm which works mainly for P&G. Those are the primary people who are concerned about our presence here, because they also don’t like our message.
We also asked about concerns that had been raised, primarily by Leslie Ghiz and Wayne Lippert, that other, less desirable protesters would have to be shown similar deference if Occupy Cincinnati were allowed to remain in Piatt Park 24/7.
Aaron: This is the whole Ku Klux Klan argument, which is “If we let you guys do this, what’s stopping the Ku Klux Klan from doing this?” And my response is: nothing. You know, as horrible and ignorant and vile as they are, I, albeit grudgingly, have to respect their First Amendment rights. I think it’s a human right, and while some of it makes me personally uncomfortable, I’ve been put in this weird position of supporting their right to say the dumbass shit that they say.
Josh: It’s a straw-man that they’ve set up. It’s not a real argument. He’s not put in the position of supporting the KKK. It’s a straw-man argument that the city likes to trot out because of their history on Fountain Square.
Justin: If you believe in free speech, you believe in free speech for everybody. You don’t just believe in free speech for people that you agree with; you agree with free speech and the freedom of people that you totally disagree with. If you’re a country that values free speech, and we are, then there’s free speech for everybody and everybody has the right to peaceably assemble.
This exchange prompted us to ask if they felt that there were any local politicians who had expressed support for their movement. Justin mentioned that Chris Smitherman and Chris Seelbach had spoken out in support of their right to occupy the park, and that they’d been visited by Cecil Thomas as well. Everyone went to great pains to point out that Occupy doesn’t endorse specific candidates, mainly because they feel that any endorsements would exclude too many people; remember, 90% of them have to agree on anything they do. The same thinking didn’t apply, however, to candidates who they felt had worked against them publicly. They spoke out against Ghiz, Lippert, Bortz, and Murray (none of the four were reelected).
Today and Tomorrow
Occupy Cincinnati’s response to the November 15th early morning removal of Occupy Wall Street’s encampment from Zucotti park was essentially immediate; that night 15 OC protesters sat, arms locked, around the James A. Garfield statue facing Vine street, and were arrested for civil disobedience – being in the park after 10:00 PM. Earlier that day, the Rev. Jesse Jackson had approached Josh Spring at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless about connecting locally, and had spoken to Occupy Cincinnati the evening of the 14th, and then again on the 15th after a participating in the Postal Worker’s Union march that day.
Aaron: “Things just fell into place that way, we had the arrests planned, and then in the middle of the day we’re all ‘what the fuck Jesse Jackson is going to be here!?’ It says a lot that he spent the bulk of his time in the city with Occupy Cincinnati and the Postal Worker’s Union march – which is something that OC was heavily involved in. What was remarkable was how much he means to so many people. What he’s done, accomplished, represents… I got out of the way so some of my friends could be closer to him when he was speaking because it was literally a religious experience for some of them. I mean, the man marched with Martin Luther King, you know? He’s got all the street cred in the world.”
Some might question Adbuster’s push to start the Occupy movement in mid-September- though certainly it’s blossoming into an international phenomenon wasn’t planned. Staring down a Midwestern winter, it can’t be encouraging to imagine spending the entire winter as part of a movement that has come to be known for persistent outdoor presence.
Aaron: “We’ll wear coats, the cold sucks. We’re investigating some indoor spaces that will allow us to return to focus on organizing 24/7. We’re also looking at occupying some foreclosed homes or throughout the city, you know, direct action. We want to draw attention to what’s been going on in some of these specific situations – whatever it takes to effect people’s lives for the better.”
In early December, the Occupy movement is two and a half months old. Elections have come and gone, and none of the groups – Occupy Cincinnati included – are making daily headlines – though certainly incidents like the UC Davis pepper spraying have ensured that the public hasn’t forgotten about the Occupiers. So what’s next for Occupy Cincinnati?
Aaron: “We won big in the local elections last month. If just one of Lippert, Ghiz, Murray, or Bortz had failed to be re-elected, it would have been huge for us. but all four? We might still be in Piatt Park if not for the motions those four supported in City Council. Chris Bortz and Towne Properties [the Bortz family has controlling interest in Towne Properties, which owns several properties around Piatt Park], how is that not a conflict of interest? Anyway, coming up we’ll be in court for the next few moths, you can count on that – a lot of stuff going on. We’ve got fresh batches of charges from recent arrests, so they’ll be even slower to come around. Our cases have already come up once, and the city asked for continuances, out through the first of the year. Maybe they’re concerned about the rulings, you’d have to ask them. But our long term goal is what’s been said over and over: we want to get money out of politics, and have government be responsive to people, not to dollars.