Occupy protests: There’s an app for that

Occupy Wall Street’s outreach has a new tool: An iPhone app which allows information to be shared more efficiently.

The protesters in New York will face raw weather in the months to come [GALLO/GETTY]

When Apple introduced the iPad, most of its advertising focused on the applications it could showcase. Their most popular ads ended with the catchy slogan, “There’s an App For That”.

Now there’s an App for Occupy Wall Street, as up to date and tech savvy as any of the top of the line offerings available through Apple stores. This one not only aggregates news – or at least some of it – in the world press, but offers access to social media to Twitter feeds and Facebook.

There are Facebook reports zinging around the internet.

There are Occupation reports relayed everywhere in the same spirit of the “Mic checks” during which occupiers in Zuccotti Park repeat what’s been said so everyone can hear it.

Occupy’s technology is driving its support base, communicating its message, and offering a counterpoint to the mainstream media which can be hostile and nasty.

Leslie Griffith, an award-winning former news anchor on a popular Oakland, California TV station says the media has failed our democracy. In an essay on Reader Supported News, she compares media companies to Wall Street corporations:

“The Occupier’s remember the Mainstream press they counted on as recently as 10 years ago. That press warned and protected them. Today much of the Main Stream media corporations are owned by the entertainment industry or those who make weapons of war. In fact, making war, movies and gossip is how these new media corporations came to be so rich. Firing the investigative reporters helped too … they were so expensive. The forces of accountability have been replaced by media monopolies not that different from the financial monopolies of Wall Street.”

Now a reporter carrying a sign protesting financial fraud was fired when her editor saw her picture at Occupy Wall Street. The website Boing Boing commented:

“Surprisingly many people support the firing, on the basis that journalists shouldn’t “advocate a political viewpoint”. Putting aside that such an objection should only apply to actual reporting, since when did opposing rampant financial fraud become a “political viewpoint”? Around here we always thought it was just plain old common-sense, law-and-order, foundation-of-civilisation advocacy.”

Direct participation?

A column in the New York Times discussing a call to “occupy newsrooms” has stimulated lots of debate about the role the media is and should be playing.

Media hypocrisy is pervasive in outlets that relentlessly attack Occupy Wall Street with biased and snarky reporting, while taking ads from the financial institutions that deserve to be investigated.

So there are more good reasons for the protest to sharpen its own media that also includes its own newspaper and a live stream so anyone can watch online as the occupations unfold.

As a media person, I know how powerful and seductive media attention can be – and it is essential to communicate, in however flawed a manner, with the public at large.

But this movement is more than its image, more than its media impact. It’s appeal is an opportunity for direct participation, not as a spectacle for others to watch from a distance.

All Americans have a right to free speech and assembly, but exercising it is becoming more problematic, even dangerous, as cities use their police forces and arbitrarily enforced laws and regulations to harass the protest.

“Occupy Wall Street’s ability to keep speaking up for the 99 per cent depends in part on their ability to hold out against the winter weather.

– MoveOn.org

Not all the attacks are as physically aggressive as the one mounted by the Oakland Police where an Iraq veteran was forced into a coma when hit by a gas canister. As he clings to life, he is a martyr for the movement but violence, even when not initiated by the occupiers, can turn others off or lead them to hesitate before getting involved.

The occupiers who are camping out in parks and plazas have to be tough enough to withstand the winter weather that is descending on the East with icy snow and wind.

Not surprising, many activists are getting sick as they scramble for warmer sleeping bags and tents where they are allowed.

MoveOn is doing an appeal in New York:

“Occupy Wall Street’s ability to keep speaking up for the 99 per cent depends in part on their ability to hold out against the winter weather. And that depends on their having the right supplies – sub-zero sleeping bags, long underwear, and warm hats and gloves.”

‘They cannot be ignored

But all the apps and warm hats will not assure victory, that is, if a grassroots movement that has taken on the most powerful financial institutions in the world can somehow hope to bring them down. (In some cases, those institutions are irresponsible enough to bring themselves down!)

What they can do is change the national conversation to ensure that the issues of joblessness and economic inequality gets on the agenda of political institutions that are joined at the hip with the 1 per cent.

By sustaining their occupations, and keeping up their marches and agitation, they cannot be ignored.

Building this movement will require more outreach, and more alliances with sympathetic organisations in Labour, on campuses, and in the community. At some point, they will have to enter into coalitions despite fears of co-optation. Some spokespeople may have to emerge out of the leaderless environment with its commitment to consensus.

They also need to champion and understand related issues like demanding the prosecution and incarceration of financial criminals and fraudsters.

Former bank regulator Bill Black, a criminologist who sees financial crime as a part of a crimopathic environment, was well received last week when he spoke at Occupy.

Wall Street’s banks are not only not too big to fail, but not too big to jail if this “crime narrative” becomes part of the demands that power this growing movement.

In the end there has to be a strategy of cumulative impact with media outreach paralleling political outreach, with organising more important than sloganising to win allies and take these protests to a new and more effective level.

You need more than an app for that!

News Dissector Danny Schechter reports on the movement on his blog at newsdissector.com. He made the film Plunder about the financial crisis as a crime story. Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

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