OWS and the Power of Creative Protest
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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 five 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 Thursday.
Business Insider reports that a single mother of three named Denise Vega volunteered her apartment in a subsidized housing building across the way to set up the projector. When Occupy tried to pay her for the use of her apartment, she refused the money. “This is for the people,” she said.
From Denise’s windowsill, the projector shone the massive “99%” image across the side of the Verizon building. Not only was the image perfect media bait, it served as a profound statement. Verizon, famous for tax dodging and mistreating union members, has been an Occupy target for a long time. Here was the protesters’ chance to not only defiantly march by an archetype of corporate greed but also physically leave a mark, albeit temporary, on Verizon’s face.
The symbolic moment: the candlelight march, the projector’s alternating messages, including, “We are winning,” every element expressed awesome power. You could see it in the faces of the marchers that they had never experienced a profoundly empowering feeling like this before.