Voices of the Occupations: 5 New Media Sources Fighting Against Censorship and For OWS

"The intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires." --Chris Willis and Shayne Bowman, We Media: How Audiences Are Shaping The Future Of News and Information (2003)

Given the scenes in the video below, is it any wonder the Protect IP Act was brought to Congress this week?

PIPA, which was taken to the Senate, and its House of Representatives counterpart, the Stop Online Piracy Act, were ostensibly introduced to protect copyright holders in the television, movie and music industries. But as Christina Gagnier explained in the Huffington Post, these two bills are “the stuff of legal nightmares”:  

We end up with cases parsing what "infringing activities" means. We end up with panicked clients, individuals and companies, contacting attorneys after their websites are affected by such pieces of legislation, normally people who intended no ill-will, malice or "infringing activities" per se. We end up with a handful of cases that will climb the appellate ranks and one that perhaps will see its day in the Supreme Court. Essentially, we end up waiting for lawyers and the courts to clean up the mess.

Think Gagnier’s analysis through a little further and it’s not hard to imagine, say, the University of California-Davis going to court to shut down video showing how its campus police treats seated protesters. Or authorities in Oakland cracking down on sites like Livestream and UStream every time somebody captures a police action, or the Bloomberg administration in NYC blocking videos like the one above by filmmaker Casey Neistat, using the “infringing activities” clause.

With the Occupy Wall Street movement at the two-month mark, and the stories in and around it growing alongside the movement, social media hasn’t just become an organizational tool for protesters. It’s become the means for a new group of storytellers to relay the views from the front line more directly – some would say, more honestly – than traditional newsrooms. And if the acts of press suppression in New York November 14 are any indication, the audience for this new batch of media outlets is only about to grow. Here are five new voices of the occupations that you should be watching.

1. @OakFoSho, Occupy Oakland

Outside of the original OWS protests in New York City, Oakland has garnered the most national attention, thanks in no small part to the actions of the city’s police department. More than 5,000 people watched the OPD raid the occupation after its November 2 general strike, via Oakland resident Spencer Mills’ Motorola smartphone.

“It was intense,” Mills told the San Jose Mercury News. “I was just standing there with a camera.”

Over the course of that evening, Mills not only followed the police movements (noting how many outside agencies the city of Oakland brought in to arrest protesters), but interviewed occupiers to get their reasons for participating, hours after local newscasts left the scene. In a testament to the real-time effectiveness of his broadcast, when Mills told the audience he needed new batteries for his phone, various viewers showed up to help keep his signal going. He’s been a broadcasting fixture ever since, including another early-morning raid by police late Sunday night – which was simulcast at one point by Al-Jazeera English, prompting the unofficial nickname, “Oakland’s own Edison Carter.”  In a sign of the times, Mills was even invited to take part in an Oakland Tribune panel discussion on coverage of the occupation.

2. The Other 99, Occupy Wall Street

This site began as a newsgathering resource from Zuccotti Park, and runs on donations, but it’s already blossomed to include various platforms, including a newsletter and videos from other occupations.

But it’s garnered the most attention for its live streams from the park, where the site’s media director, Tim Pool, has been active since the beginning of the movement. According to MSNBC, Pool’s coverage of the November 15 police action against OWS drew 20,000 viewers over the course of nearly 16 straight hours.

3. @Blogdiva, Occupy Wall Street

Though she’s based out of NYC, blogger Liza Sabater has used her already sizable following on Twitter (more than 19,000 and counting) to act as a one-woman RSS feed for occupations nationwide, posting information and commentary touching on not just the scene in New York, but all over the country.

Sabater has also used her feed to keep readers up to date on the ongoing protests in Egypt, showing the ever-evolving parallels between the Arab Spring and OWS, all in real-time.

4. Occupystream.com

The site, set up by an OWS sympathizer on his own time, is precisely the kind of outlet PIPA and SOPA might hit hardest. It acts as a one-stop shop for viewers following multiple protests; users provide links to streams following occupation efforts both in the U.S. and abroad.

“I've been waiting for an opportunity to help in the first movements of revolution, but I didn't know how,” wrote the site’s founder, Keith Jimenez. “This site will hopefully connect everyone on possibly ... the planet.” So far, it seems to be working. As of this weekend Jimenez has had to upgrade the site’s servers to handle the incoming traffic.

5. @Jasiri-X, Occupy Pittsburgh

Earlier this year, this Pittsburgh-based rapper weighed in on the Troy Davis case, one of the few musical artists who spoke out against Davis’ execution. More recently, Jasiri was the first artist to publicly express his support for OWS, on the track “Occupy (We the 99)”

Jasiri’s outspokenness led to an awkward encounter at the University of Connecticut, where he agreed to take part in a “Political Awareness Rally,” only to be told he couldn’t do “Occupy.” Eventually, he was told he could perform the song, but would forfeit his appearance fee by doing so. He did the song anyway. But, as an artist who has built himself up in part through his reach via online media (and who has established a program helping young black men do the same), he might also have cause for care if the new bills go through. 

As of this week, SOPA has encountered resistance within Congress with both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif., speaking out against it. But it’s likely that, even if this act and PIPA are shot down, they will be the last of their kind. Especially if a reinvigorated OWS continues to grow. Because every YouTube clip, every Twitpic, every “official account” shot down, every act of press suppression, both by police and by media outlets themselves, makes it as clear in the U.S. as it was in the Middle East: the revolution doesn’t have to be televised anymore.

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