KQED/The California Report’s Awful Occupy Oakland Analysis

Posted on November 5, 2011

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If you’d like to completely misunderstand what’s been going on in Occupy Oakland since the General Strike on Wednesday, look no further than KQED’s the California Report weekend edition radio magazine. Despite the fact that the program is produced just a fifteen minute BART ride from the encampment, the program’s poor and inaccurate reporting feels as if it was created in another country using wire reports.

This week’s informant on the program, for example, was the Oakland Tribune’s Josh Richman, who despite working only a few blocks from the encampment, knows and understands nothing about the General Strike. In the first case, he does no original reporting on the turn-out for the march to the Port on Wednesday, going instead with the number produced by police; its an absurd under count easily contradicted by actual video footage of an entire four lane overpass swamped on both sides for a mile or more.

Richman compounds this with a two-dimensional report that captures none of the details of the occupation of the Traveler’s building by protesters [occupier’s statement here], and completely misunderstanding the events—which he characterizes as a simple provocation to police, rather than a complex of events carried out by several different groups acting independently of one another. There was a well-thought out rationale to the occupation of the Traveler’s building—which once housed homeless services funded by the city, but was undermined by the administration’s awful priorities and spending procedures, producing an empty eyesore which contributed absolutely nothing to the area, nor would any time soon.

Richman also gives short shrift to Thursday night’s City Council hearing, in which over one hundred camp supporters lined up and waited for hours to express support for the camp, and outrage at the police and city response, as well as distortions of the administration. Richman claims that Occupy Oakland is ‘hurting the very people its trying to help” small businesses of the area. Despite this, no protester walking back to the camp on Wednesday night could miss the fact that each and every food establishment along the way sported a line out the door. Hundreds, if not thousands, of hungry protesters spent their money in downtown Oakland that night. Food trucks in the port sold everything in their stores—down to the old and unappetizing banana muffins and crusty croissants, as blogger Aaron Bady noted. Throughout the day, the small businesses of downtown, which were, by agreement at the GA, not targeted by the strike in any way, probably did more business than any day of this year, and perhaps any other year in recent history.

Richman apparently interviewed none of the speakers at the hearing that night, nor did he apparently attend it. For if he had, he would have heard a nearly unanimous chorus of eloquent arguments for the camp from incredibly diverse sources–even small business owners from the camp area who support the camp enthusiastically. There is a discussion in the camp about tactics and it revolves around the frustrating reality that a community can no more control what people do of their own free will than the city, which spends half of its budget on policing but is nevertheless riddled with graffiti and broken windows throughout. Of course, this is never news when it happens to businesses or residences in the poorer areas of the city and is rarely even addressed by a police visit, as many speakers at the council meeting noted.

Did the California Report have access to a better informant? Yes, at least one; because they interviewed me, and I corrected the record on all these issues. The difference was that I would not buy into their narrative of “violence”, where actions by police are considered neutrally as standard procedure, despite the fact that they’ve injured dozens of people—at least two, nearly fatally. And where some protesters, at their worst, broke a few windows and started a fire—which other protesters proceeded to try to extinguish immediately. I know, because I watched one protester run with a fire extinguisher toward the blaze, and I heard another in the City Council meeting describe how he tried to help him.

A few minutes into my interview, I knew full well that KQED would never use anything from it, nor reconsider the caliber of their reporting [they did use a two second bite in another story]. There was an almost institutional resistance to it, perhaps caused by the momentum of already having chosen their trajectory of reporting. Despite the fact that he sounds like the most incredibly uninformed ignoramus in Oakland concerning the Occupy movement, again and again it will be Richman that they seek for “analysis”, because he tells them what they want to hear. Because this is what Richman believes:

“You know what brings about change? Hard work, painstaking organization and incremental progress. Years of it.”

This, despite the fact that these very things have for decades failed to prevent the most staggering threat to the US economic and political system in generations, and that, indeed, the occupy movements, no matter how they differ, have all been motivated by the conviction that nothing of the sort is true.

Is it a surprise that someone like Richman can stand in the center of Wednesday’s historical actions, see 7,000 people and be completely unaware of anything beyond the most superficial aspect of the reality going around him? Not at all. That’s why the California Report prefers his vision of the movement, over that of mine or any of the hundreds of people involved with Occupy Oakland, who without regard to age or education speak with a thousand times more knowledge, eloquence and conviction than Richman. That number even includes the reporter who interviewed me, who knew much of what I was already telling her, and agreed that there were tens of thousands of people at the port shutdown, as well as hundreds of others living in the camp and/or working with it.

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