Misquotes and the Mainstream Media’s “Fissure” Fetish

Posted on April 29, 2012

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I was horribly misquoted in an article in an SF Chronicle article by Kevin Fagan and Carolyn Jones. In my twenty or so minute phone interview with Jones, I never once mentioned the word violence, and neither did Jones. She did at one point, ask me, in a vague formulation, about Occupy Oakland’s “aggressive” actions, which prompted me to remark that whatever the actual rhetoric from some members of OO and from without, OO’s actions hew very closely to traditional non-violent civil disobedience. Because non-violent civil disobedience, despite its recent characterization by butt-hurt liberals, is aggressive, and it is confrontational. It is not simply making sure you don’t get arrested, and that no one hurts the feelings of police officers. This was how my comment was portrayed:

Although Occupy factions in many other cities have voted to preclude violence as a tactic, Occupy Oakland has not. The group is unlikely to do so as it plans its demonstrations for the port and the Golden Gate Bridge, said Omar Yassin, a spokesman for Occupy Oakland.

“We get out in the streets, and we use our bodies to stop things. We take aggressive action,” Yassin said. “We do it more than any other Occupy group in America, and so we have this reputation. We will take risks.”

When I confronted Jones about this, at best libelous, and at worst sophomoric, journalism, she promised me that she would arrange an op-ed where I could contest the misrepresentation and offer an opposing viewpoint to the article. To call someone a liar, you must know what they were thinking at the time of a statement; not knowing that, I can only comment that there seems to have never been any intention on anybody’s part to give me a shot at that op-ed. I’m not surprised that the Chronicle and its writers view accuracy as rating quite low on their criteria for a good article, and fawning tribute to those in positions of power as the highest form of the journalistic form. That’s why they’re not interested in correcting a record they either deliberately lied about, or incompetently and lazily represented from a lowly member of Occupy Oakland, who in a good month makes enough money to both pay rent and eat.

Rather than waste any more time on that article, which is full of misrepresentations, and flat-out falsehoods, I’ll simply publish what I wrote here instead.

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Few Fissures, But Much Diversity for Occupy Oakland on May Day

A week ago, Chronicle writers Kevin Fagan and Carolyne Jones sat down to pen what has become, in the short 9 months since Occupy Wall Street first set camp at Zuccoti Park, an Occupy tradition—the “rifts in Occupy” piece. Fabulists from mainstream to independent have all tried their hand at this emerging literary form; the only thing these works have in common is how badly they misconstrue the ever-changing face of the Occupy movement, especially in the context of its most vibrant exponent in Oakland.

To be sure, there are many things that the Chronicle gets horribly wrong. In the first place they combine a fabricated paraphrase and a real quote to imply that I advocated “violence” as a tactic that Occupy Oakland will use to shut down the Golden Gate Bridge and the Port of Oakland. In the first case, that’s not all the Chronicle’s fault; after the publication of the article, it was decided that the coalition of unions that work on the Golden Gate Bridge will be bottomlining their own actions on May Day, with Occupy Oakland standing in solidarity with them.

But I never mentioned violence, nor suggested anything that could be construed that way. And Occupy Oakland never claimed to be helping to shut down the Port of Oakland, as the ILWU will be doing so in a way consonant with their union contract. And one more egregious error: the organization that Karen Beck represents, “99 Percenters”, isn’t and has never been an “Occupy”, but rather is part of a new roll-out from Move On, cashing in on the tropes and buzzwords sans the baggage of actually having clashed with city and police over the past 8 months.

Despite all that, the quote attributed—though woefully taken out of conext—is true. I stated it as a description of traditional non-violent civil disobedience; the power of Occupy has always been “us[ing] our bodies to stop things.” We DO THAT aggressively. We DO THAT more than any other Occupy group in America. And so we DO have this reputation for taking risks.

That’s why, over the past months, despite the negative reputation attributed to Occupy Oakland in various media, one group after another has come to us seeking a way out of the cul-de-sac of fruitless negotiations in the diminishing-returns ferris wheel of establishment politics. Workers at the American Licorice Factory in Union City asked for our help on their picket line; Northwestern ILWU locals throughout the last six months have asked for our help in their fight against the one percent international behemoth EGT; and undocumented steel workers from Berkeley came to us for help in their fight against a soft raid at their workplace. In the last, Oakland City Council Member Ignacio de la Fuente, the Vice President of these workers national union, proved to be an utterly worthless ally.

Add to this the open nature of Occupy Oakland General Assemblies, where any group of three can propose an action and use the support of the Occupy Oakland collective to outreach and publicize for it. A myriad of direct actions have emerged from the nucleus of Occupy Oakland in this way: from an anti-police repression Valentine’s Day “Love-In”; to a national day in solidarity with prisoners; to on-going home foreclosure defense to the ambitious project of coordinating bus-loads of activists to support an anti-police violence action in Stockton. None of these actions sought the permission of local authorities, which often have their own corrupt links to local versions of the same 1% entities Americans currently struggle against and, in any case, and obviously, value “order” more than justice, not to mention more than the lives and well-being of Oakland residents.

This same aggressive commitment to direct action for social change saw members of Occupy Oakland approve, the day after a catastrophically failed building occupation action, a May Day event meant to recapture the historic power of working people. May Day, which began as a day of commemoration for American workers who gave their lives in the struggle for an eight-hour day, has for years struggled in the shadow of an oppressive government/corporate machine that denies working people the full breadth of direct action and collective bargaining that is the inheritance of our country’s labor struggles.

Because of Occupy Oakland’s work, and the inspiring power of the Occupy movement throughout the country, this May Day will see labor unions from Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco, merging their power with the undocumented immigrant “May Day” movement that began in 2006, all converging in a formerly dormant, but now repoliticized downtown, thanks to Occupy Oakland, downtown area.

Myopic skeptics and haters want to see rifts and fissures when they look at the Occupy movement, and especially when criticizing Occupy Oakland. But like the work of so many pundits, that’s their own invention—sometimes created for expediency’s sake, sometimes for more nefarious reasons. Occupy Oakland is an ever-evolving, diverse, powerful, elastic and dynamic movement, spreading like wildfire across a country drained and parched by an abusive system and corporate overlords. On May first, 2012, a country longing for that kind of movement will see that, despite the corporate media spin.

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