I’ve been busy at the occupation, and that’s prevented me from actually writing any more notes about the occupation. I know that’s the typical blogger excuse first-line, but in this case, I’m going to share with you exactly what I’ve been busy doing, so I feel that’s fair.
I’ve become the point-of-contact for The Portland Occupier, a project birthed out of the Media Committee, but operating unofficially and of its own autonomous accord. The way most occupations are running, and Portland’s being no exception, is that for any action or statement to be “official”, it must be approved by the GA. Open committees, on the other hand, are made of autonomous, self-organizing individuals, and they can work on their own as they see fit. So The Occupier is an unofficial, official news and content channel, if you get what I mean.
And here is where many of my notes have been going. I’ve put my WordPress management skills to use, and have been drumming up content from any contributors we can grab. As for myself, I started a column today, called “Kick Out the Anarchists“, which is surreptitiously titled. The goal is to demystify and explore anarchism, as this is one of the major bugaboos of people inside and outside the occupation, alike. I’m hoping this column can be a vehicle for many of the notes I would have about the occupation, anyway. Maybe in this way, putting all my blog-column philosophizing to some use.
All of this being the goal, of course. In the same way that the occupation strives to be a model for the organization it hopes to put into the world, I feel we ought to do the same with media. And just like the organization we’re enacting in the parks downtown, our media has a ways to go before we can say that is fully successful. But hey, we do what we can, in the face of the massive challenges.
The stated goal of much media is to be objective, regardless of whether or not it quite makes it there. I don’t agree with that idealism–and I like to think that the work we’re doing at The Occupier is a more realistic effort. We are, of course, for the occupation, and the writing and content that we publish is obviously from that perspective. In a way, I feel, that is more honest. We don’t have to respond to the niggling complaints and bullshit that the media drags up as the “counter-argument”. We don’t want to ignore legitimate complaints either. But there is no shortage of legitimate stories of all kinds that need telling regarding the occupation. If you want to know about the condition of the restrooms down at the park, you can go and look for yourself. Or, I can save you the trip: they are bad. There are hundreds of people using them daily, and precious few volunteers to clean them. That’s the story. Have you learned anything?
There is a certain positivism to our reporting, I think. I have complaints and gripes about the way things are going at the occupation. But this sort of personal, critical subjectivity, which I normally launch into wholeheartedly on my own blog, I smooth over when I write for The Occupier. This is, in a way, it’s own objectivity. It’s not about crafting a golden PR message, or rejecting criticism–it’s about focus. From the bathrooms, to peace and safety, to finance, to the GA–there are countless places to find things that are “wrong” with the occupation. And we should do these things. But what is the point of a laundry list of problems? Does the detailing and complaining of everything that is wrong translate into objectivity? These are not things that need to be “revealed” to the general public. We don’t need whistle-blowers, at least at this stage in the occupation. If something is wrong, believe me, people know about it. The whistle blown becomes noise, which distorts the picture. On the other hand, drawing the entire camp into focus, is the work that needs to be done. Problems in context reveal the shape and the motion of the occupation, whereas infinite zoom is dizzying.
I can’t believe, as the perennial curmudgeon, that I’m even making this argument that optimism is somehow more accurate than deep criticism. I guess what I feel is that at the occupation, criticism is something that is donated often, and in large quantities. What we don’t have is the context that makes criticism useful. When you see toilets that need cleaning, are those simply seen as gross? Or are they seen as the realistic effect of hundreds of people trying to live together in public space? When GA is frustrating, is it just frustrating? Or is that an emotional side effect of attempting to make a functional direct democracy? Are the challenges of the safety committee just “crime statistics”, or are they the problems of society, condensed in a microcosm? This is not just optimistic framing. It’s objectivity, defined through subjective contextualization of events.
And of course, this is hard to do well. It is all to easy to lapse into optimistic gloss, or fall the “other” direction (though dualism is hard here) into boring, content-less shill. It’s like walking a narrow fence between advertising propaganda and mindless drivel. It’s trying to tell deep stories, that interest people but can also problematize, without simply criticizing. But hey, if we weren’t experimenting, it wouldn’t be any fun.
So check us out. Even contribute, if you like. More notes will follow.