As Mark Twain said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you’re misinformed“. The truth of this became evident to me recently when I would ask friends of mine if they’d like to join me at an Occupy assembly or meeting. Strangely, one of the few friends that immediately said “I’d love to!” was a staunch conservative. He just wanted to see what they were like; he had no intention of getting involved. My more progressive friends, most of whom are fairly well-educated, and rather frustrated with DC gridlock, erosion of personal rights, and the negative influence of corporate dollars on government – all basic Occupy themes – would typically decline. I’m not pushy about my interest in the movement, so it took me a while to figure out their reluctance. And when I did, their reasons surprised me, because they were based on a couple of fundamental misconceptions. The most common reason for not wanting to attend was – hilariously – “I don’t want to go stand in the cold for an hour or sit in a tent with a bunch of hipsters”. As our discussions went more in depth, I was surprised to find that many of my well-read, otherwise intelligent friends had an incredibly skewed view of the movement, largely framed by television news coverage. In my opinion, this view of the movement is not the result of some vast corporate media conspiracy, it’s simply a reflection of the laziness, ineptness, and sensationalism that characterizes today’s journalism in general. So I thought we’d do some mythbusting, and touch on a few of the most common misconceptions people still have about the movement.
1.) It’s in a tent at the park
This is probably one of the single biggest misconceptions people have about the Occupy movement. Because of the media’s presentation of information, and its need to “create a story” that can be presented in minute-long news segments, most people think the movement only exists in tents in public parks. And that it’s all about getting pepper-sprayed. The fact is that although the early encampments generated the most publicity and provided a public hub for networking, the vast majority of activity at this point actually takes place at general assemblies, in working groups, planning committees, and online, none of which require a tent or a park.
2.) It’s over.
Nothing could be further from the truth. If you regularly attend meetings or general assemblies in any given community, you will see the numbers at the meetings fluctuate, but you will consistently still see new and enthused faces, and slowly growing numbers. Think about it this way. Six months ago, there were thousands, if not millions of people nationwide who were frustrated and angry about the injustices occurring in the country they love, but having no idea who else out there felt the same. Now they know there are tens of thousands of other people who feel the same way. And thanks to the web, now they know how to contact them. See this map of over 200 groups nationwide if you think the movement is fading. If you wanted to get involved RIGHT NOW, you would have no trouble at all reaching out to thousands of others around the nation and the world. Instantly.
3.) It’s a bunch of hippies and commies
At meetings nationwide, and at all the meetings I personally have attended, you will see everyone from high school and college students, to regular “working class” people, to professionals in law and health care, to academics and second-generation activists. And the ideologies of the people present will range from socialist, to liberal and conservative capitalists, to libertarians and tea partiers. The common ground in Occupy is about basic injustice and equality, not about a specific political or ideological platform. And the movement doesn’t have a hairstyle or uniform.
4.) It’s The Democrat’s Tea Party
If you think the Occupy movement is supported by Democrats, take a look at Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, and other cities, where a Democratic mayor or largely Democratic city government was responsible for shutting down the Occupy camps, in many cases using militaristic police force. And take note of major Democratic political figures’ relative silence on the topic of the Occupy movement. It’s intrinsic to the very heart of the movement to be non-partisan, and as soon as Democratic politicians learned the truth of this, they stopped pandering and paying lip-service.
5.) It’s Anti-Republican, Anti-Rich, and Anti-Capitalist, And Has No Agenda
You don’t have to attend an Occupy meeting to find people naive enough to think wealth is a bad thing, or who don’t like certain Republican platform positions, or think everyone should get a free ride. And although you’ll find plenty of people waving their short-sighted 80′s era “tax the rich” signs at Occupy events, you’ll find a LOT MORE people who simply want to get the corporate influence out of government, and see some justice for the criminal nature of the global banking system, and who have a vision for a slightly better world based on a government that represents the people’s wishes. If you actually pay attention to the common “demands” of Occupiers, the common themes that arise are more about fair labor and education opportunities, ending “agency capture” and “corporate personhood”, and generally restoring a lot of things that many of us would consider simply “American”.