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Mark McLaughlin

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Occupy Wall Street: RIP

Posted: 02/10/2012 3:14 pm

Occupy Wall Street is not a political movement. OWS is a satire created by a Canadian media property that exploited blogs, social media and mainstream news media to generate momentum. The movement may never die. RIP refers to the mainstream attention that the media and politicians gave to this movement.

The Beginning

The OWS idea was created by Adbusters in July of 2011.

This is a Canadian magazine that spoofs commercialism and promotes anarchy. Many news articles attribute the creation of OWS to Adbusters. For example, MSNBC wrote... "First proposed by anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters earlier this year, the Occupy Wall Street movement started gaining notable Internet "buzz" on Sept. 10..."

The Search for "One Demand"

The magazine is the parent of a blog that signs off with "for the wild, Culture Jammers HQ" -- all of the blogs from this group are content within the Adbusters magazine website.

These self-named Culture Jammers posted a blog on July 13, 2011 announcing the Twitter hashtag "#occupywallstreet" and launched the movement with this idea: "are you ready for a Tahrir moment?" The headline defined the reader the blog was targeting: "Alright you 90,000 redeemers, rebels and radicals out there..."

The goal:

On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices.

The self-stated plan was to build momentum and then figure out what the "one simple demand" would be in time for the first demonstration.

... we zero in on what our one demand will be, a demand that awakens the imagination and, if achieved, would propel us toward the radical democracy of the future ... and then we go out and seize a square of singular symbolic significance and put our asses on the line to make it happen.

The Event Without the One Demand

The buzz around "Occupy Wall Street" took off around Sept. 10.

On September 15, 2011, with the event just two days away, the blog wrote an open letter to "patriots, rabble-rousers, revolutionaries." The title was "Hey President Obama, Get Ready for our One Demand." The problem was that nobody had yet come up with the "one demand" that would rationalize the rebellion.

What if, try as we might, we just can't come up with only one demand? Well, then maybe we can decide together on an END THE MONIED CORRUPTION OF AMERICA MANIFESTO -- a rousing compendium of our most urgent demands. And on the seventh day of our occupation we publicly deliver our manifesto to the White House and to the American media, letting Obama know that we won't leave Wall Street until he responds.

The OWS movement shifted towards coming up with the "one demand" AFTER everybody was embedded in their tents. The Canadian Culture Jammers caught fire with people who wanted anarchy for the sake of anarchy.

Zucotti Park Becomes Counter-Culture Chic

OWS became cool. Media coverage exploded. Politicians started to co-opt OWS for their own agenda. Yet, each politician and pundit who dove in, seemed to back away quietly.

Even Michael More backed away. On December 1, one of the bloggers on Mr. Moore's website who was "embedded" in Zucotti park wrote about a girl named Ketchup:

Ketchup, a petite 22-year-old from Chicago with wavy red hair and glasses with bright red frames, arrived in Zuccotti Park in New York on September 17. She had a tent, a rolling suitcase, 40 dollars' worth of food, the graphic version of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and a sleeping bag. She had no return ticket, no idea what she was undertaking, and no acquaintances among the stragglers who joined her that afternoon to begin the Wall Street occupation. She decided to go to New York after reading the Canadian magazine Adbusters, which called for the occupation, although she noted that when she got to the park Adbusters had no discernible presence.

Uh oh! This embedded journalist who was there to promote OWS was posting blogs that actually brought the whole purpose of the protest into question.

We are the 99%

During these weeks, this tiny slice of the population stumbled onto the notion that "We are the 99%." On October 7, a website went up that re-crafted the Declaration of Independence into "The 99% Declaration." This manifesto is the only after-the-fact rationalization for OWS. The irony of this small group calling itself the 99% is satire at its very best.

Things Get Ugly

Zuccotti Park became a tent city with health risks, violence, drug use, exploitation and rape. OWS became an endorsement that this kind of behavior was just what America needs.

Zucotti park was cleaned out early in the morning on November 15th. Protestors were going to be allowed back in quickly after the clean-up but the protestors got a court order that delayed their own return.

Mayor Bloomberg declared:

In the future, protesters and the general public will be welcome there to exercise their first amendment rights and otherwise enjoy the park but will not be allowed to use tents, sleeping bags, or tarps, and going forward must follow all park rules.

The protestors reaction was to go to court because they claimed that all of their behavior, like using tents, was protected under the 1st Amendment.

The next day, November 16, 2011, the Culture Jammers issued "Tactical Briefing #19":

"Now begins the second, visceral, canny, militant phase of our nonviolent march to real democracy."

It takes a great satirist to put "militant phase" and "nonviolent march" into the same call-to-action. This sentence is so beautifully crafted that few readers noticed the oxymoron.

The blog went on to say... "We will turn this winter into a training ground for precision disruptions -- flashmobs, stink bombs, edgy theatrics -- against the megacorps and the unrepentant 1%." The vast majority of Americans are being encouraged to terrorize a tiny minority part of the population for no clear reason.

OWS now occupies the courts with individual cases too numerable to track. These are trials where individuals are defending themselves or law suits because the police acted without sufficient provocation. The foundational court case about free speech has been quietly withdrawn without fanfare.

Occupy Wall Street: RIP

RIP is a misnomer. Adbusters is targeting rebels, redeemers, radicals, rable-rousers and revolutionaries. Their audience has found something that they feel legitimizes their instincts to act out without a clear purpose. They are never going to go away as the latest blog from Culture Jammers HQ confirms. It's called "Tactical Briefing #25, Showdown in Chicago."

Here's the warning for Chicago:

And if they don't listen... if they ignore us and put our demands on the back burner like they've done so many times before... then, with Gandhian ferocity, we'll flashmob the streets, shut down stock exchanges, campuses, corporate headquarters and cities across the globe... we'll make the price of doing business as usual too much to bear.

RIP is about the end of the desire by mainstream media pundits and politicians to stay on board. The creators of the movement were satirists who are very talented at farce and this is a tribute to their talent. But, that is what OWS is.

The term for phony grass roots movements is Astroturfing. OWS was one of the best Astroturfing campaigns of all time.

It's unfortunate that the farce continues to propagate real violence. OWS events must dissolve into violent clashes or run the risk of being like the tree that falls in the woods.

The hangover we are left with is a new impulse to divide the U.S. population up into a group that is 1% and another group that is 99%. One of the brilliant aspects of the construction of the Constitution is that it protects the rights of minorities. It seems that minority rights no longer apply to people who fall into an unpopular "1%."

The OWS story is a story about modern media in all of its messy glory. Adbusters has raised the art of lampooning to a level that Mad Magazine or even Saturday Night Live never imagined.