We need Occupy, Occupy needs the media

Why the Daily’s participation in the Occupy movement is a good thing

My objective in this column is primarily to take the Daily to task when its content isn’t left-wing enough to suit my own tastes. But, I have little more to say about the Daily’s coverage of Occupy Montreal than to emphasize that I am impressed by the editors’ decision to camp out at the People’s Place themselves. In doing so, they are transforming what is too often a passive and fleeting exercise into one that is active, participatory, and rigorous.

Few things in the past month have boiled my blood quite like the contention that the Occupy movement is struggling with its own “inchoate demands,” or that it is too idealistic, naive and angry. The reality of the situation is far from confusing. In 2006, the richest one per cent of the globe controlled 40 per cent of its wealth, and we’re pissed off about it.

For as long as I can remember, issues of class have been completely neglected by the mainstream press. Far more seasoned activists and journalists who I’ve talked to recently have said the same thing. Occupy is starting to change that trend – not just here but also in the thousand or so cities worldwide that are participating in the movement. Never before in history have people from around the globe stood so explicitly in solidarity with one another, combating the same systemic issues of marginalization and impoverishment. It’s exciting.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the historic development of capitalism: the fact that so much of the organizational, physical, and legal technologies that it employs were first established within the context of colonialism, displacement and genocide in the Americas. The oil industry’s foundation on the frontier of south-western Ontario in the mid-19th century, for instance, and its rapid proliferation throughout Europe, South America, the Middle East, and the South Pacific. Or the advent of the modern mining industry around the same time as with the gold rushes that led to the creation of California and British Columbia.
These processes in North America generated a lot of wealth for a few people – most of the followers of resource booms are not quite so lucky. But the situation becomes even more complicated when those same technologies that built the colonial frontier – entitlement to mineral deposits, open shop labour practices, land grabs, the physical extraction and export of wealth – are applied globally. What we’re seeing today is the result: huge disparities in wealth, political marginalization, and environmental degradation.

We’ve been spoon-fed a lot of bullshit in the process. A lot of the time, we ingest it eagerly. Occupy is an important and inspiring movement to me is because it indicates that more than a handful of us are beginning to move beyond the rhetoric with which we and our parents and grandparents have been indoctrinated. It suggests that we may be moving towards a time when we forfeit the myth that inhibiting markets means inhibiting progress, and choose, instead, to fight for a society that is simply livable for everyone, globally.

It is true that it’s difficult to see at this juncture how the movement might move from a few ruminating articles in the press – such as this one – to a historical event that palpably improves the lives of single mothers, indigenous peoples, and impoverished individuals the world over. At what point exactly will the furor of the masses become so great that the prince has no choice but to step out onto his balcony and accede? The answer is that, although this movement may be revolutionary, its resolution will not be tidy. Banks sometimes have the luxury of being too big to fail; social movements do not. For now, it may be best to allow these democratic spaces to grow in hopes that they may eventually engulf the entire earth.

The role of the media in the development of this movement will no doubt be critical in shaping it, and, if it has any chance of affecting real and positive change, that coverage will have to be fair and engaged. In that sense, I’m earnestly gratified to see the editors of this newspaper taking such a participatory role in it. The last thing that we need is disengaged journalists deriding the movement for its idealism.

The readers’ advocate is a twice-monthly  column written by Niko Block addressing the performance, relevance, and quality of the Daily. You can reach him at readersadvocate@mcgilldaily.com.