Occupy Wall Street

Drawing out the Truth at Occupy

When journalist Susie Cagle was arrested at Occupy Oakland, she was busy covering the protests — a press pass hung around her neck, and a sketchbook in her hand. Cagle is a comics journalist, a cartoonist-reporter harnessing the accessibility, symbolism, and visual nature of her art to illuminate this budding movement.

Cagle is not alone. A number of comic journalists have hit the ground at various occupations, documenting the stories and individuals that make up the movement. Unlike their more traditional newspaper-based relatives, comics journalists are unabashedly subjective — they forefront their own vision of the world in every line they draw, reminding us of the fallacy of “objective” reporting. Their word-image combinations bring the occupations to life in ways that speak not only to our intellect, but to our instincts and emotions as well.

A page from Stephanie McMillan’s “American Fall”

The first part of Stephanie McMillan’s Occupy coverage, The Beginning of the American Fall, was posted last week, documenting the merging of the Occupy DC and Stop The Machine protests. Speaking with the Washington Post, McMillan said American Fall was meant to explore (more…)

Occupying Everything

Which are your favorite “occupations”?

The “occupy” meme is spreading like, well, like a meme, across the activist landscape. Whether because of its inversion of the narrative of a government addicted to overseas occupation, its simplicity, or simply its success, the meme continues to inspire and morph. Here are some of those I’ve run across, some serious, some funny. What am I missing?

1. Occupy Wall Street (of course, the original)

2. Occupy (insert city here): Boston, Seattle, Johannasburg, Warsaw — The list could go on forever. See Wikipedia for a substantial list.

3. Occupy Together: a hub for information on occupations across the globe

4. Occupy the Hood: An occupy movement focusing on people of color

5. Occupy (Insert School Here): Students standing in solidarity with OWS

6. Occupy Sesame Street: Muppets in solidarity!

7. Occupy Art World: Protesting big money’s control of art

8. Occupy Zombies: The undead 99%

9. Occupy Everything: Online platform claiming to have started in 2009, don’t know if it had the same name then

10. Occupy Main Street: Funny video of the 1% protesting the rest of us

11. Occupy OUR classrooms: Discussion forum for educators, parents, and community members

12. Occupy the Internet: For those who can’t make it in person


Hip-Hop meets Occupation

A cultural movement in search of a political movement meets a political movement in search of an artistic force.

They say every movement has its soundtrack; but this film metaphor doesn’t come close to capturing the way that music’s unique combination of word and sound has been integral to progressive and radical change throughout the century. From South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, to the freedom songs of the US civil rights struggle, musical rhythms have fueled the very heartbeat of social movements — strengthening bonds within groups, creating space to connect across racial and cultural lines, educating about issues, engaging emotions, and tapping into deeply held political and spiritual beliefs.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, and the larger anti-capitalist sentiment from which it derives its strength, does not have a coherent soundtrack. While musicians of all stripes have taken the movement and its “99%” message as inspiration, and arts of many kinds have popped up at occupation sites, there is no set of “occupation songs” that drive the movement. This may in part be a result of the very wide net the movement is trying to draw — certainly 99% of the population could never agree on liking the same music. But if I had to put my money on one genre that has the potential to unite young occupiers across the country, and the world, it would be hip-hop music — with its wide appeal, roots in rebelliousness, and long history of political and social critique (sorry, folk music).

Meanwhile, conscious hip-hop has long been a cultural movement in search of a political one. (more…)

Occupy Design

Poster by Favianna Rodriguez

The occupy mobilizations have become famous, or perhaps infamous, for their creative, homemade cardboard signage. But across the country, graphic designers are stepping in as well to bring their particular expertise to the effort to craft a visual language for occupiers. These artists, either independently or as subcommittees of occupy mobilizations, are using graphic design to inspire, to diversify the movement, and to educate others about economic inequality.

Occupy Design is a group of designers, artists, and organizers, seeking to “provide a universal visual toolset for the Occupy movement which crosses language barriers and brings a strong visual identity to the movement.” They are calling for people to submit work, and have launched their site with a set of “infographics” that communicate the core concepts of economic inequality in ways that transcend language. It is their way of contributing to a unifying message for the movement.

Occupy Design Infographic

The Occupied Wall Street Journal is apparently going to be printing posters in an upcoming issue, and Favianna Rodriguez, an artist with Justseeds Artist Cooperative, has shared her piece for it, the poster shown at the beginning of this post. (more…)

Occupy Wall Street vs. the Tea Party: Cultural Discourse

Occupy Wall Street

The far left and the far right in this country have demonstrated renewed vigor in the last couple of years. First the right produced the Tea Party movement; now the left has Occupy Wall Street. Both groups are responding to many of the same economic and political issues — the recession, bailing out the banks, and Obama (though one group is reacting to his election and the other to his disappointing performance).

But these two movements are being talked about, by the activists themselves, in very different ways. In particular, they have chosen very different memes with which to frame the movements. And these different choices reflect ongoing differences in the way the right and the left in this country generally approach activism. (more…)

Occupy Sotheby’s

Damien Hurst work being auctioned at Sotheby’s

Here’s a very different take on the intersection of activism and art. Protesters aligned with Occupy Wall Street disrupted an art auction at Sotheby’s, because the company has locked out its art handlers in an attempt to shrink its numbers of unionized workers and curtail benefits — despite record profits. As reported on truth-out.org, a number of activists stood up during the auction and shouted out facts about this unjust lockout, before being escorted out of the building.

Most of the organizing discussed on this site sees art as a vehicle for marginalized voices and social change. But Sotheby’s represents the other side of the art world, and this dispute reminds us that art is not inherently disruptive or radical — it all depends on how it is made and, in this case, how it is understood, bought, and sold. Whatever the original artists had in mind, in the context of Sotheby’s corporate auctions, which sell art to the very rich for extremely high prices, art becomes a commodity and an integral part of both economic and cultural hegemony. (more…)

The Occupied Wall Street Journal

Today the first edition of the Occupied Wall Street Journal is making the rounds, hand to hand, in New York City. In this “public art project,” articles by Journal co-founder Arun Gupta and former NY Times reporter Chris Hedges sit alongside a “Declaration of the Occupation.”

The growing occupation of the New York City financial district has caught the attention of news organizations around the country, but not to the extent, or with the depth and care, that those taking part would like. In response, Gupta and his partner Jed Brandt put together Occupy Wall Street Media to take the message into their own hands. As important as it is to work on catching the eye of mainstream media, any potential movement needs to take action to shape its own narrative. Gupta brings a lot of experience in this, as the general manager of the Indypendent, a free NYC-based progressive newspaper, affiliated with New York Indymedia.

Though I have yet to get my hands on a copy, a number of things about this paper are exciting to me (more…)