Monday, September 22, 2014

This one is not the media's fault

Folks that read here regularly know that I'm not hesitant to criticize our media. But I won't be joining the chorus complaining about how they didn't cover the Climate March that took place in New York (and other cities) yesterday. The reason they didn't cover it is because it wasn't really "news." Sure, it looks like 300,000 people showed up. But then what? 

The mantra of a lot of activists is that "we need to take it to the streets." In our era, most often that is assumed to mean a march like the one that happened yesterday. As a pragmatist, I am inclined to ask some simple questions about how that works. I start with: what are the goals of the march? If it is to bring together like-minded people to energize them for a cause - then a march that attracts 300,000 is a success. But if the goal is to reach the skeptics and opponents of your cause, its a waste of time. And frankly, if the goal is to challenge the power structures that fights change, this is a MUCH more effective action.
...on Monday, a collection of institutional investors that manage $50 billion among themselves will announce that they will divest entirely from fossil fuels. Prominent among the group is the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, whose assets were accumulated by the Rockefeller family’s many decades of producing petroleum, first under the Standard Oil brand and later under Exxon. “John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, moved America out of whale oil and into petroleum,” explained Stephen Heintz, President of the Fund. “We are quite convinced that if he were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy.”

“One announcement alone isn’t going to tip the balance, but when one announcement is followed by another and then another, that gets CEOs to pay attention,” Tom Steyer, the billionaire climate activist who has funded numerous electoral campaigns on behalf of climate action, told The Nation. “CEOs pay a lot of attention to their shareholders, just like everyone pays attention to what their boss thinks. So actions like this send a powerful message.”
I remember thinking the same thing during Occupy Wall Street. Activists got SOOO angry when Wall Street executives watched them from a balcony while they drank their champagne. But that should have been a message...the occupiers were posing ZERO threat to the financiers. Meanwhile, one young woman organized a movement to get people to take their money out of big banks and put it in smaller ones and/or credit unions. THAT'S where the seeds of change were really happening.

In the end, even if the media is to blame for not covering the march yesterday, I fail to see the point of simply complaining about that. Its time to accept the fact that the media doesn't cover marches and - if the goal is to get their attention - be creative in coming up with actions that will.

Frankly, for years now I've been totally bored with the left's apparent love affair with the tactic of marches. I finally realized why that was when I read Al Giordano reporting on the consultations the resistance movement in Honduras received from members of Otpor! in Serbia. Giordano relates their answer to the question "How do you give your opponent a headache." Right away you know this is going to be good - because they're asking a fascinating question. Marches - even ones attended by 300,000 people - give no one a headache. Instead, Otpor! talked about creating a dilemma for the authorities.
During our struggle, every morning when we would get together we would ask ourselves the same question: how can we give the regime a headache today?

What matters now is who is going to make the next move.

If the regime makes the next move, you have to react.

If you make the first move, then they have to react.

The whole game is to calculate the next steps, to put the adversary in a position where he can’t react well...

What we wanted to have is something that is going to provoke a response and make the regime look stupid. This is what we called a “Dilemma Action.”
I'll let you click on the link if you want to read further about the dilemma action Otpor! came up with to challenge the authorities. Suffice it to say that it included a barrel and a picture of Milosevic.

If your goal is to attract more people to your cause rather than give the authorities a headache, Giordano came up with a great suggestion...flashmobs. Emma Goodman was right: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution."

Add a coherent political message, banners, leaflets, a dance tune that resonates with the message, and such to a dancing musical flash mob like these and you have the seeds of a new, more effective, kind of protest than the tired old marching around in circles of the last century that has ceased to win any cause for anyone.
The truth is that the possibilities are endless. All it takes is a little creativity.

But if people on the left want to keep doing the same thing over and over again, then complain when the media doesn't find it interesting anymore,  I just have one question for you...


  1. I think a quick look at the Gay Pride movement will remind us that marches have an effect. Marches by themselves are useless. Marches as part of a larger, long game strategy have their place. You're right, the media doesn't cover them, they never will. Marches are for the people who attend. Sure I'd like to have seen someone gathering data from that crowd, but in the absence of that, let's not minimize the effect that march had on its participants. If it energizes even a fraction of them to do the hard work of organizing, then it will have been worth it. The 300 foot banner being unfurled right now is a collective action that teaches the value of teamwork. I think it's pretty clever. It might not get any mainstream media, but it's getting plenty of play in social media.
    This fight is going to be long and arduous and largely the work of a younger generation. I applaud the effort because it shows the issue is being taken seriously by a segment of society. I suspect there were some real organizers in that crowd who will emerge as leaders in their community. I'm not going to diss this the way I do some actions. This gave me hope, and for that, I'm grateful.

    1. As I said above, if the goal was to

      bring together like-minded people to energize them for a cause - then a march that attracts 300,000 is a success.

    2. Yes, that was the goal, and it was a massive success since they and the police were expecting about 100000. What you are missing is that this was 1 event out of many planned this entire week. It gives diplomats meeting at the UN a few blocks over more reason to push for climate action. Ban Ki Moon was at this event, and you have to believe it will have some effect? But furthermore, this brought a lot of different, well organized, climate change movements together, including labor, religious, corporate and climate action specific movements together. It is also a trial run to what will inevitably be a much larger show of support for climate action next year when countries gather in Paris to discuss what to do about climate change.

      The reason this march was successful was because it was the opposite of what OWS was. It has a focused objective, it was very well organized and run by very effective organizations, there are specific goals after the march was over, but most importantly, it was only 1 small part of a much bigger series of ongoing actions.

      The news media complaining is coming not from marchers, but from blogs, largely to kill, once and for all, the idea of a liberal press. The march was successful with or without media coverage.

    3. Just to be clear, people aren't complaining that the march wasn't covered. They are complaining that if this was a march by a 1000 tea partiers, it would be covered far more, in an effort to point out the big "liberal media" lie.

    4. Honestly, the media doesn't cover tea party gatherings these days either. They're old news too.

      As long as people are owning that media coverage doesn't matter and that the only goal was to energize the already-committed - then have at it as a "success." But the link I provided to those who are complaining is from "Media Matters" - who don't have much interest in killing the idea of a liberal press.

    5. It would be much more interesting to me if someone would drop the attempt to justify marches as not totally useless and tell my why they are better at accomplishing their goals than a creative alternative.

    6. What is this not covered business? The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and Yomiuri Shimbun all covered it today.

    7. Good point Alex. Often whether or not something is "covered" by the media is in the eye of the beholder w/ everyone vying for "THE MOST VICTIMIZED because they're not paying attention to me" status.