Smear Campaigns Fuel Shutdowns of Occupations Across Country

Originally posted at Truthout

by: Michael Corcoran, Truthout | News Analysis

An Occupy Wall Street protester is detained following an attempt to re-enter Zuccotti Park, in New York on November 15, 2011. Hundreds of police officers arrested about 200 demonstrators early Tuesday in an operation to clear the nearly two-month-old camp. (Photo: Todd Heisler / The New York Times)

City officials in Burlington, Vermont, recently used the suicide of a 35-year-old man as an excuse to deceptively close down the occupation. In New York City, just this morning, police threatened arrest to anyone who did not clear Zuccotti Park - the birthplace of the Occupy movement. Across the nation the media, right-wing critics and city officials are wrongly blaming Occupy for seemingly any crime or incident that occurs anywhere in their respective cities in an especially sinister smear campaign that aims to discredit and ultimately try to destroy the movement. Other occupations are in jeopardy of being shut down by the police. Organizers and supporters must act bravely and quickly to save - and expand - this movement as we head into the dead of winter.

A new and vicious smear campaign against the Occupy movement is in full swing. The narrative of this campaign is to portray the movement as a hotbed for violent crime and danger. This false narrative, if it sticks, could prompt more city and town officials across the country to shut down occupations, as the City of New York has attempted to do just this morning, and weaken the movement. This cannot be tolerated.

The full picture of the smear campaign became evident to me when I received a message on a social networking site from a right-wing relative of mine. His message linked to a right-wing smear site [3] that, citing the suicide of a 35-year-old homeless man in Vermont among other things, painted the occupations as one of "sexual assault, violence, vandalism, anti-Semitism, extortion, perversion and lawlessness."

My relative and many of his right-wing comrades, it seems, really believe that the Occupy movement is in favor of murder, violence, rape and drug dealing. This is rather astounding, but it is also the reality of how far beneath contempt the opponents of Occupy are willing to go to kill this movement. The mention of "sexual assaults" is especially slimy, given that it was a protester from Occupy Wall Street [4] who was the victim, not the perpetrator, of an alleged rape and her fellow protesters assisted her with medical and legal help and reported the alleged rapist to authorities.

It is fascinating - as well as scary - to see the way attacks on Occupy have evolved since it first started in late September. Originally, the media coverage and the right-wing attacksattempted to portray the protesters [5] as aimless, lazy, hippie freeloaders, who were fornicating and defecating on the streets, while banging on drums and rambling about nonsense. This caricature did not work, as the support and diversity that make up the movement and its supporters were just too obviously different from the cartoonish portrayal the movement's critics tried to paint. As Bill Maher rightly said on his HBO show "Real Time," "Occupy is not the counterculture. It is the culture [6]."

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But, now, this new and far more sinister smear campaign is well underway. The corporate media, right-wing critics and city and town officials are trying to blame the protests for virtually any and all crime that has occurred on or near the encampments. The headlines in the media outlets - which are owned by corporations [8] that make up the 1 percent in most instances - continue to amplify these narratives and push for the closing of the occupations. The vast majority of these crimes and incidents have nothing to do with the Occupy movement; in fact, many of them speak more about the major social and economic injustices the protesters are trying to end. But that has not stopped city officials from trying to use these instances to stop the occupations. The occupation in Burlington, Vermont, has already been shut down. Occupy Oakland has been shut down twice. Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the movement, is being cleared out by police as I write this [9]. And if the false narratives continue, other occupations - and the strength of the movement - could be in jeopardy.

This is now a crucial moment for the Occupy movement. How organizers and supporters proceed in the next few days may well shape the health and survival of the movement heading through the winter and into the spring. It is absolutely essential that Occupy organizers and supporters (including independent media) work aggressively to: 1) counter the false narrative that tries to, absurdly, link the movement to street violence, rapes and drugs deals, in order to discredit the movement; 2) better explain the relationship between the homeless and the Occupy movement, as the media has portrayed the relationship between organizers and the homeless as vitriolic and divisive, while understating the spirit of acceptance and cooperation between activists and the homeless - themselves products of our unjust economic system; and 3) most importantly, the movement must continue tomaintain the occupations, even in the face of crackdowns from city officials and police. This movement is the single most exciting development in decades for the prospects for creating a more just society. It must continue.

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