Here’s what Wikipedia says about disinformation:
Disinformation (a translation of the Russian word dezinformatsiya) is intentionally false or inaccurate information that is spread deliberately….Disinformation should not be confused with misinformation, information that is unintentionally false….A common disinformation tactic is to mix some truth and observation with false conclusions and lies, or to reveal part of the truth while presenting it as the whole….
|UC and SF State Students join OccupySF at Bank of America|
Courtesy D. Boyer, Indybay
New York: “The park was becoming a place where people came not to protest but rather to break laws, and in some cases to harm others,” Mayor Bloomberg said in a nationally released statement.
University of California: “The University of California regents have canceled this week’s meeting in San Francisco, citing a ‘real danger of significant violence and vandalism.’ UC leaders said Monday that university police told them 'rogue elements intent on violence and confrontation with UC public safety officers were planning to attach themselves to peaceful demonstrations expected to occur at the meeting'....”
DC: “’The one-month-old Occupy D.C. movement has grown ‘increasingly confrontational and violent,’ the District’s police chief said…”
San Francisco: “Managers at the Ferry Building…blamed a rash of shoplifting, vandalism and muggings at the Embarcadero marketplace on Occupy campers they said had run amok.”
From Fox News: “A rash of reports of sexual assaults at Occupy Wall Street protests across the country has both police and activists raising red flags…The most serious incident was reported in downtown Portland last night – cops responded to calls of a Molotov cocktail being set off near the city’s World Trade Center…At the site of the Occupy San Diego camp, street cart vendors were forced to close up shop when protesters, angry that they stopped receiving free food, ransacked and vandalized the carts.”
In some cases, incidents near Occupy camps are immediately linked to the protests, where no evidence exists that there’s a connection. In Oakland, a man was tragically killed in a fight near the plaza where the camp was located. The police – who had been calling for the camp’s destruction since it went up – mentioned in an open letter begging the protesters to leave the Plaza that “This is the 101st homicide in the city this year,” implying that the month-old encampment was somehow responsible for eleven months’ worth of murders. At Cal Berkeley, a freak incident in which an allegedly armed student was shot and killed by police at the business school was immediately linked by the media and the college administration to Occupy-themed protests that were happening on campus that day. The local CBS radio station reported:
“It was the first on-campus shooting since 1992. In that earlier incident, an Oakland police officer fatally shot a machete-wielding activist from nearby People’s Park who had broken into the former chancellor’s mansion….The shooting occurred as anti-Wall Street activists were preparing another attempt to establish an Occupy Cal camp after a failed effort last week led to dozens of arrests.”By mentioning Wall Street, and using the word “activist” in both contexts, the story manages to imply that the shooting at the business school was an anti-business protest. In fact, unlike the woman who allegedly broke into the ex-chancellor’s house, who was involved in the movement to stop the college from turning People’s Park into a volleyball court by the college, no evidence has been offered that the student killed on Tuesday had any connection to Occupy Cal. He was taking classes at the business school.
Disinformation: “mixing truth with false conclusions and lies.” There is some truth in many of the accusations. There has in fact been sexual assault and sexual harassment at Occupy camps. There’s also been racial and anti-queer harassment. The camps have set up mechanisms to deal with these, some better than others, but that doesn’t differentiate them from pretty much any other place in the country where people live. If the police raided every work place where sexual harassment, up to and including assault, was taking place, it’s hard to believe there would be a public or private office left open.
The disinformation has been combined with a government tool that is even more common in our “democracy”: criminalizing dissent. Now in a lot of countries, governments simply outlaw protest, either entirely or in certain circumstances. Here, it’s generally more complicated than that. We have freedom to dissent, as long as our expressions of dissent have no possibility of influencing anyone. The people in charge say, “You don’t need to make trouble; you don’t need to sit in at lunch counters, you can picket, you can vote, you can write to your Congresspeople. If you don’t get what you want, obviously it’s because not enough people agreed with you.” When two-thirds of the people opposed the ongoing Iraq war, Cheney said he didn’t make policy by opinion polls. When at least 70% of the people (including 61% of millionaires) want to raise taxes on the 1% instead of cutting funding for schools and social services, government spokespeople say we should have protests in places that don’t create inconvenience. And if you insist on being where they don’t want you to be, you’re the problem – you’re a criminal.
It’s like in the old Malvina Reynolds song: “It isn’t nice to block the doorway, it isn’t nice to go to jail/There are nicer ways to do it, but the nice ways always fail.” She wrote that in 1964.
The media collude in this by only covering most protest if it’s a crime story. Two years ago, when asked why they continually ignored large demonstrations against the Iraq War, the Washington Post responded that they do not cover rallies. They were covering the Tea Party non-stop, but theoretically, they were not covering the Tea Party’s rallies, they were covering the threat they posed to political officials. Except that they covered the threat by interviewing its spokespeople at length. More than two weeks after Occupy Wall Street had set up in Zuccatti Park, the New York Times said they were not covering it because it wasn’t very big and had no famous people involved. This was after several thousand people had participated in marches and General Assemblies, and Michael Moore, Roseanne Barr and Eve Ensler had all visited the camp.
The only way for left-wing protests to get coverage, and it’s not a sure bet itself, is if there are arrests, which is why so many of our actions involve orchestrated civil disobedience. But then, much of the time the story is that we were arrested, so we’re obviously criminals.
While there was a brief moment when the media was having a little love-fest with the 99% Movement, it has mostly passed. Now actions of police and others against protesters are reported as evidence of our criminality, while standard civil disobedience tactics are branded “violent.”
One of the bases for DC police chief Cathy Lanier labeling the occupation “increasingly violent” was that at a demonstration on Friday night, “four protesters were hit by a vehicle….She described the group as peaceful last week but distributed videos Monday showing some protesters blocking the doors of the convention center and pounding on windows.”
On a march in San Francisco last Saturday, which I was involved in organizing, police attempted to force us onto the sidewalk by riding motorcycles into protesters, shoving us and grabbing at our banners. The march was calling attention to the military tribunals that Egyptian democracy activists are facing, now that the army, which helped to oust Mubarak, has consolidated its power. The only media story about it – which was picked up by pretty much every newspaper in the country and even by progressive radio station KPFA – was that police claimed their officers were attacked in two separate incidents, one involving an Xacto knife.
We are pretty sure these incidents didn’t happen (we have video, which doesn’t show them), but our police liaison did say that an officer in charge told him a cop might have been cut by a something attached to a banner. That’s possible, since the banner poles were wooden and the cops were grabbing at them, but it’s quite different from what they later reported, “a woman came from the crowd, slashed an officer's hand with a pen knife or razor blade, then disappeared before he realized he'd been cut.” In every previous Saturday march since OccupySF began, we have marched in the street and the police made no effort to stop us. But this week, they changed their tactics and suddenly we are criminals.
At UC Berkeley last Wednesday, when police badly beat students for trying to set up a tent – on their own campus, which they’re paying handsomely to attend, BTW, the police captain explained that “linking arms in a human chain when ordered to step aside is not a nonviolent protest.” The chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, famously repeated that claim in a statement which made it all the way to Stephen Colbert’s show. Obviously Birgeneau either has never seen pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr. linking arms with Dr. Ralph Bunche on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, or he assumes that all the guys we name holidays and streets after were violent criminals – which, of course, might not be so far from the truth.
So if Homeland Security, under Obama, is now coordinating a disinformation campaign to discredit the Occupy movement, after Nancy Pelosi and the president himself expressed support for its goals a few weeks ago, why? Of course I don’t know, but I do have a theory.
-- The Obama administration needs these protests to be over before the Day After Thanksgiving (I refuse to use the term “Black” Friday). Given the fragile state of the economy, nothing can be allowed to interfere with the almighty shopping season. Mayors and city officials too are afraid of the possible impact that unsightly and bad-smelling camps rife with homeless people and anti-capitalists might have on those all-important retail numbers. They had planned to be well done with this movement by now, having started the raids long ago, but the backlash over Shock and Awe in Oakland delayed them by several weeks. So now they need the camps to be gone, and they need help speeding it up. In San Francisco, for instance, Mayor Ed Lee was more or less forced to endorse the camp, which has the advantage, we were told, of not being in an “inconvenient” – read central – location, because his public works people were saying that it wasn’t a problem, that the campers were being very cooperative with them, and the local papers were actually saying that it was “bringing back a blighted park.” But that was a week ago, when he had barely squeaked out an election he was never supposed to be in. Now, it seems he’s being pressured by someone, or perhaps many people, to get with the program and he needs a justification to reverse course.
-- The Democrats are worried about their legislative agenda. They sort of liked the movement at first, because it gave them some leverage, and that actually seemed to pay off for them – they got a few things done in the last weeks. But now the debt super-committee is about to come back with its recommendations to slash and/or privatize Medicare and Social Security; the jobs bill is weak and going to get weaker; they are not going to deliver on any of their fine rhetoric about taxing the 1%, and they DO NOT want highly energized, mobilized crowds in every city ready to go marching through the streets. They may not dare to tell Homeland Security to go round up all the activists and put us in a stadium somewhere until future notice, but they’re going to do the next best thing – shove the protesters out of sight, and smear the hell out of any who won’t go quietly.
And in that effort, Disinformation is their friend.