Spare Change News
I sat down with Dan Schneider, editor of The Boston Occupier, a volunteerrun newspaper which bills itself as “an independent news source for Occupy Boston and the Occupy Movement.” The Emerson College film student and I discussed “journo-activism,” the Tea Party, and what’s next for the Occupy movement.
Spare Change News: Can you explain what “journo-activism” means?
Dan Schneider: There were a couple of people who described Chris Faraone’s work in the Bos t on Phoenix as journo-activism. And there’s someone at Emerson who made a documentary about Occupy Boston — and professors there gave him a firm finger wag and a warning, not to do any of that “journoactivism.” One of them said, “It’s not your job to go stick a camera in a cop’s face.” I would never be so affronting. There are different approaches to it. I believe that you can support something and still write about it factually.
It’s hard to tell if our articles have ever inspired someone or done any more than serve as a nice newsletter for the people participating in this movement. My goal for this is hopefully for others to take us as a legitimate source of information, not just a platform that people use to stand on.
But if we do fact-based reporting, then what is so bad about journo-activism? If everything we say is true, then what’s the matter? I see that as the basic concept behind journalism anyway, report what is true and factual and try to get the whole story, as much as you can. I never had a problem with Fox News because the people who work there have a set of beliefs, it’s the way that those beliefs are represented, and I never felt that they were fully factual or accurate — or ever acknowledged that there could be another side. This same sort of orthodoxy, I think has always been a problem, has become a bigger problem in the Republican Party and congress in general.
SCN: A lot of the criticism of the Occupy Movement has focused upon the fact that Occupy operates outside
of the two dominant political parties, rather than within one of them. Do you see Occupy members collaborating with any political parties in the future or with political groups, specifically with progressive or Democrat-leaning groups?
DS: I think it’s been interesting so far, the ways in which we’ve already seen (Occupy’s) reflections onto the
Democratic Party. You start to see imprints, almost; in candidates running for office, I believe in — I can’t remember of it was Seattle or Portland — somewhere on the West Coast, running for mayor — we even have some representatives who said that they were heavily influenced by the Occupy movement. Now it’s hard to tell whether they actually participated, or they just liked the ideas or even if they were just using the (Occupy) name and capitalizing on a popular name to try to shore up grass roots support amongst liberals. But I think that there is ultimately going to be some form of relationship.
I know many people who want nothing to do with electoral politics — in our last issue Doug Greene wrote an article called “The Politics of the Impossible” about how it is more important to make these changes in ways that are outside of the political mainstream.
For me, in my ideal world, there would be some sort of synthesis of both where — maybe this isn’t a group that runs their own candidates under the moniker, like the Tea Party did.
I think it (Occupy) could very well influence a new generation of elected officials — I think many people who
participate in marches, people who even stayed down at Dewey Square or Zuccotti Park or in McPherson in DC,
many of them may end up running for elected office. Maybe, perhaps, it will influence the Democratic Party. I feel like we are starting to see some Senators or Congressmen become more outspoken in their liberalness — in contrast to someone like President Obama, who is almost a hard-line centrist, if you will.
SCN: Do you think that it is possible for the Occupy movement to collaborate with Democrats without sacrificing the principles that are so important to Occupy? I am asking that because I keep reading about Tea Party members who have become disenchanted after their candidates have been elected to office as Republicans and then have been let down when their ideals have not been fully realized through the political system.
DS: I think there is something to be said for compromise. I recognize that compromise, and I can’t speak for everyone in the Occupy movement, can easily be a way for some of these ideas to germinate, and be put into action, and be made into real policy.
These ideas aren’t necessarily new. The idea that there are clear class divisions in the country, and very prominent class divisions, that are growing. The top 1 percent of income earners — their income has grown by some 273 percent in the last 30 years.
SCN: Can you see any similarities or areas where there is common ground between the Tea Party and Occupy
DS: April 15th is going to be very interesting this year, to see what Tax Day actions happen for Occupy and for the Tea Party. For me, when I look at this, I see so much common ground — a scary amount of common ground — that’s only ever been hinted at so far and generally un-discussed. For instance, if you take a hundred hardcore Tea Partiers, who fit the stereotype, I’m talking three cornered hats and white powdered wigs — and dropping Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and Thomas Paine quotes every three seconds. And then you’ve got a couple of stereotypical occupiers in a room. You know a hundred black-shirted, bandana-wearing, smelly hippies in a room, and you say these words, “Transparency in Government,”would you find anyone who does not want that in that room? Two hundred people, ask them by a show of hands if they want that, and every hand will be raised immediately.
Transparency in government — and there are a host of other things. Personal privacy, things like the Patriot Act, there are very clear areas, where these two groups agree, but I think it’s largely served the political mainstream and the mainstream media to classify them as these two opposing groups. But two things that developed organically are not necessarily in opposition.
SCN: It seems that for a long time conservatives have been able to control the conversation surrounding income inequality, I think of the Karl Rove attack ad against Elizabeth Warren where he tries to paint her as a radical because of her association with Occupy. And then there is that frequently repeated (but untrue) suggestion that President Obama is a socialist. Do you think that the Occupy movement has made any
ground in changing the conversation about economic inequality?
DS: Of course, I think that Occupy has reclaimed it as something new in a lot of ways. I don’t often hear any of the Republican presidential candidates or conservative candidates really address that problem of income inequality. This issue of income inequality, it was a nonissue — because we don’t have income inequality in America, we have, “the people who try and work hard” and we have “the people who don’t try and fail,” and that’s it, that’s the way it goes.
But I think a lot of people have started to understand that it is about more than that. People who have tried have still failed — people who have put in effort and worked multiple jobs will still find their mortgages have gone under water, or find that they still have student debt piled on their back. And large companies who try and do fail, like many of the banks that were involved in the financial crisis will be bailed out. So it’s not just as simple as having winners or losers. And this is something that I’ve heard that’s interesting, this idea of “corporate welfare.” And I’m starting to see a little bit of popularity in the idea of cutting that, on both sides-from people, both conservatives and liberals, who want to see the market do what it is supposed to do, no corporate welfare, no subsidies — or at least cutting them back. When these policies will go into effect is hard to say because many of these industries have very powerful lobbies working in the halls of congress.
SCN: Do you think that the reluctance to talk about income inequality stems from this idea that it is impolite to discuss money? Recently, Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann Romney, was asked about their family’s enormous fortune and she said, “I don’t think of myself as wealthy” and sort of dodged the question. Do you think this discomfort about discussing money is part of why this hasn’t been addressed?
DS: I’m in a writing for television class right now at my school and you watch a lot of sitcoms, Modern Family
is a good example — on a lot of these shows it is just sort of implied that the characters have money … there’s sort of an artifice built around money. But on these shows, they’ll never say $100,000, sometimes they’ll refer to $1 million dollars or $1 billion dollars, or you know, an absurdly large amount of money. If they are going to get a raise, they’ll slide a card across the table and they’ll look at it and they’ll open their eyes, like, oh my god that is so much money! But they will never say specifically, how much of a raise they’re getting or how much they make, because, just like you said, there is a reluctance to discuss money. I think now, with the particular piece of rhetoric that has become entrenched in our minds, this one percent/ninety-nine percent distinction.
I’d like to see more discussion of that (income inequality) and less discussion of how people choose to have sex and in what context they deal with the consequences.
I’d like to see on both sides less of a focus on social issues, it’s not what our country needs right now. Our country is mired in massive amount of debt, we’ve been involved in two very expensive wars for the last 10 years, I think we have a lot more to reassess about ourselves than the way in which people choose to reproduce. And it is so frustrating when the national conversation becomes dominated by that kind of discussion, it takes away time and focus from the problems people have paying their bills, and having a place to live and being able to go to school without being chained to massive amounts of debt.
LEANNE O’BRIEN is a Spare Change News writer and editor.
PHOTO: REUTERS/ADREES LATIFOFFICE