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Spring is Coming -- and So Is Occupy...

03/02/2012 08:58 EST | Updated 05/02/2012 05:12 EDT

To the casual observer, it might appear as though the once thriving global Occupy movement is either done for or on its last legs. To be sure, the changing of the seasons had a lot to do with the receding tide of Occupy coverage in the mainstream media. It is both difficult and dangerous to occupy public spaces when temperatures dip below freezing, after all, and so the winter drove much of the Occupy movement indoors.

The court ordered evictions and widespread use of force in removing and detaining occupiers didn't do them any favours either, but that is another story altogether.

Today, the Occupy movement is not dead, merely different. For one thing, it has become an umbrella for a number of sub-movements like Occupy Homes, which aims to disrupt foreclosures through --surprise! -- occupying homes. It has also become a rallying call for countless energetic and disillusioned individuals who have tasted some success and are hungry for more.

With the G8 in Chicago around the corner and the original instigators of Occupy Wall Street calling on the world's Occupiers to make their presence felt there, the Occupy movement remains as relevant as ever. To write it off as old news is short-sighted and betrays a lack of interest in the nuances and significance of this global movement.

When opposing interests are squaring off over an issue as contentious as the Occupy movement, not everyone is going to play nice. In fact, you can be sure that some people are going to make a concerted effort to make the people they disagree with look ridiculous, cheapening the public dialogue in the process.

It's an underhanded tactic that lets people skirt around real, meaningful discourse. Unfortunately, it's also quite effective, guaranteeing it a recurring spot in many a political playbook.

In the case of the Occupy movement, tech-savvy anti-Occupiers have had significant success discrediting the movement with viral videos. While individual examples vary, they typically depict painfully awkward and unflattering interviews with some of the less than articulate Occupiers, who fumble over simple -- and often insulting -- questions. These videos spread like wildfire across social networking sites, allowing opponents of the Occupy movement to post a link to a video in order to write off the Occupiers as a joke. These videos let people dismiss the movement out of hand, and created a perception of the typical Occupier as being more of a joke than a potential threat to the political status quo.

While I'll not deny that there are plenty of people involved with the Occupy movement who are not fit spokespeople, I question the fairness of springing the spotlight on them while simultaneously making them de-facto Occupy ambassadors to the wide world. Everyone has an embarrassing relative they wouldn't want to serve as a principle representative of their family; imagine if their behaviour was considered a fair representation of you as an individual and your family as a whole.

The injustice in this hypothetical is not unlike the injustice exemplified by this tactic utilized to such great effect by opponents of the Occupy movement. Forcing an interview on untrained and inexperienced people, and posting it online for the world to mock, is an underhanded and despicable way to make a political point.

At the same time, basing an opinion of a large and disparate group of people primarily on a few minutes of recorded conversation with some of their more inarticulate members is lazy. As such, there is some fault with those who have allowed themselves to be taken in by these manipulative videos; in this age of readily accessible information from all ends of the political spectrum, it is hard to justify ignorance of the facts among vocal advocates of one side or another.

If a tiny cross section of Occupiers is meant to represent the Occupy movement, we mustn't let the movement's opponents make the nominations. I doubt one would have to look very far at any given Occupy camp to find someone who would be more than happy to loudly lament the fact that income disparity has reached catastrophic levels, or that socio-economic barriers are making it ever harder for the lower and middle classes to thrive in today's economic climate. There are many of these Occupiers who aren't shy about voicing their opinions, in person or in print, so there is no reason why you shouldn't be able to find a clear explanation of the movement's origins and aims.

The idea that the Occupy movement is only popular among societal outsiders -- stereotyped as unemployed pot-smoking socialists looking for handouts -- is a falsehood. There has been support for Occupy coming from big names in the economic community, such as Toronto Dominion Bank's CEO Ed Clark. Clark publicly expressed support for the Occupiers in Toronto, the financial capital of Canada and the base of operations for the bank he represents.

Yes, the Occupy movement attracts chaotic elements, and it isn't hard to see why. An extended public occupation, by its very nature, guarantees a certain level of disorder will accompany it. Similarly, the popularity and momentum of the movement attracts ideologically vacant stragglers looking for the comfort and security that comes with joining a collective -- of any kind. That does not mean that they make up the core of the Occupy Movement, nor does it mean that they should be called upon to speak for it. Unless of course they choose to do so, on their own terms, and not through digital ambushes immortalized online by those looking to discredit their beliefs.

Occupiers are a varied bunch. The fact that the Occupy movement has attracted such a cross section of people -- be they ideological adolescents, retired police officers, war veterans, blue-collar workers, PhD candidates, or everything in between -- is one of its greatest strengths. Likewise, the fact that some of the movement's members have so much trouble explaining what they're so upset about says a lot about the collective general outrage boiling over among so many around the world. Perhaps the most apt occupier's response to the question of what they were protesting against was an emphatic "everything!"

The Occupy Movement is tapping into an electric current of idealistic ambition; it's the stuff social revolution is made of. That makes it worthy of focused attention and balanced consideration, at the very least. Occupiers are not so different from the reformers behind the Arab Spring uprisings, or those taking to the streets in the hundreds of thousands in Athens to protest the Greek government's austerity measures.

How can one consider the movement irrelevant when it is so intimately connected to unprecedented social and political upheaval taking place all around the world?

It's unfair how Occupiers are painted as little more than a bunch of far out fools clinging to pie in the sky dreams of widespread economic and political reform. At the same time, it still beats the armed, dangerous, and isolationist lowest common denominator of the Tea Party the media loves to parade around. Prejudicial misrepresentation knows both ends of the political spectrum, it seems.

But as long as we're stuck with stereotypes, I'll take the Occupy hippie over the Tea Party gun nut any day of the week.

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