I had the privilege today of giving a media workshop to an august and vitally important group: a couple dozen members of a welfare-and-housing-rights group in Montreal called Project Genesis.
Now, members of this “elite” don’t belong to the economic elite, of course. Many probably eke out a survival on an income of a few hundred dollars a month.
But, against all odds, they are becoming part of a select group. They are choosing to address the economic injustice they know intimately in a manner that is not rooted in narrow self-interest. Despite the daily obstacles these folks face with quiet dignity – many are elderly, female and belong to visible and linguistic minorities – they have chosen to come out of the long shadows of poverty to say we all deserve much better. That’s a tough argument to make in today’s cynical, corporate-driven media environment.
And let’s face it: it’s not easy to be an effective media communicator. Even for someone with an expensive post-secondary education, a good income and the status that comes with an impressive, professional career. So imagine what it’s like for people with none of those advantages and who have never been treated with respect by the rest of our society, especially the media. It takes great courage to step into the spotlight and demand a hearing.
So we discussed strategies on how best to do just that. We practiced, rehearsed, role-played and debated how to get across an unpopular message (unpopular, that is, to those who currently guard access to mass media) that promotes economic justice. More specifically, why decent housing is not only a basic right but also a public good. It was a rewarding exercise. I could see people gaining confidence, the confidence to tell their stories in an effort to demand something better for their neighbours and their children. This in itself is a great victory.
Helping give voice to the voiceless is a thrill. But when you see this little exercise in the context of the historical moment we are living, when you know that thousands of these meetings are taking place simultaneously around the world, it’s exhilarating.
Think of it. We are not alone. Across the globe, people from all walks of life on every continent are choosing to say, “enough is enough” in a concerted fashion.
In a couple days, for instance, I’m going to take a few of my older kids down to Square Victoria, beside the Montreal Stock Exchange Tower, for a protest demonstration that will be cascading through dozens of the world’s major cities the same day, with the same message. Hopefully you will have read about it or seen a television news report on it by the time this issue is published. As you may have gathered, this is important to me. I rarely involve my children in my activist life. The last time I did so was in February 2003, when I brought my then eight-year-old daughter to the massive, 150,000-strong protest march in Montreal against potential Canadian involvement in the imminent US-led invasion of Iraq (which went ahead, though without Canadian forces, the following month). It was a life experience for her and it enabled me to explain some of the realities of our world. We still speak of that event from time to time.
This time, I will take my now 16-year-old daughter and some of her younger brothers to the Montreal version of the Occupy Wall Street protest that took root a month ago in New York City. It was initially ignored in a blanket media blackout. But this movement is finally giving voice to the legitimate rage over the rampant corporate greed and the political corruption in the US that is destroying America’s economy and democracy.
Internationally, it is spreading like a wildfire because this nightmare is universal. We must all join together to oppose the corporate destruction of our economy, our environment and our democratic rights.
And I want my kids to witness this moment firsthand. Maybe, years later in a history class, they will remember this experience and develop a deeper understanding of the forces that shape our lives. Or even be inspired to help improve the lives of others.
This is key, because one thing we can count on is that most of the mainstream media voices here will echo the dismissive, insulting and ignorant coverage that the Occupy Wall Street movement has received over the past weeks in the US. Recognizing this fact should redouble the determination for those of us who step forward to concentrate on our message and our motivations. We are in for rough treatment.
Political comedian Jon Stewart of the always-insightful Daily Show nailed it on how the media has addressed the Occupy Wall Street activists camping out in New York’s financial district. The coverage dial has gone directly from “blackout” to “crisis”, Stewart explained. Of course, those are the only two tonal settings the US media has these days, he added.
As if on cue, consider the CBC, Canada’s allegedly “left-wing” state-funded broadcaster, which has piled on to the bandwagon of hatred for the people willing to challenge the status quo. Anyone who may have clicked on the interview by CBC host Kevin O’Leary with an Occupy Wall Street demonstrator (it has gone viral on social media) has a prime Canadian example of blatant and disgusting media bias.
The supposed professional journalist – O’Leary – had nothing but ignoramus insults to offer, while the “guest” of the program – Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges – successfully struggled to maintain his dignity while offering up intelligent and thoughtful explanations for what drives this spontaneous uprising.
In other words, they will first try to ignore you. Then they attack your credibility in the most hysterical fashion. Then we win.