Wednesday, October 5th
Among the tarps, pizza boxes, and people tightly squeezed into Zuccotti Park, there are subtly segmented sections. There’s the art area, towards the back of the park, overflowing with posters. A buffet style food assortment resides near the center, kitty-corner to the sleeping area, where mattresses and sleeping bags lie, some vacant, some not.
Behind the sign marked “info” sat computers, cameras, generators, wireless routers, and lots of electrical cords. This is the media center, where the protesters group and distribute their messages. Those who count themselves among the media team for Occupy Wall Street are self appointed; the same goes with all teams within this community.
As I tried walking into the media area, which is portioned off with a three foot wall of suitcases, tarps, and containers, a man with “security” printed across his shirt stopped me. After I gave my details, I stepped through the narrow opening.
I sat down with Brian Phillips, a former Marine, who quit his job in Washington and hitchhiked to Manhattan to participate. He was wearing a press pass, saying he was a field journalist for a company out of Washington state called Cast Media. He described himself as the communications director and head of security within the media team, and said security is there to keep watch on the stacks of donated computers and other equipment that’s sitting out in the open October air.
Most of the members of Occupy Wall Street’s media team were in a meeting, I was told, one that I would not be allowed to sit in on. Phillips said that as the protest has grown, the media team has been busy coordinating, notably through the “unofficial,” Occupytogether.org. It’s a hub for all Occupy-inspired happenings and updates, a key part of the internal communications network for the Occupy demonstrations. While sitting in the media tent I saw several Skype sessions with other demonstrators. At one point a bunch of people gathered around a computer shouting, “Hey Scotland!” Members of the media team also maintain a livestream, and keep a steady flow of updates on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
I am told that the media team was not responsible for the print paper that is stacked around, The Occupy Wall Street Journal, and while I’m hard pressed to get a concrete answer about this paper, I later read it was sponsored by donations to Kickstarter, in collaboration with the Indypendent Media Center. These are the last of some 70,000 copies, and there’s a sign up sheet, where people can volunteer to contribute to the next edition. Rumor has it, the second issue will be out next week.
The media team supplies content to post on Occupywallst.org, which Phillips describes as their “frontline for media.” This site contains videos, pictures, and short posts, but remains unofficial, as all things here do, to retain its horizontal hierarchy. It’s this structure that allows anyone to join, and with an ever increasing flow of disenchants, it is not always agreed upon what exactly the message should be. But that’s the point.
Soon after arriving, another internal communications network showed itself. Phillips referred to it as the “people mic.” It begins with someone shouting out, “mic check!” which is then repeated back. A few words at a time, the message is echoed through the crowd, allowing the request or information to spread through to the peripheries of the park. “The cops wont let us use a megaphone or amplification, so we have to yell out what we want to say and then they repeat it back,” Phillips said.
I move on, making my way through the crowd to a sign that reads “Press.” There, I meet Mark Bray, a PhD student at Rutgers, studying European history. This is the public relations table, Bray explains. There has been a “press committee” since the beginning, but this is only the second day that there’s been a designated area for it.
Bray is volunteering as a spokesperson, because he feels he can best serve this movement by articulating its message. He goes on to express a sentiment I will hear throughout my time with the Occupiers; the perception that mainstream media want to present this as extreme, or fragmented, or incomprehensible. “Listen, there are very unusual people here, and I see reporters trying to find the craziest looking person to get a sound bite,” he says. “We’re not trying to prevent these interviews, but we’re just here to provide a thought out answer from the press committee’s perspective.”