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October 16, 2011

Sometimes my peripatetic ways give me an interesting angle on things. I was overseas a couple of weeks ago and during a few of the inevitable hours I spent in my room at the century-old Rôtes Ross hotel in Halle I explored the 100+ channels available on the television set. Only three were broadcasting in English, and all were news channels. There was a Euro channel coming out of Paris, with lots of news about France, and there was a channel sponsored by the Chinese that was available in three or four languages including English. And then there was Al Jazeera broadcasting in Arabic and English. Most of the coverage was about the United Nations debate over recognizing statehood for Palestine, but Al Jazeera did have some coverage on the U.S.

What they were covering was the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations. They compared these demonstrations to the “Arab spring” protests that have led to dramatic changes in Egypt and Libya, and that are the source of ongoing unrest in Syria. The Al Jazeera reporters also made a special point of the fact that the U.S. press had chosen NOT to cover the rally. I believe that the coverage suggested that the story was being “repressed” in the United States, though I may not remember that correctly. I do recall them pointing out the way when mainstream press sources did write about the Occupy Wall Street protestors, they described them as desultory and without a clear agenda. And from Al Jazeerah’s perspective this was (as we said last week) déjà vu all over again. It was, in other words, very much like the way that media controlled by Mubarak and Gaddafi had covered demonstrations in their countries.

Then I spent a few days in Washington DC where I emerged from the Metro at McPherson Square, site of the “Occupy DC” activities. I gather that momentum has built considerably since I was there, but indeed, stuff was happening. And The Washington Post chose to cover it mainly by talking about how the unemployed and under-employed protestors who were encamped there had been able to persist mainly because two nearby Starbucks locations had been relatively lax about enforcing their “Customers Only” rule for use of the restrooms.

Meanwhile, back in Lansing my brother-in-law was visiting from Boston, where he was among those arrested during the “Occupy Boston” protests. Although I missed his visit, he inspired his sister (and Thornapple CSA members know who that is) to turn out for the “Occupy Lansing” rally that was held at the Capital yesterday. If you watched the news or checked the paper, you know that event did get some notice, though it ran second billing to the Spartan’s fourth consecutive victory over the Downstate Regional College boys.

The protests are deliberately vague because a) they want to be inclusive; and b) the point is to make an unmistakable expression of dissatisfaction with the status quo that also avoids the reactionary bias that dominates the so-called Tea Party movement. Lots of people are pissed, in other words, but that shouldn’t just be a default open-door for changes that roll back progress on healthcare, progress on environmental quality and decades-old progress on labor. Is there a food connection here? Well, obviously there is. One of the Capital speakers decried the use of GMOs, for example.

Too late in the blog to take up that issue, I’m afraid. I respect your attention span, dear readers. More generally, economic justice clearly has to take up food access. The Community Supported Agriculture movement has always (at least partly) been about taking back control of the food supply. It’s worth thinking about turning out for the next “Occupy X” activity, even if it does turn out to be another simple desultory philippic.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

 

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