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November 3, 2011

“Protesters” vs. “Anarchists” — OWS Media Coverage and the Politics of Language

Labeling, and the politics of language is critical to the media coverage of Occupy right now. Notice in this caption how the Oakland Trib refers to the guy busting the bank window as a “protester” — making him and his behavior a lot less distinguishable from the non-violent Occupy movement — than the Getty photo/caption at Zimbio clearly labeling the guy as a “anarchist.”

If you look at the video from Oakland last night — which I address in our post on Occupy’s self-policing — the “violent 1%-ers,” who I called “the black shirts” are clearly identifiable as such. The fact the media is behind-the-curve in making that differentiation is very dangerous when it comes to informing the public as to what Occupy is truly about.

  • Trent Nelson

    can someone be a protestor AND an anarchist?

    • The Screaming Head

      I think a real anarchist would have been throwing rocks through windows way before this. These aren’t anarchists; they’re just punks.

      The Political Blog of Win

  • Thirdeye Pushpin

    Can we find a word other than anarchist….Anarchy can also be a positive envisioning about the cessation of hierarchy, rules and status where possibility is launched.  Nihilist might be a better description, hoodlum would work (ties in with the hoody), hooligan is not bad either. Personally I think the occupation of the abandonded house was a noble and important goal but the means reified polarities that are not constructive to a mass movement.  

    • Thomas Gokey

      Yes I also don’t just want to separate these troublemakers from the movement but also from the term “anarchist.”

      One problem is that their window breaking, while relatively minor, is very visible. When the banks foreclose on a home, or when the corrupt financial industry brings the economy down, it destroys much more wealth, but there’s no pictures of perpetrators doing anything quite so picturesque as these kids in black.

      I wonder if we sic anonymous on them, identify who they are, publicly call them out as damaging to the movement, and make other people who might want to smash windows think twice about whether they want to be the ones to go down in history as the ones who ruined things for everyone else.

    • Glenn

      Don’t they self-identify as anarchists?

  • Jonathan

    It’s telling that fashion, dress, is the major component of these pictures. However well intentioned (er…) and informed these young men may be, dolling up as bad-ass punks circa 1980 and Mad Max extras betrays a degree of poseur superficiality vis a vis the movement as a whole.

  • psychohistorian

    You said:
    “The fact the media is behind-the-curve in making that differentiation is very dangerous when it comes to informing the public as to what Occupy is truly about.”

    The media isn’t behind any curve. They are a tool of the oppressors that want the Occupy efforts to fail.  The media is paid to control the public perception of reality.

  • Towner

    In the first photo, the “protester” looks to me like someone committing an organized, pre-planned black bloc action. His clothes are all black with no discernible markings. He’s wearing gloves, back pack for extra gear, hooded face for anonymity, has a tool in hand, and some other tools which look like bolt cutters on the ground behind him. The second photo “”the anarchist” looks to be some random punker committing a more random act, throwing his Snapple bottle into an already broken window. I think it’s a safe bet that he’s not acting in concert with others. 

  • Michael Shaw

    Your comments about semantics are all well appreciated. I’m heading back to LA tomorrow but I was able to spent a couple more hours today at Zuccotti.  Unfortunately, I did not hear any good ideas about what to call “the undesirables.” I’m not quite set on “the nihilists” or “the black shirts,” but I understand that “anarchist” is not viable either. As pointed out below, and people in the park were quick to add, “anarchists” and “anarchism” comes in all kinds of flavors.

  • Aaron Muszalski


    As #OWS continues to grow, keeping the opportunists/provocateurs in check becomes increasingly important. It is also critical that we educate people about the difference between demonized/adolescent anarchism and the real thing. 

    I’ve lived in and built collectives for over a decade now, and while not all of them flew the black flag, in practice they were all effectively anarchist. In my experience, everyday anarchism is a practical, beautiful and deeply rewarding thing, requiring everyone involved to be the best that they can be. Empathy, respect, acceptance, communication and consent are fundamental to these communities; far more so than I’ve ever experienced in mainstream culture. The conflation of anarchy with nihilism and vandalism is merely the establishment’s attempt to demonize a powerful philosophy of liberation. Needless to say, I’m thrilled to see people stand up & demand more equality in their lives, and that consensus is so central to their process (eg. the General Assembly).

    Help educate people. Dispel the simplistic notion that anarchism = chaos and violence, but rather a REAL and PRACTICABLE system of mutually supportive self-governance that strives at all times to be as non-coercive as possible.

  • Aaron Muszalski

    (NB: my previous comment was hastily assembled from a series of tweets I wrote earlier today — apologies if it doesn’t make sense as a whole, or contains any odd inconsistencies. Running out the door at the moment; will revisit later if necessary.)


    what is wrong with you people……they really do not have an agenda, they do not care who they hurt, and they add nothing to a civilized society…..stop the eruditic rhetoric. Eschew obfuscation, espouse elucidation.

  • WDM

    The state has, unfortunately, been very successful at misdefining anarchism. As we find in Wikipedia, “Most anarchists oppose all forms of aggression, supporting self-defense or non-violence.”

    Or, put another way, ”The
    measure of the state’s success is that the word anarchy frightens
    people, while the word state does not.” – Joseph Sobran 

  • Cromobe

    Looks just like the muslim terrorists

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