OWS and the Press

Freedom of expression is the Matrix, the indispensable condition of nearly every other form of freedom.

— Justice Benjamin Cardozo

The Press has the right to print or not print anything it wants. That right should be supported. There is, however, another issue — that of journalistic ethics. Since OWS began, there has been a deluge of misinformation, innuendo, and inflammatory speech in print in the nation’s newspapers. I defend the right of newspapers to misinform, but I also defend the rights of citizens to push back after being misrepresented in print. It should not be necessary to own a large printing press in order to respond to a news organization.

Sometimes economic issues are at play. Newspapers don’t want to offend the money/business interests in the community. Sometimes inaccurate reporting is the result of a lack of knowledge of journalists. After all, how many schools teach a course in ‘Anarchy’? Actually, there are some schools that do have such a course of study. Surprising as it might be, one school that has a history of offering a well-taught class in ‘Anarchy’ is Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. RPI is a highly respected right-leaning institution in Troy, New York. RPI receives military contracts.

The article below is a response to an editorial. The response was submitted to the paper days ago, but has not been published. It probably won’t be. Across the country many do not have Internet connections. The only means of responding to an editorial is in the newspaper itself. A conundrum — a Catch 22.

A Response

The Editorial in the November 15, 2011 issue of the Bennington Banner deserves a reply. Thank you for recognizing OWS. As a fan of newspapers, I place great importance on the Press. It is the fabric that ties a community together. In many locations, it is the only means of mass communication. This places a heavy moral burden on the Press. I had my first newspaper job in 1952. In those days, The Big Story was a favorite TV program about newspapers. Journalism was a highly respected calling.

There are a couple of issues with the editorial about OWS. First is the use of the word “Anarchy”. It is used as a highly inflammatory, prejudicial term implying violence, often to misinform the reader. In my day, labeling — without explanation — even a small part of the movement as such would be called ‘sloppy journalism’. It is a label that paints all with the same brush. Christians, Jews, Democrats, Republicans all have members who exhibit violence. No one should ever condemn the entire group for the actions of a few.

… Professor Howard Zinn, author of the People’s History of the United States… describes anarchism in his book Declarations of Independence as following: “Anarchists, I discovered, did not believe in anarchy as it is usually defined — disorder, disorganization, chaos, confusion, and everyone doing as they like. On the contrary, they believed that society should be organized in a thousand different ways, that people had to cooperate in work and in play, to create a good society. But anarchists insisted, any organization must avoid hierarchy and command from the top; it must be democratic, consensual, reaching decisions through constant discussion and argument.”… What attracted me to anarchism was its rejection of any bullying authority — the authority of the state, of the church, or the employer. Anarchism believes that if we can create an egalitarian society without extremes of poverty and wealth, and join hands across all national boundaries, we will not need police forces, prisons, armies, or war, because the underlying causes of these will be gone.1

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Bennington OWS is organizationally much like Professor Zinn describes. Maybe the most important fact about OWS is that it is a horizontal movement. There is no hierarchy. No chain-of-command. No leaders. No followers. It is not only about money and banks. Yes, the misadventures of Wall Street are an issue – but only one of many issues. OWS is anything that the people want it to be – locally and globally. It is by far the most democratic organization that anyone could wish for.

It is about building sustainable communities. It is about organic farming. It is about justice for all. It is about transparency. It is about smart meters and dumb grids. It is about giving consumers choice. It is about advocating for victims of injustice. It is about hunger and homelessness. It is about home foreclosures. It is about the environment. It is about health care. It is about fracking. It is about war and peace. It is about drones. It is about the use of cluster bombs and land mines by the USA. And — my personal favorite — it is about the First Amendment. The First Amendment, as written, applies only to the Congress – but the spirit of the First Amendment applies to all. Why is censorship of political speech so common in Vermont? Why is there censorship of political books in Vermont? Why are public buildings allowed to be used for political debate, when some on the ballot are excluded — as in the Bennington Fire House? It might be legal, but it is not in keeping with the spirit of free political speech. It gets even worse. Dennis Steele, a Vermont Candidate for Governor being was arrested. His crime: he wanted to participate in a candidates’ forum.

One thing I know about Bennington OWS is that is it dedicated, passionate, empathetic, and altruistic. It is the most community oriented movement in the area. Imagine dedicating many hours every week to the community, for no money and no personal gain. Everyone is encouraged to join with us to build a fair, just, sustainable Vermont for all.

And finally, I thank the writer of the Editorial for mentioning boycotts. Many of us have been pushing for boycotts and strikes for decades. Bennington OWS is action oriented. You’ll be hearing from us. Stay tuned in.

  1. An excerpt from Food Not Bombs. []

Rosemarie Jackowski is an advocacy journalist living in Vermont. Read other articles by Rosemarie.