Written & contributed by Shepherd Bliss
“Occupy.com, which means to occupy the commons, will go online later this month,” reported Michael Levitin, a 35-year-old founding editor of the Occupied Wall Street Journal. He spoke on March 16 at an event in Santa Rosa, California, hosted by the forthcoming Occupied Press—North Bay/Prensa Ocupada—Bahia Norte.
“We need an Occupy media to report the national and international evolution of this fast-moving movement,” Levitin observed earlier in the day at an interview in the nearby small town of Sebastopol in Sonoma County. “Tomorrow is the six month anniversary of Occupy,” which was launched Sept. 17 at Zuccotti Park in New York Cirty by Occupy Wall Street (OWS). Two weeks later its free press hit the streets.
“The main thing that Occupy.com will do is crystalize the Occupy message—make it plain, clear, and simple. We will seek to engage people and give them many options for how to get involved. We need ways for members of the 99% to participate and thus grow the movement,” Levitin explained.
Private funding has covered Occupy.com’s startup costs and a ten-person team being paid living wages for at least three months to build a complex website. “Once we get our product out there, we will use that to raise more funds. We do not plan to have ads,” Levitin explained. They will include a calendar of events and promote actions and projects, highlighting solutions.
Occupied Wall Street Journal raised $75,000 within a week to get out its first issue. “This was evidence of a hunger to have the Occupy story told,” Levitin noted. A graduate of Columbia University’s prestigious Journalism School, he was a freelancer for Newsweek, LA Times, Associated Press and other publications. “They have sold out. They tell the stories of the people in power. So we need to occupy the press,” Levitin asserted.
Occupy.com does not plan to have a print edition. “We want to harness the power of online journalism. We do not need corporate journalists to tell our stories. Their journalism failed us. It did not report on financial inequities and corporate criminals who bankrupted our country,” Levitin added.
Occupy.com plans to be broad-based and report on the issues that Occupy raises. It will include personal stories about corporate abuse, economic injustice, and accountability by financial over-lords. It will publish human interest and community stories that put a human face on the movement. Video, photographs, music and other creative genre will be included, as well as material on the environment and climate change. “We will report the corruption and balance that with the good things that people are doing to make things better,” Levitin said.
“Occupy groups need to connect more,” according to Levitin. “Autonomy is good, but we need to coordinate things. We are young and new. We need to use the social media better. We do not even know how long the internet will be free. Our rulers are not happy that we can mobilize millions and overthrow dictators.”
“We want to bring forward Occupy news, but it will be a much broader platform. It will include the cultural creativity of the movement through video, music, visual and performing art, and poetry,” Levitin added. Over a dozen Occupy newspapers currently exist and up to twenty online publications. Material from them will be used.
Occupy.com will work with other websites and parts of Occupy. It is building partnerships with alternative media outlets, including content share agreements for re-printing rights. Material from Occupy groups in London, Athens, Barcelona, India and elsewhere will be included. “We see it as a hub, a clearinghouse, a platform,” Levitin explained.
The lead story on Occupy.com will be the recent court victory in West Virginia of retirees who won a $40 million suit against Century Aluminum for cutting their benefits. “This is a national 99% story of people in their 60s to 80s who ended up living on the roadside. We want to tell the stories of people who are suffering and touch people emotionally,” Levitin explained.
Levitin was back in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he was raised and returns regularly to visit family and consult with local Occupy groups. He spoke with students at Sonoma State University, San Francisco State University, the University of California Santa Cruz, and the Santa Rosa Junior College.
“Students want to feel they can participate in some constructive way, rather than just shout at corporations. We need to see the injustice, abuse, and limitations on our freedoms. People can get depressed and inactive by the bad news. We have to show what we can do constructively, like grow good food.”
“We need people power over corporate power,” Levitin asserted in his Santa Rosa talk. “One of the most important things to occupy is the media. We need a new kind of story-telling. Newspapers have deceived us for decades. We need to explain better what justice, freedom, and economic equality mean. We need to use a language that everyone can understand.”
After his week in California, Levitin will be back in New York on March 24 to help launch an Earth Month by an action seeking to disrupt dirty power. (www.disruptdirtypower.org). “We want to connect the links of the big banks to fossil fuel companies. The environmental message has not yet been prioritized by Occupy, which has been about economic inequality and social justice. Our planet is literally dying,” Levitin said.
OWS’s action will be at the United Nations, which is scheduled to release a sustainability report that day. “Climate policy by the UN is crippled by our banks and corporations. We’ll dress up as fossil fuel executives.”
On April 2 an Occupy caravan will leave Los Angeles and carry its message across the nation to the East Coast. “This Land is Our Land” will be its theme. 2012 is the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of folksinger Woody Guthrie, who wrote the song that provided the caravan’s theme. “The caravan will enter the mainstream by going to community centers, town halls, and churches to say that ‘Occupy is here,’” Levitin explained.
“Occupy Caravan goes back to the idea of outreach and connecting to people with our main message. Occupy is not merely kids in the streets. It is about accountability, fairness, and economic justice. We need to Occupy the heart of America,” Levitin contended. Among the towns scheduled to be visited are Denver, Omaha, St. Louis, Little Rock, Atlanta, Pittsburg, and places in West Virginia, Indiana, and Ohio. Smaller feed-in caravans can sign up at www.occupycaravan.com.
While in Sonoma County Levitin met with organizers of the annual Bohemian Grove camp-out, which is when members of the 1% come from all over to the redwoods to relax and plan. The San Francisco Bohemian Club is nearly 140 years old. Since l980 there have been demonstrations at its annual summer events. Speakers there have included political, corporate, financial, and military elites such as Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, George Bush, Sr., Antonin Scalia, Dick Cheney, and New Gingrich.
“Bohemian Grove is the 1% in Sonoma County,” observed long-time organizer Mary Moore, now in her late 70s. “We are not trying to close the place down,” Moore explained, “but to expose what happens there. This is the longest-lasting gathering of the 1%,” Moore said. With the national rise of Occupy and its expanding media, she hopes to attract the largest crowd ever to the mid-July summer demonstrations.
Shepherd Bliss farms, teaches college, and has contributed to a couple of dozen books. He is a member of the editorial collective of the Occupied Press–North Bay/Prensa Ocupado–Bahia Norte in Sonoma County, Northern California and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.