Media Attention

September 9, 2008 | 1 Comment

Category: Activism, Auto-Biography

Activists crave cameras.  It just sort of goes with the territory when seeking social change.  Publicity moves public opinion.  Public opinion informs the behavior of elected officials.

This Memorial Day there were five television stations on hand to observe the services for the fallen, hosted by Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War.  Two years ago there were no cameras.  This year there were daily stories on military suicides as May was coming to an end.  Two of the speakers at the event were parents of children that died in the military.  Both parents had been told their child died because of suicide.  In both cases there was evidence the military was lying.

On August 18, 2005, Cindy Sheehan worked with Moveon to create a nationwide anti-war vigil.  Dickelle Fonda and I worked together to create a powerful Evanston event.  Dickelle received permission from the city.  I contacted and recontacted the press, using Moveon’s online tools.  Observing on the Moveon website that the number of Evanston residents planning to attend was growing larger than any vigil in the country, I transmitted advisories touting the numbers to the media.  Four cameras recorded over 600 people gathering in the square.  For many Evanston and North Shore activists, that gathering was felt to be a politically-empowering experience.  The North Shore Coalition for Peace and Justice grew directly from that action when representatives of twelve North Shore peace and justice organizations participated, met and decided to work together.

Cameras have positive effects.

Working closely with Moveon for a little over a year, I learned that two variables powerfully informed the experience of participants at a Moveon-sponsored event.

Were there more than a handful of people present?  The more people at an event, the more positive the experience was felt to be.

Was there a media presence?  Even one TV station or print reporter made it easier for activists to feel that they were having an effect.

Late in March, six young folks engaged in a demonstration in the Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago during Easter services.  In a short, staged piece lasting less than one minute, they sprayed fake blood upon themselves.  Fake blood got on the carpet.

The six youths were charged with destruction-of-property felonies.  A protest was called for later in the week.  Activists were urged to congregate in front of the cardinal’s home to urge him to withdraw felony charges against the Holy Name Six.  It was on a weekday, on an evening my 23-year-old son and I go out to eat.  I suggested he might be interested in this protest.  He had never attended a political event.  We arrived at the cardinal’s home at 6:00 p.m. in dimming light, a cold drizzle and a brisk wind.  The protest was to begin at 6:00 p.m.

There were four media vans from four TV stations, WGN radio, five police cars, my son Elia and myself.

The story had received national and international coverage.  Media attention was focused on the repercussions of the convergence of war, church and youth.  The blunt, heavy clubs of church and state were seeking to make those that would protest atrocity suffer for their courage and conviction.

Elia and I stood there in the drizzle that was toying with the idea of becoming snow.  We were two blocks from Lake Michigan.  Wind whipped around our shoulders.  The cops, cameramen and reporters sat inside their cars.

In ones and twos activists began arriving.  We huddled in a clump to block the wind.  After perhaps fifteen minutes, twenty of us had gathered.  One of the cameramen departed from a van and approached us.  The other vans sent their representatives.  John Volkening volunteered to speak.  Kathy Kelly said a few words.  A couple of the young folks talked.

Trying to keep their lenses dry, the cameramen draped raincoats and other protective devices over the electronics.  Swooping in and out of the cluster of hunched-over activists, they looked for images that might play well on TV.  Four cameras tucked up into twenty activists, fetching images for the evening news.

Elia was mesmerized.  Shivering in only a windbreaker, we stayed until the cameras left.

And so now Elia thinks when an activist holds a protest, several cameras appear.  He likes this protester stuff and now volunteers frequently for things that need to get done.

I personally am not a big one for speaking to a camera or the radio microphone.  I can do it, but I feel I have little to say.  Others speak to issues far better than I do.  I’m so focused on process that words on issues do not come easily to my lips.  At events, I count people and cameras.  I look for evidence that an action has had an effect.  Activists feel empowered with growing numbers and media presence.  I feel my job is to help encourage the experience of empowerment in the people that so desire deep and lasting change.

In this culture, change often follows the path of the camera, particularly on a stormy day.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 9th, 2008 at 6:58 am and is filed under Activism, Auto-Biography. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
1 Comment so far

  1. Rosalie Riegle on September 10, 2008 5:46 am

    You know, Andrew, I’d heard you had a good blog but had never seen it. Because I still have a Google alert out for “Holy Name Six,” this came to me, just today. Great writing. Even though I wish it weren’t true, I love the line “In this culture, change often follows the path of the camera.”

    PS Now you’re blog is bookmarked so I can keep up with all your interests.

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