Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Rise of Alternative Media

"They’re occupying Wall Street, I’m occupying this taxi. And I will come here every day 'til things change” – Mark McGowan (The Artist Taxi Driver), 25.9.11

Sign at Occupy Bristol
It was the second weekend of Occupy Bristol. The camp was now fully operational, with a kitchen, a fire (in a metal wheelbarrow), sofas, chairs, notice boards, a tipi, an information tent, a first aid tent and signs everywhere “Listen to us or we’ll Occupy the Olympics!”, “People before profit!” and “Earth belongs to us, not corporations!” The buzz round the camp was incredible – it felt like we had already changed the world. I volunteered in the kitchen that evening and along with a few others made a vegetarian curry for over 50 people using only a small torch and a couple of camping stoves (and nearly burnt down the kitchen tent in the process…). While waiting for the rice to boil, I was asked to help set up a screen, tied between two trees – tonight was video night. Someone turned up with a laptop and a projector and as we were serving out dinner they got it going with a variety of informative Youtube clips, interspersed with the occasional music video (anyone who didn’t know “I’m on a boat” by The Lonely Island certainly did after that night). Just as I was passing round the last few plates, it came on.

Setting up the video screen at Occupy Bristol
A video of a 40-something man with shades in a car talking about how messed up this country is, followed by a tirade of anger and swearing directed at the government. It got everyone’s attention and there were applauds by the end of it. Several more of his videos were played that night, and each time people watched and listened. It was entertaining, and the anger expressed was both justified and resonated with the feelings of many there. I asked someone later who he was, and they replied "The Artist Taxi Driver. He does loads of videos." Since then I’ve become a regular follower of his videos – sometimes sombre, lamenting all the shit in the world, sometimes funny and sometimes loud, angry and shouty - but always relevant. It was at this moment I realised more needed to be done in telling the story from the point of view of an Occupier, and a week later Standing Stone's Blog was born. There were already other blogs out there, including the "official" Occupy LSX and Occupy Bristol blogs, as well as pieces on It's Not a Zero Sum Game and A Way to Home, but much more needed to be said and experiences needed to be recorded.

Due to a campaign calling for him to run for Prime Minister, The Artist Taxi Driver released this following right on manifesto video:
This Artist Taxi Driver is just one example of current independent alternative media. There's a number of blogs and alternative news sites that I follow, and I speak to a lot of people in real life involved in various campaigns who I consider to be "in the know" on certain subjects. The internet is a revolutionary tool for spreading news. Indymedia is a favourite site, where campaigners are free to tell their side of the story without the spin put on it by the mainstream press (for instance, see how the headline of this letter to the Bath Chronicle was corrupted from the letter in order to give a negative view of anarchists). The blogger Marcus Moore wrote a series of blogs entitled Occupying the Mind, which were full of insights and explored the possibilities of the movement - food for thought for all those involved. For years I've been following Julian Cope's monthly Address Drudion blog, and more recently Dorian Cope's radical history blog On This Deity, not just because I'm fan of the music, but because they both give insightful and refreshingly honest opinions and reports on current and historical events, often from personal  experience of having been involved in various protests such as the G20 and Newbury Bypass. Other favourites include Contemporary Anarchist, which writes a lot about the problem of the fascist English Defence League (EDL), Bristling Badger, which reports on activism and environmentalism, and Anonops Communications, which reports on Anonymous, as well as The Shittro, written by another Bristol/Bath occupier (who will be reporting on the upcoming Occupy South-West conference in Newton Abbott next weekend). These are just a few of my favourites, but out there is a whole world of first-hand accounts and alternative perspectives on the world that are well-worth the effort in seeking out.

In the last six months we've seen media blackouts, distortions of the truth and complete misrepresentation regarding Occupy and other protest movements, and often it's only through alternative media channels such as blogs, vlogs, alternative websites, word of mouth and social media that the real stories are being published. It's not a new problem either. Back in December, the BBC reported that the council would be sending in teams to clean the Georgian square - it is likely that they were deliberately trying to paint us in a bad light, as they have done with the Occupy Movement since it started. Through writing our own version of the story and engaging with other independent news sources, we were able to get across the message that we had cleaned it ourselves. This morning I woke up to a tweet about armed police with machine guns being present at a peaceful Save Our NHS demonstration yesterday. I checked all of the mainstream news sites and found no reference to the demo or the guns. Shortly afterwards, The Artist Taxi driver released a video talking about just this:
I don't ever rely on just one source for my news, so I did a bit more digging and found a blog post containing the chronology of yesterday's events and photographs of the police here, and promptly spread this around the internet. If the press aren't going to report on the news, or if they do they are going to misrepresent and twist words, we've got to do it ourselves.

The popularity of the video camera, and the availability of digital video cameras and mobile phone cameras has enabled normal people to film events as they unfold. The real brutality of the police and security in protests throughout the years has been caught on camera, not least the arrests and violence in Zuccotti Park (Occupy Wall Street) yesterday. Within minutes these can be on the internet showing people at home and on their laptops and mobile phones what's happening on the front line.

If you're involved in anything at all, get the news out there. Setting up a blog, Youtube account or a website is easy these days and there's tools available to help you. Spread the news of what's really going on far and wide, and speak to people in real life too. Produce books, pamphlets, newsletters and get the word out. We need to counteract the claims of the mainstream news sources with corporate interests and political ties, and people like the Murdochs at the helm, and speak to each other about what's going on. A new people-based media is rising, and they're afraid, which is why moves to censor the internet such as ACTA, SOPA and PIPA are threatening our freedom to do so, and why we must fight them. 

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