Look folks, are you sure you're doing this right? I mean, where are the TV hosts providing daily updates and talking points? Where's the billionaire supporter to arrange signs, flags, stages, entertainment and giant star-spangled touring buses? Where are the nice pre-printed bullet point lists and glossy handouts that summarize 40 pieces of legislation already on the floor of the House (or being drafted by lobbyists) which absolutely everyone there supports 110 percent? Where's the media empire telling you when to meet, how long to meet, who to cheer, who to hate, what to say and how to vote? Do you even have a list of commercial sponsors?
Come on. Is this any way to run a spontaneous, grassroots movement?
You may wonder why the tea party was so readily picked up by the media, but it's not a secret. The tea party was the media. Is the media. It was created as a media stunt, nurtured as a publicity event for a network and its pundits, and shaped to be a reliable trumpet that only Rupert can blow. Not only did the meetings come at predictable intervals (same tea time, same tea channel), with announced agendas, it just so happened that there were dozens of pundits conveniently available on day one, ready to provide commentary and insight. Better still, most of these tea party spokesmen or grassroots leaders were familiar faces who had been on air before, and who were being put forward by the same conservative organizations who line up guests every week for ABC through NPR. They wore camera-friendly clothing, knew when to laugh with the host, and could recite their positions like they'd been doing it for years. Because they had.
Those who wanted to cover the tea party only had to follow the instructions. It was just as easy and mindless as zapping some microwave popcorn, except this popcorn came with a phone bank that would hector you if you failed to follow the steps to the letter. It was much, much easier for most media outlets to cover the nonpartisan and populist tea party than to ignore them. The tea party is not a political movement, it's a reality show with huge corporate sponsorship.
On the other hand, Occupy Wall Street is … what are you, anyway? You're there all the time, you don't have a checklist of pre-digested talking points, and you don't have recognizable leadership or A-list pundits to shape your message. You're a mess, that's what you are. Everywhere and every when, without mass-printed signs and canned literature. You're a big round blob of democracy that just won't fit neatly into the nice cube they have ready for you.
God knows, they're trying to find the right name for you. They'll pulling old labels out of containers still splattered with mud from Woodstock and blood from Kent State. They're dusting off Hooverville and looking up Satyagraha in their dictionaries. They are desperate to find a definition that will stick.
Desperate and scared. Picture a dusty old castle, perched on a hill that provides a fine and satisfying view down to the hovels of peons, peasants and serfs. Now picture the residents of that castle waking up to discover that a besieging army has camped outside its gates. The elite are peeking over the fortifications and what they want to know is: Who are you and what are your demands?
That last part, the demands, is particularly important. Do you want low tax, high tax, clean water, oily water, watery oil, holy water, holy cow just what is it that will make you people go home and stop making us all nervous? Not having that list of demands? That's just unacceptable.
But don't get out your pens and start writing just yet. Take a break. I have some demands for you.
First demand: creating a mission statement
I demand you don't have one. It doesn't matter if you're the Committee to Put Nice Flowers on Sad Things or Attila's Rape & Pillage Planners, nothing but nothing brings less value and more BS than a mission statement. Just don't.
Second demand: finding appropriate leadership
I demand you avoid it. Stay away from egos, from people who are certain that they know what they're talking about, and most of all from martyrs. Wait a bit. Wait for people who demonstrate great followship. You don't need a choirmaster to sing.
Third demand: developing a media strategy
I demand you not be media friendly, not be media savvy, not be media centric. If CNN's idea of reporting is to send Erin Burnett for a five minute stop n' sneer, let them. If Fox wants to scream at you, let them. If the others mangle their attempt to describe what you're about, let them. Don't try to describe what you're doing to people who don't really want to know.
Special bonus demand
Somewhere out there is the next Studs Terkel or Barbara Ehrenreich; the next reporter willing to sit down, talk for hours and pull out of you more than you knew was in there. Hell, maybe that person is you. When that person shows up, talk to them.
Final demand: a concise list of demands
I demand that you ignore all such requests. Don't let them define you. Having a list of demands is just another way of saying "these are our limits." Another way of controlling you. You can have goals, sure, and you should, but those goals can't be all you're about. Do not let them catch you. Don't listen to all the voices telling you what you should be, do, say, love or hate. Most of all, I demand that you ignore demands. Including mine. Especially mine.
Don't be what they want you to be. Don't be what I want you to be. Just be confounding, and uplifting, and maddening, and puzzling, and amazing, just keep scaring the ever lovin' crap out of them—and you're already pulling that off quite well.