Continuing the Occupy Wall Street Conversation

October 14th, 2012 · 2 Comments

Late last year, Iowa State University graduates Cam McKenzie, a videographer, and Pantelis Korovilas, a graphic designer, traveled to Manhattan and Boston to record videos of protesters explaining in their own words why they joined the cause. “We hope they can supplement the growing, collective body of work aimed at a deeper and more holistic understanding of this complex situation, a reflection of the complex and interconnected age we live in,” McKenzie and Korovilas wrote on their website where they published their work earlier this year.

When Occupy Wall Street set out to make a name for itself last fall, the media, in all its forms, quickly picked up on what was a dramatic and compelling story. In a matter of days, readers couldn’t go a day without a fresh OWS-related headline gracing the front pages of their favorite news source. However, as Iowans following the mainstream media’s coverage of movement, Cameron McKenzie and I, two Iowa State University graduates, were often disappointed with the depth of the coverage.

As outsiders, thousands of miles away from the action, what we wanted was in-depth coverage of what was happening, but even more so, investigative exploration of the social underpinnings of such an event. Not just what were they doing out there, but why.

Instead, what we often discovered was an inability, or unwillingness, to explore and delve into the deeper questions underlying the protests. We felt the major outlets did a great job of describing what they saw, but this is where it often stopped. We felt there was a missed opportunity to explore the ideas of inequality and injustice in contemporary America, which are at the heart of protesters’ concerns and media sound bites, for the more flashy coverage of the surface-level activities. We felt it was a missed opportunity at a time when the nation’s, rather the world’s, eyes were locked and their ears were open. We craved more.

It also seemed to us that the media as a whole often struggled to make sense of protestors’ varying motives, and it was reflected in their commentary. As a result, it seemed as if journalists often trivialized their reasoning, with some commentators and “culture makers” having gone so far as to blindly label those involved as “dirty hippies” who need to “get a job.” We were sure, however, that this simplistic rhetoric failed to grasp the complexity of the situation, the breadth and depth of the movement’s demographics, and the historical social and economic factors that led to its development. Even worse, the individual protestors were lost in the media’s sound bites and overgeneralized rhetoric, mischaracterized by social stereotyping.

It is from this that Starting the Conversation and StartingConvo.com arose. Cameron and I thought we could contribute to a more holistic picture of what was happening in New York City, all across the country, and the globe. Starting the Conversation is an attempt to give individual supporters and protestors a voice, a chance to share their experiences and their thoughts, their reasoning and their motives, a chance to show us what the media was not. We wanted to see what we would find, see if we were missing something.

At StartingConvo.com, one can find 22 raw interviews and four video shorts with OWS protestors in Manhattan and Boston, edited only for continuity. They are a glimpse into the mind of several diverse supporters, among the thousands across the country, and many more across the globe. Our hope is that they will supplement the growing, collective body of work that is aimed at a deeper and more holistic understanding of this complex situation and the great challenges of our age, a reflection of the complex and interconnected age we live in.

At a time when economic crisis still holds a firm grasp on the country, deficits are entrenched in our national budgets, our public debt continues to grow, and polarization, both economic and political, continues to rise, we felt like there was no better time for such a national discussion to take place.

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