Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In writing an article for DAME magazine on the art and culture of the Occupy movement, I've been in contact with a number of amazing artists across all sorts of disciplines, from music to cartooning to painting to poetry. One of the posters I'd always especially admired was "Tip of the Iceberg," created by Dave Loewenstein, a muralist, writer and printmaker based in Lawrence, Kansas. He's done wonderful community artwork, including leading the creation of a mural in Joplin, MO – planned before the devastating tornado that nearly destroyed the town. Residents picked up brushes amid the chaos of rebuilding, and together, painted hope.

Loewenstein was one among many artists who were compelled to document the Occupy protests. His posters are among the movement's most iconic – pure in form and intent, powerful metaphors. Dave mused in an email, "No one asked me to make a poster. It was a natural response... I felt a strong affinity for both the process (horizontal) and purpose (to create a more equitable and caring society), and I wanted to support and help articulate those ideas."

He continued: "I hope that my posters, and the many other excellent ones being produced, will help spread the spirit of the movement and begin to bring to it a poetic visual language that amplifies its many messages and inspires those involved. I believe that visual art, like poetry and song, has great power to energize, condemn, and question; and that part of my role as an artist, living here and now, is to have my work speak in service of the struggles and movements I support."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

'occupy (the 99%)' - 30 October 2011 
Contemporary English painter Guy Denning publishes a blog entitled "A Drawing a Day." In it, he has extensively documented Occupy protests from around the world, often using photographs and news footage for reference, and isolating a single subject from among the crowd.

He emailed me today, and after (completely unnecessary) protestations that he was a visual artist, not a writer, and that it was probably best to just "share the artwork," articulated his thoughts on the Occupy drawings:

"All I was trying to do with the drawings was to take a more personal look at the people within the protests. The media so often have an agenda of portraying all such protest, particularly on western soil, as being chaotic violence and vandalism led by criminal extremists. I wanted to show that these protests were populated by ordinary people who are finding themselves in extraordinary times." 

As the West cheers populist movements like Arab Spring, it is interesting to see how uncomfortable we are with our own "uprisings." While perhaps not all of Occupy's demands are pragmatic  – or even possible – it is important that Americans continue to protect their right to organize. Check out Denning's blog, look into the faces of ordinary people, exercising their rights in extraordinary times, and be grateful for the discomfort our freedoms afford us.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Timing is Everything

This past Tuesday’s GOP primary in Iowa seemed so wildly random: candidates falling in and out of favor faster than one can learn their wives’ names. (Yes, that was a softball, go ahead: “Which wife?” or “You mean, versus that woman who wasn’t his wife?” or “Michele Bachmann doesn’t have a wife, she’s really very much against that sort of thing…”)

I had lunch with a very politically-plugged-in friend yesterday, who described the machinations behind what appeared, to the casual observer, to be chaos. The rise and fall of individuals in the pack is a carefully timed dance, he explained, designed to result in exactly the right candidate peaking at exactly the right time. For example, three days before the Tuesday vote.

Rick Santorum’s straight-outta-nowhere primary result – second to Romney by a mere 8 votes – was not an accident, nor a stroke of fortune. He was the candidate – by design – in the right place, with the right ideology, at the right moment. Neither voters nor the media had time to rummage through the skeletons in the closet. And those voters disinclined toward Romney essentially had no alternatives.

As Ezra Klein of The Washington Post’s WonkBlog noted: By the time Iowa’s Republicans turned their attention to Santorum, they were out of viable not-Romneys.”

If one follows my friend’s argument that all primary candidates’ finishes are pre-determined by the party, Santorum’s second-place finish would be an all-out endorsement of Romney as the GOP’s offering for president. Because despite the strong finish in the Iowa primary, Santorum in un-electable. Nine simple reasons are captured in this week’s copy of The Week.

Although none of them is a sweater vest. So make that ten.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Neda's Revolution, as Seen on Twitter

What a fascinating day... welcome to a brand-new CNN, completely powered by citizen journalism.

What does a network do when a foreign government forbids news coverage? You look to people on the ground to provide a view into what's happening – and the video, photos and tweets from Iran have been incredible to watch – inspiring, stunning, horrifying. CNN reporters seem to be more than a little freaked out – it's certainly not their style to report unsubstantiated news obtained through non-fact-checked channels – but they're rolling with it as best they can. Updates come from Mousavi's Facebook page, from Flickr, YouTube and Twitter updates collected on Hashtags.org. CNN just broadcast a camera-phone video of the death of Neda Soltani, reportedly (from the street, obviously) a 27-year-old philosophy student, watching the protests with her father. Her emergence as a galvanizing symbol of the protests in Tehran was instantaneous and global – a user-generated version of the news footage of the lone man before a tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Yes, technology has revolutionized politics in the U.S. The next great frontier: how it revolutionizes... revolution. Truly, for the first time, the whole world is watching.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

13 Million Friends Can't Be Wrong

You know how marketers are always looking to collect email addresses from their loyal customers, in order to communicate with them in some more personal, relevant way – and get them to buy more stuff? I was recently reading a post-mortem on the digital aspects of President Obama's presidential campaign, and was dumbfounded to discover that there are over 13 million people on his email list. (Additionally, he collected over 5 million "friends" across 15 social networking sites – including 3 million on Facebook alone – and more than 3 million mobile phone numbers in response to the campaign's text messaging program.)

13 million email addresses.

What do you do with all that connectivity? How do you harness those digital masses that, having sworn their allegiance, await the activation bat-signal?

The group Organizing for America, which is overseen by the Democratic National Committee, put that email list to work last week. David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager and the man credited with its brilliant use of digital channels, wrote in a March 13 message to The List: "In the next few weeks we'll be asking you to do some of the same things we asked of you during the campaign." Namely, to mobilize within their communities on behalf of the president's agenda.

We saw what that fan club did to power Obama to the presidency. It will be fascinating to see what they can do when pointed at such complex and polarizing policy issues as the budget, the bailout or the deficit. Are we a nation who responds better to paternalistic distribution of our national policy – or to peer pressure? Another example of participatory government at its most interesting. (Note: I had to edit this, like, a hundred times to get most the words starting with "p" out of the last paragraph. Another example of alliteration at its most coincidental.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Stewart v. Cramer: That's Entertainment!

A friend recently forwarded the 8-minute clip of Jon Stewart's "interview" with CNBC's Jim Cramer on The Daily Show. Although Viacom has since yanked the clip from YouTube distribution, you can view it in its entirety on The Huffington Post. Stewart assumed the role of the outraged American public, while Cramer sat as surrogate for the shamed financial industry.

Stewart's rage is absolutely justified, obviously. We The People continue to bear the brunt of Wall Street misdeeds. But the part I found interesting (beyond the question of why Jim Cramer rolls his shirt sleeves up... so... high) is Stewart's attack on the journalistic integrity of CNBC, and specifically, Jim Cramer himself. The implication was that the financial news network was "in bed" with Wall Street, and therefore its views were tainted and self-serving. That Cramer was an insider, expressing opinions that – while perhaps not benefiting him personally – demonstrated a vested interest in protecting the status quo of Wall Street.

Stewart seemed to take particular umbrage at Cramer's style of delivery on his show, "Mad Money": "I know you want to be entertaining. But it's not a fucking game."

There's an amusing irony here. Consider the following observation on the Stewart-Cramer bout, posted by Daniel Sinker, Journalism faculty member at Columbia College in Chicago on March 13, 2009 on The Huffington Post:
"You see, Stewart's real critique wasn't about Cramer, it was also only marginally about CNBC. Instead, Stewart's real rage comes from the role the modern media has created for itself: the role of cheerleader instead of watchdog, of favoring surface over depth, of respecting authority instead of questioning it."

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Read the Small Print

After kvetching about the deafening silence of citizen journalists on the stimulus plan, I was forwarded an interesting link, under the subject line "Hooray for our first Digital President" (thanks, Ruby).

Recovery.gov offers a "totally transparent" view into the distribution of tax dollars toward economic growth. The data purports to allow the taxpayer to track our government's progress every step of the way, and invites feedback on what is, and isn't, working in terms of how the Recovery Act is affecting we-the-people.

There's an amusing chart that shows the breakdown (in billions) of the distributed funds. The general categories of investment are Tax Relief ($228B), State and Local Fiscal Relief ($144B), Infrastructure and Science ($111B), Protecting the Vulnerable ($81B), Health Care ($59B), Education and Training ($53B) and Energy ($43B). And there's a rounding error of $8B dedicated toward something called "Other."

Funny thing is the footnote. I'll paste it here, resisting the urge to make it reallllly tiny:
* Tax Relief - includes $15 B for Infrastructure and Science, $61 B for Protecting the Vulnerable, $25 B for Education and Training and $22 B for Energy, so total funds are $126 B for Infrastructure and Science, $142 B for Protecting the Vulnerable, $78 B for Education and Training, and $65 B for Energy.

So technically, that's only $105B in Tax Relief, which seems mainly to be a category loaded with funds better categorized in other categories.

At least the footnotes are transparent, if not the headlines.

Oh, and issues with clarity aside, Recovery.com a pretty amazing tool for citizens to observe the working of their government. Just be careful what you wish for.