The outbreaks of violence that have marred the Occupy Oakland movement in recent days show the difficulty in controlling a leaderless group.
The same can be said for the protesters’ message, which has been muddled and all but muted through a diverse array of grievances aired by people who proclaim that they don’t speak for the movement.
But in the past several days in San Francisco, a small group of occupiers, several of whom have experience in advertising, media or information technology, have tried to take charge of the movement’s message, producing videos and running an increasingly sophisticated public relations campaign.
“It went from really chaotic and disorganized to people saying, ‘OK, these are the people that talk to the media,’” said Miran Istina, 18, one of about a dozen members of Occupy San Francisco’s media and communications team. “I try to direct media to people they really should be talking to, rather than just doing random interviews.”
Some Occupy members were unhappy with initial coverage in newspapers and on TV, they said. So despite their progressive politics, they took a page from the playbooks of corporations and campaigns, assembling a small media-relations team that is in charge of trying to make sure Occupy stays on message.
“I think it’s unfair to say we’re really unhappy with the coverage and we’re going to entirely blame the media, even though we haven’t released a single press release,” said communications team member Morgan Marquis-Boire, 32, who has also worked on the group’s website.
Occupy SF initially relied on Facebook and Twitter to get its message out, said Marquis-Boire, who has a day job at a tech company, but they soon realized they had to work with newspapers, radio and TV as well. “Social media’s great,” he said, “but when it comes to traditional media, you need to have a team that’s focused on actually dealing with the media.”
That’s a sound strategy, said Tracy Rosenberg, director of the Media Alliance, an Oakland non-profit that trains progressive groups in media relations.
“They can’t totally dismiss the mainstream media,” she said. “I think sometimes the tendency is to dismiss it, to say, ‘The truth is on Facebook and YouTube.’ That can be shortsighted.”
But Occupy SF is also creating media of its own.
“This is the people’s media,” said Uriah George, 22, who on a recent afternoon was in charge of a live video stream that Internet users could watch on the group’s website. “It’s live, uncut. We’re not censoring.”
Dan Truog, 30, of Oakland was behind the camera for “Occupy SF Weekly Recap,” a slick and professional-looking short posted this week on the Occupy SF YouTube channel. A professional video editor, Truog spent six years working in advertising.
“I don’t want to spend my life selling Hondas and Toyotas anymore, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate how they get their message out,” Truog said.