At 5:21 p.m. yesterday, you posted an article to your Edmonton Journal blog about the press conference held yesterday by Occupy Edmonton. Your article shows that you showed up, in your professional capacity as a writer for the Edmonton Journal, but that you did not actually hear what was said. You heard a little, and you rushed back to your computer to write a piece based on a single sentence that was uttered, and in so doing you failed to perform your professional duties in good faith. I’m really sorry to see that because with your choice you let down a lot of people, and not just the people at Occupy Edmonton. You let down every reader of the Edmonton Journal. You let them down by entering the square for yesterday’s press conference with your ears closed to the “message” that you are, in your article, declaring “wrong.”
I’ve got the pictures to prove it. Here’s one:
Perhaps you were counting on your little recording device to do your work for you, and thought there was no need in the meantime for you even to look at the people who were speaking.
Or perhaps that was just one errant moment on your part. Human nature is such that it’s hard for any of us to give anyone our undivided attention. You took a break, it seems, and looked at the ground. But if that’s the case, what do we with this?
I’m going to assume that you did manage to meet Mike Hudema’s eyes here, when you had your microphone thrust in his face:
But if this is indeed you in that photo, and you were able to meet Hudema’s eyes then, apparently that wasn’t an act you could sustain:
Let me be clear: I had no intention of capturing you in any of these photographs. In fact, I had no idea who you were. I was simply, as one member of the group standing behind the Occupy Edmonton microphone yesterday, taking photographs to document the event for us. It was only when I was reviewing my photographs afterwards that I saw how often I had inadvertently captured you on film.
I wonder what you think of what you see here. You certainly don’t look like an avid reporter to me. You look to me to be a very reluctant spectator. I therefore find your choice of metaphor for yesterday’s event fascinating.
In your post to your blog this morning, you have called the event “protest theatre.” Apparently, it’s “theatre” that you find boring, or inconsequential, or to which your response is entirely cynical, and these responses have interfered with your ability to cover the event with anything that even approximates comprehensiveness or objectivity. Your response is simply to declare that the “curtain” ought to “come down” on the show.
I have no problems with your metaphor in and itself. In my professional capacity as a professor at the University of Alberta, I happen to teach the work of the most famous writer of Western culture, work that we might fairly characterize as “protest theatre.” In fact, I would go so far as to characterize it as amongst the most powerful forms of “protest theatre” that Western culture has yet to produce. But your use of the metaphor and the terribly limited account of the “play” that you have offered over the last twenty-four hours suggest to me that you yourself have no sympathy for the genre, or anyone who takes part in it.
For what do these photographs show us?
They show us that you showed up yesterday as a paid representative of a newspaper to hear a message that you refused to listen to. What an abdication of responsibility! You were “on the job,” and you were there on behalf of many people who could not be present. You were there on behalf of all those members of the 99% who were at their 9-to-5 jobs, and could not be there in person. You were paid by the Edmonton Journal to be there as the representative of all those people, so that the messages communicated at the press conference could be shared with them. On the evidence of these photographs, David, what do you make of how you are presenting yourself as a representative of Edmontonians?
As someone who works in the field of communication, you must know this: psychologists and cognitive scientists believe that the whopping majority of communication is non-verbal. Over 90% of it, so the theory goes. And of that 90% more than half of the communication comes in the form of body language and facial expressions. That was the half of the communication that with your eyes fixed on the ground you couldn’t possibly hope to receive.
Nonsense, you may want to respond. I heard everything that was uttered. I was focusing on what was being said. I didn’t need to look at any of the speakers. I was listening to them. Well, think again. Research has proven that our failure to take in one form of communication, the non-verbal, interferes with our ability to take in what is being communicated by words.
But we could leave science out of it, and consider the role you were playing in far more prosaic terms. When you chose not to look into the eyes of the people who spoke yesterday, even when they were speaking directly to you, you were engaged in non-verbal communication. You were playing your role in the “play.” And that role was not that of a journalist making a good faith attempt to hear everything that was being said.
The photographs suggest exactly what your subsequent posts at 5:21 p.m. in the evening and then again this morning at 9:19 a.m. prove: you weren’t sufficiently present to hear the message. You have declared the message wrong, but you didn’t actually hear what was said. Or, to put it more bluntly, you didn’t get it. Contrary to what you have declared in your headline, you were in the right place, but you couldn’t be bothered to bring to that place the right kinds of eyes and ears.
The list of demands that Occupy Edmonton presented yesterday is complex, and I’ll write a bit more about it elsewhere. But here I’d like to ask you, David, to think about the act of selection you made when — out of the many, many things that were said yesterday! — you chose one sentence to focus on.
Is that really fair journalism, from your perspective? Did you feel you could spend so much time staring at the ground, rather than fully attending to the complex, multi-faceted piece of “theatre” to which you were audience, because all you came for was one reactionary sound-bite? Did you feel that was all the public needed from you, as their representative? You came to get one statement, any statement, that would permit you to write a piece that would help alienate Edmontonians from what is going on in the square at 102nd Street and Jasper Avenue? Is that really what you are content with, from yourself as a journalist?
Sure, it’s easy to do the job that way.
It’s also always really easy to take only the role of critic.
It is so much more difficult to sympathize with, and attempt to understand, something you don’t get — something that you may find threatening because the message involved is one to which you cannot relate, from your position of privilege.
And so you show up with the volume on your ears turned down to low, and your eyes focused on something other than the speakers before you.
You are exactly the kind of person for whom the message on this sign, in a photo taken by me a week and a half ago, is meant.
David, meet David. David Staples, you were at the right place, but you were shut up somewhere so deep within your own mental palace that you heard the wrong message. For to hear only part of any message, and then judge everything that was said on the basis of that one little part, is always to get the message wrong, no matter how much the state of journalism in North America at the moment may encourage you to believe otherwise.
Could you please think about this? What might you have written if you had properly heard and thought about the list of demands that Occupy Edmonton presented at 11 a.m. yesterday morning?
What might you have written if you had, for example, heard Mike Hudema ask, rhetorically, “Are we idealists? Yes. But we think we should have a little more idealism.” Or to Anna Sparkle when she said that the group is responding to a global movement that “fills our hearts and dreams”? Oh, you may think, I can’t listen to these nonsensical dreams! Well, let me tell you when you make that decision, my friend, you take your place not only on the wrong side of this movement, you take your place on the wrong side of history. For history shows us over and over again that those who denounce the dreamers and idealists of any given cause are always eventually on the side of those who lose against the dreamers. It may take time, but the dreamers always in the end win. The dreamers themselves may get stoned, or thrown to the lions, or beheaded, or burnt at the stake, or shot up against a wall, or rolled over by tanks, or pepper-sprayed, or beaten with batons, or tortured in dark cells, but the dreams themselves always prevail.
But, all right, let’s think of the matter another way. What if you had done a little bit of research in relation to the list of demands, which include the demand of free post-secondary education for all, to remind yourself of a little bit of history? You know, so you could give the demands themselves fair consideration. Consider, for starters, the one that is closest to my heart, as a professor, the demand for free post-secondary education for all. This is a demand to which Canada was in theory fully committed thirty years ago when it signed on to the United Nations covenant in this regard in 1976. A generation ago, before Reagonomics and Thatcherism took over Western culture, this was a dream that people believed in. And this is one of Occupy Edmonton’s many functions: to remind us all of the kind of thing we might dream, and the kind of dreams we should fight for.
And so I ask what you might have written if you had truly heard the message of Occupy Edmonton, which is in part that we all agree to dream big together, to dream big about the world that we might bring into being if we committed not to producing a wealthy elite but committed instead to producing collective wealth? And if we started with fundamental steps such as making sure that we are all well-fed, well-housed, and well-educated? So that every dreamer amongst us has a proper chance to contribute to a new just world?
What might you achieve if you opened up your ears, and used your eyes, and took in what is actually happening down at the square?
Here’s the good thing: we’re still there! You still have your chance! Why don’t you come back down to the square today and try to do what you were so unwilling to do yesterday before rushing back to your computer to write your terribly limited and close-minded response to what you didn’t properly witness? Why don’t you come back down to the square with willing ears, and attentive eyes, and most importantly an open heart, and then see what “message” you receive?
Think about it, David. Think about the world we might have if even a few others began to join the brave few down at the square to bring their talents and their expertise to bear upon what is unfolding. You have something very special you can bring to that, for as a journalist you are a public voice. How do you want to use that voice, David? Does your privilege and your cozy economic situation really make it impossible for you to hear what is being said at the square, and to pass it on? Which side are you on, David? Which side are you on?
But if you really do want to be thinking about what role property is playing in all of this, why not turn to a very famous French book on the subject written in the nineteenth century? It’s called What is Property?, and it’s by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Read that book, and you will furnish yourself with entirely different ways of answering the very questions you posed in your post yesterday evening. If you were asking those questions in good faith — asking them because you really wanted to understand what Mike Hudema meant when he said what you chose to fixate on, “The right for us to raise [our] voice is more important than a rigid respect for property law” — then Proudhon’s one of the best intellectual places you can start to formulate a more well-informed and thoughtful answer. Reading the book would be one way to take yourself to a new place, and from that place you might find yourself able to contribute to this movement.
I refuse to believe that you could not choose to write something else than what you wrote yesterday.
And since you turned so readily to a theatrical metaphor in your post this morning, let me leave you with some phrasing from one of Shakespeare’s most stirring plays with the hope that it may resonate through your “mental palace.” What might you gain, David, if you came down to the square and joined us — “we few, we happy few” there — for a real conversation? And then wrote about that conversation with a generosity of understanding? That is what is needed from our local journalists, and Global TV certainly showed a good deal more generosity yesterday when it chose as its soundbites the ‘dreaming’ quotes above. Global TV took a step in the right direction. I’m sorry that you did not.
Wishing you well, David. I truly hope that with these two places to start from — conversations down at the square or some reading on your own — you will eventually understand that you were in the right place yesterday, and that’s a place in which you are welcome, and a place from which you could do so much good.
You’ll have to excuse me. I now have to write a letter to your colleague Paula.
A doctor of humanities who is also an Occupier