Location, Location, Location: Spatiality and Protest Camps [repost from Protest Camp blog]

I posted this over on the Protest Camps project blog but thought I would also share it here. For those who are interested in issues around protest camps, be sure to follow our Protest Camp blog.

Location, Location, Location: Spatiality and Protest Camps

The issue of spatiality for protest camps is a big one, especially for someone who is not trained as a Geographer. As my work usually deals with media representations, this is a daunting task. While media representation is a significant aspect of protest camps, and indeed a space which is struggled over, it isn’t the focus today. Instead, the focus rests on the physical location which often forms its cornerstone. An understanding of space is key to making sense of the dynamics of a protest camp.Protest camps are often defined by their physical location and their location shapes how a camp and its occupiers are perceived by the public, how they are presented in the media and how politicians and authorities react to them. Yet while all of these acts of camping are protests in themselves, I would suggest from our research that there are four (4)  types of locations protest camps usually take. These categories are, of course, a work in progress.

I. Camps at physical sites under threat

Protest camps may be built upon contested physical areas, such as the proposed site for building a new road or oil pipeline. In such cases, the presence of the protest camp is a physical and direct intervention on a site which is perceived by those camping as at risk; at risk from takeover, demolition, destruction or eviction. The act of camping on site physically prevents, if only temporarily, the contentious action from happening. This type of protest camp commonly sees protesters occupying trees set for clearing, as with the Newbury Bypass and Minehaha Free State anti-roads camps. Other camps of this nature see activists construct barriers and dwellings in the pathway of proposed construction as with the No TAV campaign in Italy. A case could also be made that the recent Dale Farm protest camp would fall under this banner as well.

II. Camps highlighting physical sites as threats

While this first set of camps take place on physical locations under threat, other camps directly target sites which are seen as threats. This was the case, for example, with Greenham Common, where protesters camped out around the perimeter of a military base storing nuclear cruise missiles. Other peace camps, spread across four continents, followed suit with camps established outside of military bases and weapons manufacturing plants. In both instances of sites under threat and sites as threats, the physical location of these types of protest camps directs media attention towards the site as a contested area. This enables, or at the very least sustains, public dialogue and political pressure around the relevant issues. Some Climate Camps function in this way, selecting a specific site of ‘carbon criminality’ that are both immediate targets of action and stand in for larger problems of airport expansion, coal power and oil-based economies.

III. Camps as Counter-Summits

Another set of protest camps are those established as sites of resistance or counter-summits to large international gatherings of global elites. Protest camps built around the Global Justice Movement took place on sites neighbouring meetings held by the WTO, G8, G20, FTAA and similar meetings. These camps sought to provide an open and inclusive public space to converge, share ideas, enact alternatives and challenge corporate globalisation. Thus the camps were not just spaces to plan protests but were protests themselves with their open, self-organized and good-spirited nature standing in sharp visual contrast to the ring fences and extensive militarization that accompanied such summits.

Over time the Global Justice camps became a ritualistic form of protest and often plans for the camp would begin before the location of a summit was announced. For example, planning for the 2005 Gleneagles G8 Summit began in fall 2003. Dissent! Network activists steadily developed the HoriZone EcoVillage for the Summit even before the location of the G8 was announced. Activists only knew the G8 would be in the UK. Once Gleneagles was announced as the venue, the Dissent! protest network then began exploring options for the camp to take place. The salient point is, the contested site was not a tethered location such as a military base, but was what Geographer Paul Routledge has called a ‘convergence space’; an idea that activists can organise around which was then given material form through announcing the physical location. This means that whereas for some protest camps the physical place of the camp creates the ‘convergence space’, for others, and particularly those with symbolic legacies such as summit mobilisations, this relationship is reversed. Here, the convergence space is imagined prior to the physical creation of the camp.

IV. Camps Sites as Symbolic targets

Many protest camps from peace camps at military bases to climate camps at power stations have both a particular place-based political target and a broader symbolic one. The symbolic element of protest camp sites increases when protests are around issues such as consumer capitalism or greed that are so vast and hard to concretise. In these cases protesters pick sites which are seen to embody, and be a cause of, the issues at hand. This is perhaps best seen in the current example of Public Square occupations in Tahrir, Madrid, Greece and Israel/Palestine, as well as with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Taking the square (or the park) in an area of symbolic value or taking a public space and then assigning symbolic value to it. Both the original Occupy Wall Street camp at Zuccotti Park and the Occupy London (Occupy LSX) selected sites for their proximity to the financial centres of New York and London. Occupy Toronto also picked a public park – St James Park – and despite its close proximity to the financial district of Toronto, it is steeped in Democratic history. Given that the Occupy Wall Street movement has a broad focus on inequalities caused by the state of hyper consumer capitalism and has more specific concerns around the financial sector, situating protest camps in close proximity to financial districts provides a physical and symbolic or visual challenge to business as usual.


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Out of the rat hole: Dictators, capture and the ‘rat’ frame – The Death of Gadaffi

Although the next year of the rat will not be until 2021, the rat metaphor is a popular cultural ‘myth’ in Roland Barthes’ sense of the word. The idea of the rat still holds the mythic connotations of describing someone who is a snitch, a scavenger, lowlife and undesirable. Of course this also holds true to describe the dwelling where someone may be found or their act of hiding. For this reason, the rat “frame” appears to be a favored rhetorical device for framing the capture of dictators as can been seen in the capture of Saddam Hussein and Mummar Gadaffi.

To be clear, Saddam Hussein or Mummar Gadaffi were not pleasant men by any stretch. They were war criminals who tortured and killed their own citizens. Arguing and outlining the extent of their crimes is not the purpose of this short post. Instead, what is interesting is the common cultural narrative used – 8 years apart – which is drawn upon to describe their capture.

On December 15, 2003 Saddam Hussein’s capture was reported by CNN using the headline, “Saddam ‘caught like a rat’ in a hole”. The reference to being caught like a rat, and therefore the source for the headline, came from US Major General Raymond Odierno when describing Hussein’s capture to the media. The rat metaphor proved popular and was published on media outlets from  Fox News, “Saddam Captured ‘Like a Rat’ in Raid” to the Scotsman, “Torches shone on Saddam’s face – he was caught like a rat in a trap“.

On October 20, 2011, Mummar Gadaffi was found hiding in a sewer reportedly begging for his life. His capture also fell into a ‘rat’ frame with Reuters using the headline, “Libya’s Gaddafi caught hiding like a ‘rat’ “.   Given the situation in which Gaddafi was found, hiding in a sewer, and that sewers are indeed where rats live, the use of a rat frame is understandable. This description becomes all the more appropriate given the characteristics Gaddafi embodied, and exceed, what the mythic rat represents.

So perhaps what is of interest is the mythic power of the rat and its use in journalism as a frame; a way of making sense of events. It works on a literal level as both men were found in locations (dark holes and sewers) where rodents would be expected to live. It also captures the characteristics of the dictators who, with different degrees and at different times, were tolerated by the West [despite still being bad men!]. The mythic power of the rat also relays the descent of  the two leaders from powerful individuals who appeared to rule with disdain and without mercy into emasculated individuals who had been  reduced to retreating to a rat den and being ceremoniously dragged from it. In the media, the two men had devolved into the antithesis of the public image they had tried to project.


The role of ceremony here is important and shows the limits of a rat metaphor. At the risk of mixing metaphors, those who were being hunted – Saddam Hussein and Mummar Gaddafi – were big game. Proof of this rests in the trophy shots; the exterminators or rat catchers who successfully captured the leaders at large. The ceremony or perhaps spectacle of media coverage is also of interest. For this I wish Susan Sontag was still with us to offer her perspective on the parading of corpses and its interpretation by Western journalists. While Western media is usually quite conservative in how it represents the dead, in this instance, it is graphic. Perhaps because the images are of the dying and dead body of a villain; a rat.

While the public was denied seeing  the dead body of Osama Bin Laden, video of Gaddafi exists almost up until the moment of his death and images are abound of his death. The public can not only witness the compressed demise of  the public figure but the process and then the face of death. The public too was able to witness the death of Saddam Hussein though this was through a leaked mobile phone video; a backstage act made public.

Gaddafi’s death, on the other hand, was public.  The shoot out, subsequent retreat to and then expunged from a tunnel marked the climax of the Western media narrative  around  Mummar Gaddafi. The rat has been caught; the rat has been exterminated. The media images which accompany the death of Gahaafi fit this narrative and while I certainly do not feel an ounce of sympathy for either Saddam or Gaddafi, I think events like this showcase the role, function and ideologies of media. Thus amidst the celebratory parading of Gaddafi’s body and the media’s coverage of this, there is an opportunity to open a discourse around ideology and ethics in media representation.

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Interview with CBC Ottawa Radio on the media’s coverage of #OccupyOttawa & #OccupyWallStreet

Today,  I did a series of interviews with CBC Radio across Canada bout the mainstream media’s coverage of the Occupy Canada and Occupy Wall Street. While I will put together my thoughts in a blog post on a later date, above is a video I put together that contains the interview with CBC Ottawa that aired at 7:20am this morning (October 17, 2011). Of course there are things I would edit, add on to and would clarify but, you can only do so much in 6 minutes!

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CBC Ombudsman rules that Kevin O’Leary violated CBC Journalistic Standards

Kirk LaPointe the CBC’s Ombudsman has just released a statement on his website saying that  Kevin O’Leary indeed violated CBC Journalistic Standards. You can read the full statement here, my emphasis below. Of note, not only did O’Leary violate the policy, this violation should have been acknowledged to the audience:

Since my last post I have completed two reviews, one on difficult televised images and one on a name-calling incident…

The second review concerned remarks October 6 by co-host Kevin O’Leary on The Lang & O’Leary Exchange in an interview with journalist Chris Hedges.

I found the remarks violated CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices policy. While the program acted responsibly in quickly apologizing to Hedges, I concluded it would have better fulfilled the spirit of its policy by communicating its acknowledgment of error to the audience.




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Reply from the Executive Producer of the Lang & O’Leary Exchange

It seems that the CBC indeed acts quickly to complaints. Below is the response I received to my complaint (a variation of this text can be read here) around Kevin O’Leary’s treatment of Chris Hedges in the Occupy Wall Street interview.

As I anticipated in my complaint, the response, which clearly finds Kevin O’Leary in the wrong, justifies O’Leary’s presence on the show to be ‘colourful, outspoken and controversial’.  This is, as noted, a tried formula particularly in American (and Canadian apparently) news. The challenge with this formula is that the expectation for O’Leary to be controversial appears to trump in this instance the duty to be intelligent. Kevin O’Leary is the Don Cherry of business reporting and he clearly tries to perform this role. Nowhere is this more evident in his interaction with Chris Hedges who, through his intellectual superiority,  is able to use rhetorical jujitsu to counter O’Leary’s bullying. Yet, the larger question in all of this is does news have to be this way?

Should the desire for news to be entertaining (both to keep audiences and to keep advertisers) be the [commercial] logic which drives news? This, to me, is the much larger question which needs to discussed.

Robert Lack, Executive Producer of The Lang and O’Leary Exchange, asked that we forward to you the following reply.

CBC Audience Relations

Thank you for your e-mail of October 7th, 2011 addressed to Kirk LaPointe, CBC Ombudsman. As the Executive Producer of THE LANG & O’LEARY EXCHANGE, I would like to reply.

You wrote to draw our attention to a segment on the October 6th edition of the program.

During a discussion about the Wall Street protests taking place in New York and Washington, our business commentator Kevin O’Leary responded to an answer from author and journalist Chris Hedges by saying: “Listen, don’t take this the wrong way, but you sound like a left-wing nutbar.”

We expect Kevin O’Leary to be colourful, outspoken and controversial.   However, this was not an appropriate way to refer to a guest on our program and it detracted from an otherwise very interesting interview.

You may be interested to know that I called Mr. Hedges after the interview to apologize on behalf of the program.

And I also discussed with Mr. O’Leary the inappropriateness of addressing guests in such a way.

I appreciate your sharing your thoughts on this issue.

It is also my responsibility to tell you that if you are not satisfied with this response, you may wish to submit the matter for review by the CBC Ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent and impartial body reporting directly to the President, is responsible for evaluating program compliance with the CBC’s journalistic policies.


Robert Lack
Executive Producer


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CBC Ombudsman to review conduct of Kevin O’Leary in Chris Hedges interview

[Edit: Shortly after putting this post up, I received a response from the show’s Executive Producer, it can be read HERE]

It has been great to read everyone’s comments on the blog and on twitter and to see that there are a number of people who want to turn their disappointment with the actions Kevin O’Leary into a formal complaint with the CBC.

Two days ago, on October 11th, I received a reply from Kirk LaPointe. the CBC’s Ombudsman saying that, “It is the customary practice of CBC’s Office of the Ombudsman to share complaints with the relevant programmers, who have the right to respond first to criticism of their work” and stating that my complaint was shared with Jennifer McGuire, the General Manager and Editor in Chief of CBC News.

However, in a reply to a complaint sent in by Christine Estima, it appears that Mr. LaPointe will indeed conduct a review. Christine posted the reply she received to her Twitter account which read:

I write to acknowledge receipt of your e-mail, which I have shared with senior information programmers so that they may be aware of your concerns.

As a result of a similar complaint, I am going to conduct a review of this matter. Once I have completed it, you will be able to find it in the Findings section of my website: http://www.cbc.ca/ombudsman I expect it will be completed within the next few days.


Kirk LaPointe
CBC Ombudsman

I see this as a very positive step and look forward to reading Mr. LaPointe’s reply and will be sure to write a blog post about it once it is in.

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How Kevin O’Leary’s exchange with Chris Hedges over Occupy Wall Street violates CBC Journalistic Standards (Part 2)

The following post is a slightly reworked version of the complaint I submitted to CBC concerning the behaviour of Kevin O’Leary during an interview with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges on October 6, 2011 on the Lang & O’Leary Exchange. [You can see the original interview here]

The complaint is premised on the assumption that as the Lang & O’Leary Exchange runs on CBC News, it is subject to the CBC’s Journalistic Standards. If this assumption is incorrect, I would still argue that Mr O’Leary fails to treat his interviewee with a sufficient degree of respect.

For those who do not know the show, The Lang & O’Leary Exchange presents itself as business television show which aims to bring the ‘biggest names’ of the financial world to debate topical issues and generate ‘thought-provoking coverage. In the show’s description it alludes to the fact that the show’s hosts (Amanda Lang & Kevin O’Leary) both have their own opinions and may indeed clash over topics. This format is obviously intended to adds the drama of reporting news and some producers may also justify this ‘colourful’ approach show as a means to generate controversy, discussion and, most importantly, an audience!

Despite the format, the manner in which Kevin O’Leary treated his guest Chris Hedges was not becoming of the high standards set by the CBC, is a direct violation of the CBC’s Journalistic Codes and ultimately damaged the CBC’s reputation.

Early in the exchange between O’Leary and Hedges, Hedges was allowed to make his point unimpeded (for a full transcript of see the Creekside blog). However, half way into the interview O’Leary initiates name calling and replies to Hedges’ arguments by saying, “You sound like a left wing ‘nut bar’…”. Understandably, Hedges takes offence to O’Leary’s bullying tactics and rightfully calls him out on it. The interview concludes on
a low point with Mr Hedges asserting that he will no longer be willing to do interviews with the CBC.

The use of name calling is a rhetorical act of desperation deployed in an attempt to discredit one’s character as opposed to the validity of one’s arguments. I fail to see how the use of such bullying tactics deployed by O’Leary either draw on his ‘expertise’, or provide the audience with a greater understanding of the issues. Moreover, I fail to see how it could be retorted that the name calling was simply the expression of a ‘provocative opinion’ in a moment of ‘passion’. It was an act of bullying and do not understand how it can be justified.

It is appreciated that a retort to this complaint could be that Mr O’Leary is a ‘big personality’ and the comments are part of his ‘nature”. However such a reply would not negate the need to maintain a respectful tone particularly during issues of disagreement. This is made all the more important given the CBC’s role and mandate as a public broadcaster.

Mr O’Leary’s actions are a direct violation of the CBC’s commitment to ‘fairness’ and treating individuals with respect. The remarks of O’Leary also violate the CBC’s commitment to balance. On the issue of balance, the CBC undertakes to “contribute to informed debate on issues that matter to Canadians by reflecting a diversity of opinion” and… “On issues of controversy, we ensure that divergent views are reflected respectfully, taking into account their relevance to the debate and how widely held theses views are”. The issues around the Occupy Wall Street protests both matter to Canadians and are an issue of controversy. While it could be restored that the very act of having Chris Hedges on the show was a means to ‘inform’ Canadians about one perspective on Occupy Wall Street, there was a clear failure to handle the opinions expressed by Chris Hedges respectfully.

By having a show aired on CBC, Mr O’Leary has the duty to act responsibly and respectfully. In this instance, he has not only failed to live up to the standards set by the CBC but has clearly violated them to the detriment of the organization.

Given that the above text captures the thrust of my argument to the CBC, which has now been received by Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor in Chief of CBC News, I look forward to (and will share here) the reply.

[Edit: A response from the show’s Executive Producer, to my complaint can be read HERE]


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