Occupy in Steubenville, Ohio

Activists in Ohio–and elsewhere–have grabbed the Occupy label to demonstrate their

Masks sell for $5

concern that Steubenville authorities (including the police and the high school football coaching staff) are covering up a sexual assault.  Using Occupy, Anonymous, the Guy Fawkes mask, hacktivist tools, and visible mobilization, they’ve been successful in bringing attention to what they describe as a violent crime that took place five months ago.

Two football players were arrested, charged, and released, and await trial for rape next month, but a local debate about what this incident is really all about has intensified.  While some locals question whether a sexual assault actually took place, locals and a broader public have questioned why only two young men are facing charges when many others witnessed–and may have participated–in assaulting the girl.  (See good summaries of the assault and the aftermath at the New York Times, The Atlantic,and CNN.)

Last weekend, an estimated 2,000 people protested against the sheriff’s handling of the crime, particularly about the failure to charge others involved.  The legal process has been a mess, including the almost immediate announcement by the Jefferson County prosecutor that she was recusing herself from the case because her son was a member of the football team.  State prosecutors are responsible,  Meanwhile,  hactivists, only some Anonymous, had released photos of the sixteen year old victim dragged from party to party, and a video of one observer ridiculing the girl. They’ve also begun to identify other individuals they believe should be charged, and accused both the football team and the sheriff of ignoring evidence.

At this point, the activism has been successful in bringing attention to both the case and (perhaps) larger problems of sexual assault and rape culture.  In this way, it’s an example reminiscent of the activism around the shooting of Trayvon Martin. There is however, as Slate’s Amanda Marcotte notes, a fine line between activism and vigilantism.

For Occupy, there’s something else worth thinking about: Occupy emerged as a targeted

Occupy Steubenville rally

action against big capital with a broad concern about political and economic inequality.  The issues of concern to local activists in Steubenville may be related, but the connections aren’t immediately obvious, nor were they suggested in most of the 2011 protests in public spaces around the United States.

Occupy has become a label that activists of any sort can try to grab in making their own claims.  If it inspires people at the grassroots to mobilize on behalf of the things they care about, this inspiration comes with a cost of clarity and coherence about just what Occupy is all about.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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3 Responses to Occupy in Steubenville, Ohio

  1. Professor Meyer brings up an excellent point about the direction and the definition of Occupy going forward.

    Here in Canada, the IdleNoMore (http://idlenomore.ca) movement has continually been gaining attention and support over the Holiday Season. Starting out in November here in Saskatoon and surrounding native communities, a decisive call to action was sent out across the nation to bring attention to Indigenous Sovereignty in early December- It was a day of peaceful protest and direct action.

    Since that day, the people and authorities here in Canada have been treated to blockades of major roads, rail lines and even certain border crossings with the United States. Another focal point of the movement surrounds Chief Theresa Spence who has been on a hunger strike for the past 25 days, trying to bring attention to the plight of Canada’s native population (a majority that still today live on reserves).

    By mimicking the non-structure of Occupy Wall Street, the IdleNoMore movement has captured the minds and attention of many native youths. From organizing flash mobs, round dances inside malls and street protest through twitter, it would seem that the youth have found an outlet of political discourse and participation upon which they are willing to actively engage in.

    It would seem that Occupy is a continuous running play that has many acts.

    J.R. Werbics is a Canadian writer and philosopher

  2. That’s exactly what we need to figure out. Occupy rhetoric and style is now available to all kinds of movements, including the indigenous people in Canada–and the anti-tar sands groups. It raises questions about just what Occupy is. (Could there be Occupy taxation???)

  3. Perhaps it is less of a movement now and more of a tactic. Costume and language can be powerful and clearly this resonates.

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