There are few historically important events without an iconic moment defining an accomplishment or purpose more than an image that serves as a rallying cry to attract support and instill a sense of purpose to continue moving forward. Some American iconic moments are the space program’s image of an American standing on the surface of the moon, or the image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressing a Civil Rights rally in Washington D.C., or the sight of passenger jets crashing into the Twin Towers on 9/11. The Occupy movement lacked a single, iconic image until this past weekend in Oakland and it is tragic, but the image of protestors burning an American flag may become the face of a promising movement that has the potential of rallying 99% of the country against corporate involvement in government.
The previous images of law enforcement officials using pepper spray on students sitting peacefully at U.C . Davis in California, or a war veteran shot in the face by riot police were the face of police violence against peaceful protestors, and they engendered support from Americans who believed protestors were exercising their Constitutional rights. Those images were supplanted by irresponsible protestors and it verified Republicans, teabaggers, and all manner of conservatives’ contention that the movement was little more than unruly malcontents and thugs intent on destroying America. The flag burning image from Occupy Oakland vindicated Eric Cantor’s assertion that the movement was un-American and a bunch of miscreants bent on violence. The entire movement is tainted and unless the burning flag image fades from Americans’ consciousness, Occupy may have to return in a few years when they mature.
The incident is unique to Oakland, but because conservatives waited patiently for one stupid individual to make their case against Occupy for them, they were rewarded beyond their wildest dreams. In the past few days, conservative websites displayed the image of a protestor with the burning flag, and included one caption; “Enough said.” Several sites incorporated audio of Nancy Pelosi saying Democrats “embraced the Occupy movement” with the image of Occupiers burning the flag. Occupy Oakland handed Republicans ammunition they need to associate Democrats with flag-burning, un-American, and violent protestors for the upcoming general election.
It is true that not all Occupiers were involved or advocated burning an American flag, but regardless of the numbers, every city’s Occupy movement will be associated with the iconic image of anti-American sentiment. An Occupy Oakland spokesman who has appeared in interviews since the start of the movement tried to avoid the flag incident, but his deer in the headlights stare did little to conceal his anguish at having to explain the stupid actions of protestors who, besides burning an American flag, vandalized and sprayed graffiti on buildings. His explanation that the vandals, thugs, and flag-burner were the same “small contingent” of “probably Anarchists” means organizers should have taken steps to prevent the public relations nightmare. This same spokesperson has used the same small contingent phrase too many times, and it gives the appearance that organizers were lax in laying out specific instructions to maximize the effect and sacrifice of the movement.
Now the tea party can legitimately claim their rallies and protests were nothing like the Occupy movement and conservatives will use images of a burning American flag as proof Occupy is anti-American; they will also use the image of flag burning as justification for police brutality. In an election year, Republicans will associate Occupiers with Arabs burning American flags and will claim there is no difference between them and Islamic extremists.
The Occupy movement’s potential to effect change in how government works was impaired in Oakland and conservative-owned media already took advantage of Occupiers torching an American flag. In a medium-sized city 70 miles from Oakland, a newspaper that refused to mention the Occupy movement for months ran a front page story defining the movement with the flag burning incident. It is wrong, but one small group sullied a potentially game-changing grassroots movement and it should serve as a wake-up call to Occupy’s organizers that they still need rudimentary organization skills and definitive goals to attract focused supporters.
Occupy Oakland owes the movement an apology for nearly wasting their sacrifice and commitment to make America a democracy again. It is meaningless what police have done, or which same small contingent are responsible for flag burning, vandalism and attacks on police; Occupy Oakland must curtail these public relation nightmares. It just took a small group to distinguish the movement as immature and now, as anti-American. The Occupy movement’s iconic image should be committed and peaceful Americans exercising their constitutional rights and feeding homeless Americans, but those images were deleted when a small group in Oakland mimicked anti-American Arabs and burned an American flag. The morons who burned the flag ultimately expressed disrespect and contempt for America, and they accomplished what Republicans have dreamt of since the movement’s inception; a self-inflicted public relations nightmare to define the movement.