Occupy Protesters Fear Losing the Spotlight to the 'Black Bloc'

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As Occupy Oakland's after-dark chaos overshadowed the daytime calm in headlines, many in the movement have started to fear their message is getting drowned out by those bent on little more than destruction. Until it degenerated into chaos late at night one of the defining characteristics of Wednesday's Oakland protest was the noticeable absence of uniformed police amid the peaceful march. But as a small minority of black-masked anarchists known as the Black Bloc vandalized stores and later set fires and stormed buildings, many activists on Twitter bemoaned the fact that those incidents, not the large-scale protest, would dominate headlines. And they did.

The Occupy Oakland website boasted on Wednesday that, "as of 8 p.m. the police remained hidden out of sight." But the cops came out in force later as some protesters took over buildings and started fires. They arrested some 60 people and reportedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the remaining crowd. After several thousand people peacefully marched to the port to close it down with their presence, the night's chaos (and some during the day, which we'll address later) came down to a few bad actors, but it was the focus of many next-day stories, to activists' chagrin. The New York Times, Guardian, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post all led their coverage with mentions of police lobbing tear gas at protesters, and illustrated it with images of burning dumpsters and broken, spray-painted windows.

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"More tear gas in Oakland last night. Some agitators lit a barricade on fire. A few destructive people are giving #occupyoakland a bad name," tweeted activist Maddie Rudd, capturing the sentiment of many. "#OccupyOakland summary: Port shut down by thousands marching peacefully, isolated skirmishes, ~60 arrests, tear gas. What will MSM focus on?" tweeted Mother Jones magazine. On the right, Michelle Malkin has been taking her version of the mainstream media to task, posting more pictures of the destruction that she thinks were censored. The Republican National Committee seized on violent images from last week's Occupy Oakland protest to bash President Barack Obama in an ad it debuted Monday:

Protesters face a tough challenge in Oakland and elsewhere: The vast majority of them want to project an image of peaceful masses taking on injustice, but the minority that wants chaos gets it, and that always grabs headlines. A huge police presence tends to mean lots more arrests, which leads to a focus on the lawlessness. Remember that Brooklyn Bridge march? But without somebody to stop them, some miscreants will inevitably do something that makes the rest look bad. In Oakland on Wednesday, that meant activists tried to self-police, but it didn't go very well. Prison Planet posted this video of protesters trying unsuccessfully to stop Black Bloc anarchists from vandalizing a Whole Foods:

Some protesters stood guard against those who would vandalize storefronts (photo via Asher_Wolf):

In the end, however, activists were left basically apologizing for the actions of their rambunctious minority, which doesn't make anybody look good, as in this Chase bank window. (Photo via the San Francisco Bay Guardian's Steve Jones's Lockerz):

Of course, sometimes the self-policing does work, as Bag News pointed out on Wednesday night with a post documenting protesters' successful defense of a store in Oakland against would-be vandals. But it doesn't take too many broken windows and dumpster fires to make click-grabbing slideshows that put the bad-acting few ahead of the peaceful many in the coverage.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.