I get my information about Occupy Wall Street from Fake Fox News, a media outlet anchored by artist Chris Cobb. He's been on location in New York's Zuccotti Park since mid-September, covering the demonstration from the inside. I called him to find out how his operation is faring and, not surprisingly, he was recovering from a cold, having powered through many 12-hour days of interviews and activity. "I went, originally, to document and write about it, and I ended up doing a lot of photo portraits of protesters holding their signs. I actually thought it was a left-wing, hippie, gutter punk kind of affair, and I was turned off by the number of anarchist types there. And then I started talking to people and realized that it was significantly different from a lot of the protests I've been around. So, after a day or two, I thought I'd join in." He's active in the movement but doesn't occupy the park all night, "What's the point of paying rent on a New York apartment if you're going to sleep in the grass?"
Cobb got the idea for his Fake Fox News outlet after he witnessed a real Fox News reporter on the scene. "Griff Jenkins was asking leading questions of all the protesters, so I decided to dress up just like him. It made me really mad, so I thought the best way to fight back was to mock him openly. I didn't have a better idea, and nobody was doing media criticism, so I thought it would be the best way to deal with it. It worked out." It worked out so well that the Smithsonian approached Cobb and asked him to donate his Fake Fox News camera (made out of a cat food box) to their collection, and he's since created limited edition replicas of his fine cardboard news gear.
I asked about how other artists have contributed to OWS efforts in New York, and he mentioned a zombie flash mob organized by Oliver Halsman Rosenberg, co-founder of Triple Base gallery in SF. The march of zombie bankers eating cash was one of the first events Cobb covered for Fake Fox News. "It was funny and I thought, that's what we need is humor. I actually thought it was going to be like street theater, but I realized I didn't even need a script because people responded to it so well." He continued the news project and dedicates a significant chunk of his time to the cause. "It wasn't intended to be a full-time job, but it's quickly become a pretty solid part-time job."
Other artists have printed posters and t-shirts for long lines of protesters and supporters. "There's a gigantic amount of signage; most of the signs are really personal. The police wouldn't let the signs stay on the trees where they were hung originally, so they made us put them on the ground. We filled up a huge area and people could walk by and see this big field of signs." Cobb also told me that Bay Area illustrator Eric Drooker, who created the animation for the recent film version of Howl came by and recited parts of the poem for people while showing slides of his work. And there are often spontaneous musical performances. "There was a jug band, a marching band, and a banjo player and violinist who played bluegrass and folk music. And Peter Yarrow from Peter, Paul and Mary showed up and played hippie songs, which people really liked."
Free pizza and a sense of importance have motivated Cobb to continue his involvement. "I stayed because they were actually making progress." He attended a community advisory board meeting and was surprised with the results. "A lot of older, well-to-do people who live in Lower Manhattan were in support of the protests. They were board members and they said maybe they didn't understand exactly what was happening, but that was OK because that's the nature of the protest. The protest is not supposed to be rational or have a specific message. The protest itself is the message. Some of them understood and embraced it, and the resolution in favor of the protesting in Zuccotti Park passed overwhelmingly. A number of community board members spoke up and were vigorously defending what was going on. That really impressed me. It's hard to have perspective when you're in a sea of 2,000 people."
Some say that OWS protesters lack a unified goal. In Cobb's opinion, the point is "to provoke honest discussion about the abuses of the financial industry, and the destructive effect that abuse has had on our society. For example, the lack of political will to collect taxes from powerful corporations in the oil and energy industries, and in the financial industry, to name a few." And haven't we started talking more about the 1%? Haven't we felt an amplified unrest about how their exorbitant wealth negatively impacts the rest of humanity? A large number of people left their banks for credit unions because a couple hundred activists grabbed megaphones, headed to Wall Street, and said something. OWS has already met one big goal. Like an art intervention, a political demonstration asks questions. It doesn't have to answer them.
For regular updates on OWS follow Cobb on SFMOMA's Open Space Blog.