Change in language alters opinions: Lessons in discourse from the Occupy Movement

I noticed there was a change in the language as it relates to the Occupy Vancouver protest today. Up until now the individuals at the site had been referred to as ‘protesters’ or ‘occupiers.’ Today the language shifted to now refer to them as ‘campers.’ Calling them campers completely undermines their purpose in protesting and occupying in the various cities.

Since the death of Occupier Ashley over the weekend the City of Vancouver has completely changed their message and tone. On Friday Robertson said that they had no intention of moving against the Occupiers. While they were citing some safety concerns identified by the fire department they were prepared to work with them to clean up the site. Now Robertson is talking about severe ‘life safety’ issues at the site. When he was on CBC’s afternoon show ‘On the Coast’ this afternoon, Stephen Quinn pointed out that the encampment is not much different now than it was at the beginning and that he did not really understand why they had such an issue with the protest now. Robertson had no real answer except to claim those ‘life safety’ issues again.

The city is being even cagier about this protest. In light of the municipal election, Vision Vancouver does not want to be seen as being against the issues the Occupiers are raising. After all, Vision Vancouver is really trying to court that left of centre vote. So Gregor, as mayor, ends up talking out of both sides of his month. On the one hand he is saying the ‘campers’ have to go and then he says that the city will make a stage and PA system available for the protestors to continue the movement. What Gregor Robertson doesn’t get is that he cannot have it both ways. If he moves to clear out the Occupiers he most certainly lose votes.

Clearly the Occupy movement is about much more than camping. However, the act of occupying public space is fundamental to the movement. If they are to make progress on their issues they must be in public space. What the Occupy movement must do is craft the message; they must be in control of the language or they risk having their mission degraded by others.

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Published in: on November 7, 2011 at 8:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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