FROM HIS DRAWING BOARD, Nate Beeler can survey it all. The block-lettered signs and dirt-caked tents, the makeshift meals and ever-present drums. The political cartoonist sits perched in the K Street NW newsroom of the Washington Examiner, on the block neatly overlooking the Occupy D.C. encampment. As the protestors go through their rhythms established from six weeks of autumn squatting, Beeler — amused — can’t help but smirk.
On the opposite coast, in the middle of Occupy Oakland, another talented young cartoonist, Susie Cagle, finds her city’s scene engrossing. So much so that she decides to draw closer, to commune with the plaza’s protestors and understand what makes them tick and picket.
In Occupied cities across the globe, reporters angle to find ways to lend meaning and illumination and narrative along each dot on the map of a movement. And in the cases of Cagle and Beeler, the close proximity of the protests informs their personal responses to strikingly different occupations.
Beeler, in his 30s, has imbued his right-leaning editorial cartoons with a decidely jaundiced view of the protestors. The left-leaning Cagle, 28, is filling her sketchbooks with rendered reportage that she plans to use to create an illustrated history of Occupy Oakland.
Two visual journalists. Two very different protest landscapes. As a reflection of their divergent views, how they have reacted is making all the difference.
“I WALK PAST THESE GUYS every day,” Beeler says of the D.C. encampment, within eyesight of the White House. “I walk right by the camp and it’s gotten bigger [over the weeks].
“It still seems the same — it just smells worse.”
Beeler, an Ohio native, is one of the best young political cartoonists working today. He received his journalism degree nearly a decade ago from nearby American University, and the Occupy D.C. scene renders him reflective.
“There’s so much naivete,” he tells Comic Riffs. “I remember when I was in college — I didn’t know as much about the world as I do now.”
And because Washington is a protest-savvy city, the Examiner cartoonist says, he thinks “D.C. is a bit indifferent” to this movement.
As Occupy D.C. hits the six-week mark Friday, the protests have been relatively placid — no mass arrests after amassing on a bridge, no torching of government buildings.
The other day, Beeler says, “I saw 20 to 25 protestors doing their march. It was just so quaint. They were shutting down this entire street.”
The law enforcement vehicles on hand outnumbered the marchers, he says. “I think there was a motorcycle for each protestor. I kept thinking: What a waste of resources.”
Beeler also is critical of the protestors’ motives. “Some of them view this as something to be lighthearted about in a way,” he tells Comic Riffs. “It’s like [they want it to be] the ‘60s all over again. But it’s not peace and love and all that when it gets down to the politics of it. ...
“Their politics are very left, and that is not in step with the country. ”
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The protests in Washington and New York helped fuel a succession of Beeler cartoons that mocked the marchers. The cartoonist has plenty of editorial ammo — but he doesn’t want to beat that topical drum too many times.
“I actually talked with my editor about whether I should do another Occupy Wall Street or D.C. protest cartoon. ...,” Beeler says. “I could draw a hundred of these things, but there are other things that are a lot more important. I don’t want to be a one-note band.”
Still, from his K Street vantage point, he is ready to fight fire with satire if the occasion calls.
“I will try to jump on it if another development comes up,” he says. ”One of the things I have tried [to do] in my cartoons is to correct what I perceive as a misperception of the movement. ...”
“I’m part of that 99 percent, and I don’t share their views on a great many things.”
Beeler gets passionate as he speaks for other viewpoints within the non-wealthy “99 percent.”
“There are people who have a lot of the same feelings as Occupy Wall Street, but they have a different value system — as opposed to camping out on McPherson Square, they say: I’m going to take a job I don’t really want to do for a while and get out of my parents’ basement. ...
“They are people at the bottom of the 99 percent who feel the same way and have to work. Working hard and creating opportunities. Instead of occupying McPherson Square or Zuccotti Park, spending your days playing drums. Make your own destiny.”
Beeler also wonders where the Occupy movement was when the government was issuing bailouts to some of the big banks. Of the protestors, he says: “It just seems they missed the boat. Why are they doing it now? Why weren’t they protesting it when the payouts occurred?...
“It’s hard to take it seriously.”
Beeler also views Occupy D.C. in a very different light from the protests in some other cities.
“I don’t think it’s going to be like Oakland,” he says. “There are enough sympathetic people to Occupy Wall Street politics [in D.C.] that you’ll hear honks in support. Also, D.C. is savvy. The police are savvy. ...
“I think it’ll be okay here. I don’t think there’s a desire to be violent.”
“I AM BECOMING a connoisseur of teargas.”
Susie Cagle has been covering the Occupy Oakland for a month now, personally resulting so far, she says, in enduring multiple teargassings, one arrest and 15 hours in jail.
Unlike Washington, of course, the scene in the Bay Area has been marked by violence. On Thursday, a man was reportedly shot to death outside the Occupy Oakland encampment; authorities said the man was not living among hundreds of protestors in Frank Ogawa Plaza near City Hall, according to SFGate.com.
Part of the occupation took another turn Friday, as authorities reportedly ordered the protestors to leave the plaza.
Cagle, who has been live-tweeting Occupy Oakland for weeks as a freelance journalist for Alternet, wrote on Twitter on Friday evening: ”eviction notice passed around camp today. Described to me as the ‘get the [expletive] out’ notice.”
“There is this building anger,” Cagle tells Comic Riffs. “Anger at the police, at local issues. The Occupy Movement nationally has some of the same core values, but Oakland has this extra issue of police brutality.”
Cagle, a journalist and cartoonist who has worked for American Prospect and Cartoon Movement, says she decided to witness Occupy Oakland firsthand beginning Oct. 10, as she became increasingly critical of how the Bay Area media were covering the protests.
“Part of me was drawn to Occupy Oakland because I wasn’t seeing other sources of consistent information,” Cagle tells Comic Riffs. “ I also felt kind of obligated to keep [my Twitterfeed] updated for that reason.”
Cagle went to Frank Ogawa Plaza while covering one aspect of Occupy Oakland, but last week, amid a heated night of flaring tensions and smoke, she ended up being covered herself.
“I was in the plaza, quite a ways from what I thought was the skirmish line,” Cagle recounts. “That was when I was cut off from a side entrance. ... I just ran for cover.”
Cagle says she was one of about 100 people arrested in a roundup last week — despite the fact that she is a member of the media. (On Friday, she joined the California Media Workers Guild.)
“The arresting officer knew I was press,” Cagle says. “When he came up to me and saw my [Alternet] press pass — which was bright pink-orange, like coral — he even said he knew my comics.” Soon, she was on her way to the Santa Rita jail, she says, about 40 minutes away.
“We were split up by gender immediately,” Cagle says. “It all felt extremely fascist — the aggression of it. It was very terrifying — the sound and the teargassing.”
She says she was released about 15 hours later. The next day, she wasn’t able to get a copy of the police report, Cagle says, but she was able to get the citation:
“Remaining at the scene of a riot.”
“From my perspective,” Cagle tells Comic Riffs, “it was not a riot.”
Cagle says she has become immersed in covering Occupy Oakland, particularly as a graphical reporter.
“It’s a visually arresting image to see that giant camp, with as much infrastructure. I related to how it looked and felt to be there,” says Cagle, adding that because she is a cartoonist, the protestors “have given me tremendous access.”
“The Occupation is very suspicious of media and video cameras ... ,” she says. “I just try to be honest and upfront with what I’m doing. They’re much more comfortable with [someone] drawing them than letting them take their picture. It allows for some anonymity.”
Cagle, who studied journalism at Columbia, says being a cartoonist has a certain cachet in Oakland and San Francisco that it might not have at many other Occupy protests.
“The Bay Area has this great history of radical comics and underground comix” — a scene that once included such figures as R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman — so [that appreciation] is alive and kicking,” Cagle says. “Comics, specifically, [the protestors] think are really cool.
“It’s very funny: Most places you can say you’re a cartoonist instead of a journalist, and they think less of you. Not here.”
Some of the Occupiers are recording the events through their own art, says Cagle, who is a second-generation cartoonist (Comic Riffs has run the work of her father, Daryl Cagle, who also syndicates scores of cartoonists worldwide, including Beeler).
“I’ve seen amazing posters and oil paintings” by protestors, Cagle says. ”It’s phenomenal that it’s inspired them. Nobody questions that.
“They will chase video news cameras out of camp, but they will circle up to the guy documenting it with an oil painting.”
Amid the more peaceful aspects of the encampment, Cagle is poised to cover the next skirmish.
On Friday, Cagle tweets of the Oakland Police Department: “New OPD association open letter to
OccupyOakland asks protesters to leave asap ‘with your heads held high.’ Uhhh.”
“Every aspect of this has just been insane,” Cagle tells Comic Riffs.
“If I wanted a graphic novel, I walked right into it.”
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