Susie Cagle covering Occupy Oakland

The Occupy Wall Street movement has been spreading to cities across the U.S. Occupiers congregated in Oakland CA on Oct. 10 and comic journalist Susie Cagle decided to cover the protest and create a five-part series to run locally and nationally documenting the Oakland participants. Her work is being funded through Spot Us – a Kickstarter-like fundraising site for journalism.

Here’s her original pitch:

I have been drawing and speaking with people at the occupied camps since day one. (You can see a sample of one of my quick sketches as the photo here.) I will be turning those raw drawings and interviews into a graphic series that aims not to delineate demands or boil down this national movement, but to provide an immersive document of a unique and exciting point in time.

She reports that the protests had been peaceful and participants had good relations with the city and mayor for the first two weeks, but things have certainly changed in the last 48 hours as police cracked down firing teargas, and by some reports, rubber bullets into the crowd.

I spoke to Susie about her involvement in covering the protest and crackdown. The following is a transcript of my hurried notes as we talked.

Alan: Tell me about your motivation for covering the Occupy Oakland protests.

Susie: I am a political supporter of the movement, but I identify myself as a member of the media. I originally came here to produce a five-part series to run here locally or even nationally. For the first two weeks, everything was peaceful. I would come down here at nights and weekends. The story angle I was pursuing was how Oakland was a peaceful movement – different than other cities, but that all changed yesterday morning. Everything changed.

Alan: You mention you’re approaching this as a journalist, but do you have any bias?
Susie: I don’t believe in unbiased reporting. Everyone has a bias. I do try not to be involved and not become a participant. At first, I didn’t stay here. I would come down the to the park on nights and weekends, but after the last couple of days, I’ve been down here most of the time.

Alan: Are you trying to draw cartoons while you’re there?
Susie: I’ve been doing mostly sketches. I haven’t tried to draw any finished work – mostly pencil. I drew last Saturday at a rally, but time is not a luxury there. I take pictures with my smartphone for reference. It’s more effective.

Alan: How have you been perceived among the protestors? I’ve heard that established media are being treated different than independent journalists.
Susie: There’s a big difference between newspaper and broadcasters here. Broadcasters want something totally different. Dirty hippies shows better on TV. It’s a more powerful visual image than just talking to people. I talked to a newspaper reporter who said he wasn’t having problems getting interviews. The Occupiers have stations they like and don’t like based on how the media reports about them.

Alan: Have you had problems getting interviews or being treated differently?
Susie: I feel like people have been willing to talk to me. Maybe because I fit in here. I’m in my early 20s and fit in with the hip looking people. Some have thought I was one of them because they’ve seen me around here for the last two weeks. When I talk to them, I have to tell them I’m Press. Most get excited to talk to me. I haven’t had too many issues.

Alan: Let’s talk about the crack down. How close to the crack down were you?
Susie: I was there for the 5 am raid. I thought I was behind the line, where other journalists were taking pictures – across the street from the protestors. They invited the media to leave and even opened the line for them, but then the police came in behind us. I felt like we were being contained. That’s when the police started firing tear gas.

Alan: Was the tear gas the first response from the police? Was there something they were reacting to?
Susie: Yeah, it was their first response. It took a bit more of a conflict before they started using rubber bullets. There was a crowd of a thousand people who have been beaten down for the last 12 hours and remember this is Oakland and there were some who weren’t part of the movement that wanted to get in on action. The police say they were attacked with plastic and glass water bottles and paint, but I never saw any of that.

I know Oakland pulled in surrounding police departments. I don’t think it was Oakland PD who were involved with the tear gas. Oakland is broke. How can they afford all of this? It will be interesting to see how long this will keep going.

[Editor’s note: Susie has corrected my notes. The Oakland PD were involved with the tear gassing as well as some of the other crackdown measures]

Alan: So what’s next? When will we be able to see your coverage of this?
Susie: The next couple of weeks will tell. I’m in this for the long haul. I have the luxury of a freelancer to stay here. I think it’s important to see it through. At this point I’m only going home to eat, sleep and charge my phone. It will take me a couple of weeks to digest all of this and figure out what I’m going to say.

Alan: Is there anything you’d like to add about your work that would be interesting to The Daily Cartoonist audience?
Susie: I highly recommend for every to go visit an Occupy camp whether they support the effort or not. I know a lot of editorial cartoonists have short deadlines, but I think they have the wrong impression of the participants. Even if you’re not a journalist – just go out and see what’s going on.

To get a blow by blow account of what she’s covering follow her on Twitter.

If you want to help fund Susie’s work, visit her Spot Us site and donate.