Q&A: Tim Pool on Streaming Occupy Wall Street
Friday, November 18, 2011 - 05:26 PM
At about 1:30 AM Tuesday, as the NYPD was evicting protesters from Zuccotti Park, Tim Pool picked up his cell phone and started streaming video to his Ustream channel. Twenty-one hours, 100,000+ views, and countless batteries later, the 25-year-old activist put down his camera and found he had been declared “the eyes of the movement.”
My curiosity about Tim was officially piqued when I came across this moment in the archive of his stream. Within the first couple hours of shooting, Tim had stumbled across a group of masked people letting the air out of the tires of a police van. In a tense argument, Tim defended his right to keep filming:
TIM: [From] day one, transparency has been our principle of solidarity. And if you break that, you should not be a part of this movement.
GUY: Let me make it very clear. Transparency is not actually mentioned—
TIM: When you’ve got anarchists draining the air from police vehicles, and they say “Don’t film me because I’m breaking the law,” I am going to film them.
GUY: Well I think that’s really fucked.
TIM: No. No, it’s not really fucked. Because everyone deserves to know the truth. Information is free. End of story. Transparency is what brings me here. Period.
I decided to track Tim down on Wednesday and talk to him about that scene. While I was at it, I decided to ask him about some other stuff too.
DA: So, what happened in that moment by the police van?
TP: Someone came at me and was yelling at me about filming, which really confused me, because we’ve got multiple live broadcasts going on at the park. They charged at me. One guy put his forearm to my throat. You can see me put my hand up. He swats my hand away. They’re yelling at me, and then that’s when I saw a guy in a black jacket draining the air out of a tire. I realized, these guys are vandals, they’re causing problems, and that’s why they don’t want to be filmed.
Once you understood what they were doing, did you feel an obligation to document it?
I don’t care what the reason is; when we’re at something as pivotal, something as historic as that night, the camera’s not going off. Especially since we had a very large amount of people watching, and I have an obligation to those people to let them know what’s happening. When people were vandalizing police property, which really had no strategic value whatsoever, and then attacked me for it, it was very obvious they were not part of Occupy Wall Street, and most likely had their own political motives and needed to be documented.
Is there any circumstance under which you are willing to turn your camera off?
When there’s a meeting that says “We want to plan an action, but we’re worried that it will get leaked to the police or some agency and they’ll try and block us,” I can understand that for the most part. But I still think that a lot of the meeting should be allowed to be seen. “I don’t like being filmed” is not an excuse at all. There’s very few reasons short of “this could cause people harm” that is going to stop [me from] filming.
Your media organization The Other 99 defines itself as independent from the Occupy movement. Even if you aren’t taking orders from the movement organizers, aren’t you still contributing to their cause?
We’re contributing the truth, I suppose. And that’s really important for Occupy Wall Street, as transparency has been one of the principles of solidarity since the beginning. You have the left-wing media using their left-wing lens on it, and you have the right-wing media using their right-wing lens on it, so everyone is getting a different picture of what it really is. So I think [truthful reporting] is what we’re able to accomplish, especially with platforms like Ustream. I’ve gotten a lot of comments, praise from people saying, “It’s raw; it’s unedited—so we actually can see what’s happening for once.”
Your stream is indeed “unedited” in that there are no cuts. But isn’t there is always selectiveness in where going with your camera and what you’re saying?
I know my commentary is biased, and what choose to point the camera at will always be my bias, but I really try to get everything. Before the eviction, there was what they referred to as “uptown” and “downtown”—the east and the west sides of the park. “Downtown,” the area close to Burger King with the drum circle and most of the occupiers, was considered grungy and dirty, and they called it “the ghetto.” I would stream from that side as well as the other side. But the [OWS-affiliated] media is mostly covering the east side of the park, where the General Assembly happens, where there’s the info booth, the library, the yoga.
The right-wing media likes to go all the way to the grungy side and just grab a few people who look horrible and say “Oh, look at the Occupy movement’s garbage!” And then you get the left-wing media trying to find the cleanest, smartest individuals and saying, “Look how brilliant these people are!” When the truth is, we’ve got all different kinds of people.
You said that the OWS media arm has exhibited a preference for covering one end of Zuccotti Park. What other examples of their coverage would you criticize?
This video came out just on YouTube; I’m pretty sure it was put out by the media team of Occupy Wall Street. We see a white-shirt officer swinging his baton at a crowd of people. And then you see everyone start screaming “police brutality” on Twitter. And then on LiveLeak, someone put the full video, where you actually see the front row of protesters counting down. They say they’re going to charge the barriers “in five, four, three, two, one.” [They] push barriers and the police are desperately trying to hold the line. And then you actually see an arm come over. And I wouldn’t say it was a “strike,” but the cop was essentially hit in the face. I don’t want to exaggerate—it wasn’t a very aggressive hit at all—but people are pushing on the barriers, the cop starts pushing people with the baton, they charge at him again, he starts swinging.
The protesters pushing the barricades down the way they did was wrong, specifically because it was an unplanned action. There was a meeting afterwards where someone actually said, “How could you do that to us? I was being beaten by a baton because you pushed the barricades.”
Yes, they hit people who weren’t pushing the barricades, and that’s wrong. But essentially you’ve got fear as the motive for the reactions between the police when they start swinging. Now, the pepper-spraying incident from [NYPD Officer] Bologna was just ridiculous: he just walks up and walks away. But this instance with the baton: you’re one person, you’re surrounded by 400-500 people who are trying to push you and your coworkers down. I mean, that was a reaction. What do you think’s gonna happen?
So, would you call yourself a journalist?
I don’t consider myself a journalist. I mean, people can say I am whatever I am, if that’s what I am. I consider myself an activist 100%. And I feel like the best thing for the movement is to have an independent media outlet that’s trying not to be biased. The truth will set you free—that’s the famous quote.
You just admitted a certain bias, but you’ve also said that you try to minimize your bias. What’s with that?
I feel like I’m 80 percent of the time unbiased, and then I have that natural Occupy-Wall-Street-is-fighting-for-the-people in me, so I did come down here to support the movement. I’m not going to deny it or lie about it. One of the founding principles [of the movement] was transparency, and when I saw that that was being pushed aside, I felt like I needed to take that upon myself to restore [it]. Whether it’s good or bad, whether one person’s breaking the law, one person’s hurting the movement, or one person is, say, stealing donations, I’m going to report it. I’m going to film it, because that hurts the movement.
Many people appear to be watching and engaging with the live streams covering Occupy Wall Street. Why do you think that is?
People have been commenting to me, saying that it’s as if they were there. and that they’re seeing the event through my eyes. Someone actually made the joke, “This is the first-person protest videogame.” Because I’m actually taking requests. When people say, “Can you walk around and check this out?” I do. Last night, someone said, “Can you give Jesse a high five?” I did. They were like, “It really is a videogame,” because they can give commands and I can do them.
Compared to other live streams like Global Revolution, Occupy Wall St NYC, and OccupyNYC, yours has been particularly popular—so popular, in fact, that the other streams were all streaming you at certain points on Tuesday. Even Reuters and Al Jazeera picked you up. What draws people to your stream in particular?
I’m actually overwhelmed, because I don’t really know what I do [to get] the reaction I did. Maybe it’s because you know that I’m not a journalist. That I’m one of the people here, and my only real goal is to have this window open that you can look through. There’s a certain truth to it. Someone mentioned to me, “This is realty. This is reality TV. Not the reality TV that everyone hears about, because that’s just scripted BS. This is what it is: an unedited, raw window into what’s happening at Zuccotti Park.”
When I’ve seen the other broadcasts from the other steams, you sort of just have a camera pointed somewhere...but when you have sort of the war reporting style, when you’re telling people, “What you’re seeing here is this and what’s happening here is this,” they’re getting to not only see it, but hear it, and process it in their heads, and sort of create the mental imagery of what it’s like to be there.