Protests? What Protests?
It’s that time of year when the press has the first pickings at what we used to call the Detroit Auto Show, before it became the NAIAS. For generations, this has been one of the major junkets for reporters covering the auto industry, a chance to see the imaginations of Detroit’s auto designers and engineers strut their stuff. With as many as 5,000 journalists here in town, it’s the perfect place to spread the word about new vehicles and features.
A number of progressive groups figured that the show might also be a good place for them to spread the word about growing inequality, the offshoring of jobs, and the plight of working Americans. On Jan. 12, dozens of union workers and members of such groups as Moratorium Now, National Action Network and Jobs with Justice demanded a “People’s Recovery.” Organizers were quoted as saying, “We see this as a golden opportunity to get past the Detroit corporate media censorship and tell our side of the story: that the 1 percent are making out like bandits while autoworkers are living with concessionary contracts and city workers are getting thrown under the bus.”
Call us cynical if you like, but there’s something there that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. “We’re going to get past the corporate media censorship and tell our story to … the corporate media encamped inside that corporate event?” A casual Google search doesn’t reveal any big media splash. In fact, we’ll bet there will be at least one story from a reporter laughing about the protesters, their clothes, their slogans — and that it might be the only story the protest generates in the mainstream media!
Sunday’s protest was followed up by another yesterday, this one as much a traveling show as some of the exhibits inside Cobo Hall. This group was the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness, a group advocating for unionization of a Nissan factory in Mississippi. It’s particularly interesting to see a group from the South, with its anti-union politics and open-shop plants, agitating against the big boys in Detroit. As L.A. playwright David Macaray once said of the South, “you have working people down there who’d rather walk around with four teeth in their mouth than belong to a union dental plan.”
These protesters met with a bit more success getting their message across, as at least the Detroit News had to acknowledge the protest. Perhaps that’s because it’s the second year in a row the group from Canton, Miss., has hectored automakers. But these news items are sure to be drowned out by the volume of stories about the cars themselves, if only because the journalists are flown in, carefully guided into a showroom for the big auto companies, carefully sequestered from protesters, and given perks and goodie bags before being whisked off to dinner parties and luxury hotel rooms. How can journalists cover protests when their day is orchestrated like that?