Of Mice and Men; Micah and Me (First Person)

By Ted Friedman
Friday December 09, 2011 - 03:04:00 PM
Micah M. White, center in white shirt,  a founder of Occupy Wall Street movement, and a new Berkeley resident.
Ted Friedman
Micah M. White, center in white shirt, a founder of Occupy Wall Street movement, and a new Berkeley resident.

When I was a kid, I read "Ben and Me," a 1939 children's bio of Ben Franklin, purportedly written by Franklin's mouse, Amos. In this story, I am the mouse, and Micah M. White, credited by the New Yorker as a key founder of the Occupy movement, is Ben.

Micah is famous at the moment, and I, a mere mouse who roars at the Planet. We both live in Berkeley; me for 40 years, Micah since last year. 

Ben/Micah is a 29 year-old senior editor at Adbusters magazine, and self-styled "independent activist," who has contributed to the New York Times, Teen Magazine, the Guardian (U.K.), and recently, the Washington Post. He claims 100,000 readers. 

If I have a few thousand, I'd be lucky. 

When the New Yorker piece on Micah hit the newsstands (Nov. 28), my editor asked me to do a piece on him. She had read, in my Oct. 10 piece, that Occupy was "masterminded by Micah M. White, senior editor at Adbusters, Vancouver, B.C., an anti-consumerist magazine, founded in 1989," and a one-year resident of Berkeley. 

Talk about "How Berkeley can you be?" How Berkeley is it to start an international political movement--from Berkeley? 

What a story! 

But there is likely to be no story about Micah here, because, you see…Micah despises me! 

Here's why. At an OB general assembly in October, I approached his wife, a Cal faculty member, to write a story about her and her famous husband. 

To write such a piece I would have to correctly note her faculty rank (her rank is not given on her department website), while pursuing the local angle--what brought you and Micah here; your views on Berkeley, etc.? I used this excuse to approach her. 

I tried to take their pictures, separately, throughout the general assembly, which became a Paparazzi game of cat-and-mouse in which I felt more like a rat. 

Here's the short conversation I had with Micah's wife on night three of OB: 

Sidling up to her on a bench in Bank of America Civic Plaza, I identified myself, and asked her faculty title for the article I wanted to write. 

Her reaction threw me off. There was something unnerving in her look of scorn, derision, and extreme distaste when she said, "Why would you want to do that? {write about me]. I definitely had my mouth in my foot , when I snapped, "You ought to know the angle, you're a rhetorician." 

Wrong answer. 

Right answer (not delivered): "My editor says our readers would be interested." 

Micah was elsewhere, but he was soon in my face, demanding I apologize to his wife. He had barely finished the demand, when I said, curtly, "I apologize". To this he responded by moving back from me, as if to suggest I was in his space. "Stay away from me," he called as he left. 

I joked to allies at OB that two can play that game. "I'll get a bullhorn and interview Micah from across the street," I boasted. How far away is that? 

Micah was not through with me. 

He returned the following evening, denouncing me in the general assembly. " your reports are harmful to the movement and an insult to everyone here," he charged. 

Dear readers, have I ever insulted anyone? It's my style. 

He wasn't finished with me yet, though. He caught up to me on the fringe of the general assembly the next night, asking me whether I knew the difference between news and editorials, questioning my credentials (B.S. in Journalism, University of Illinois, Champagne-Urbana, 1961), and asking, "how long have you been doing this? 

"Your work is crap, complete crap; of all the pieces on Occupy I've read, yours are the absolute worst." He repeated the crap routine, shaking his head in disgust. 

I later joked that being worst was better than not being noticed, but I was hurt. 

In fact, my initial piece on OB, (Planet Oct. 10), in which I trace its origins back to People's Park and Mike Delacour (local angle) was overly complicated, if not muddled. 

Worse, the piece never examined Micah's role--considerable--in the first OB protest. 

I was too busy with the local angle (Delacour) to notice Micah, whom I didn't even know at the time. I had to be tipped off by a friend who was tipped off by a friend. 

Maybe all my stuff was crap, whatever that is. 

Micah's profile in the New Yorker says that he hangs at Doe Library on campus, where, devoid of electronic devices, he "digs out snippets of radical thought ," for his Adbusters pieces. 

I went to Doe Library looking for Micah Wednesday (not there), and will be stalking him there again. This time, I'll show him the respect he deserves. Remember, he's Ben Franklin, an innovator, and I, a lowly mouse. 

I can't wait to write one of my crappy stories about him. 

Ted Friedman writes his crappy stories from the anything-but crappy South Side. Funky, maybe, but not crappy. Micah lives on the elegant North Side.