It would seem that a populist uprising against corporate greed would find a widely approving audience, yet the current occupation of Wall Street has mostly been received with a mix of muted support and mockery. The now week old protest, which has been reported to have attracted several hundred activists this past weekend, is struggling to be understood.

There is no leader, by design, and the demands are still being formed by General Assemblies, a loose group of protesters who gather to discuss their grievances with what they see as a system that takes from the middle class and poor and protects the rich. They represent what they call “the 99%,” the population outside of top 1% of income earners.

Protesters complained early on that they were not receiving attention from mainstream media, so they took to social media, using the hashtag #occupywallst (and apparently spreading to #occupyboston #occupyLA #occupydenver #occupytexas #occupynola #occupychi #occupyphoenix as well,) sharing minute by minute accounts on Twitter, posting photos and video, and live streaming nearly the entire time.

The claims that there is a lack of mainstream coverage doesn’t seem to hold water, and could simply be a ploy to encourage even more coverage. The protests have been covered by ReutersThe New York Times, and major networksAnonymous and Ad Busters are major promoters and loose organizers of the protests but the movement doesn’t appear to be born directly from the groups.

Are they a mob of over-privileged, unemployed trustafarians? Many of them likely are. Does it matter? Dismiss them if you will, they’re motivated and mobilized. An apathetic population asked to foot the bill for the fallout from credit default swaps is exactly what the 1% ordered. The last few years the country has been told to fear an economic collapse if the masses fail to fork over what amounts to corporate welfare, and more recently, that more jobs will be lost if we close tax loopholes. Many claim that these protesters are anti-capitalist, but most are simply disillusioned by a form of capitalism they suggest is so far out of whack that the opportunity for bootstrap pulling is nearly non-existent. They propose that the current environment unapologetically favors the richest of the rich.

There is concern, by people like Ginia Bellafonte the New York Times, that these protesters are simply flakes. These are a “noble but fractured and airy movement of rightly frustrated young people.” She refers to the gathering as a “carnival” and uses quotes of ridiculous demands, to “get rid of the combustion engine” and their muddled unfocused kaleidoscope of “liberal” causes: “concerns about the death penalty, the drug war, the environment.”

Bellafonte paints the picture so it can be easy for the comfortable Times readers to dismiss these seemingly misguided youth. Where have I heard this before? If you’re someone of my age, a thirty-something, ask your parents. Chances are they were once young and “misguided” and maybe even motivated by the likes of merry pranksters like Abbie Hoffman. Many of them likely would easily have identified with these so-called court jesters. Every movements starts somewhere and often it begins with very lofty ideas and few well-defined tactics. A week in, their goal was simply to do exactly what their namesake describes: occupy and control the public space in or near Wall Street, to have their presence felt and voices heard, even while they haven’t yet found the words.

To give Bellafonte the benefit of the doubt, even a supporter, in the form of successful tech entrepreneur Tim O’Reilly, was disheartened by the attire and approach of the protesters, if not the cause. If only the protesters dressed more formally, acted like grownups and came with a power-point presentation outlining their demands, maybe they’d be taken more seriously.

This weekend, the police, who up until then had been relatively docile, began to flex their muscles. Photos and videos documented alleged incidents of police brutality:

(links via Pantless Progressive)

Police pen up and mace female protesters [Raw Story]

Young man arrested simply for walking down the street [laurasthinkingwithportals]

Protester thrown over barricade by police [evanfleischer]

Protester shouts, “Is this what you’re about?”, gets cuffed [@LibertyPlazaRev]

Officer pushes sitting protester, man stands up, cops arrest him [@LilKing420s]

Cops Tackle, Mace Wall St. Protesters for No Obvious Reason [Gawker]

The movement has been steadfast in imploring members to remain non-violent, in response to apparent police violence.

For every Ginia Bellafonte, they have a Chris Hedges, a Noam Chomksy and an Amy Goodman. While Bellafonte found the silliest in the crowd to quote, Goodman found David Graeber who teaches at the University of London.

“For the last 30 years, we’ve seen a political battle being waged by the super-rich against everyone else, and this is the latest move in the shadow dance, which is completely dysfunctional economically and politically. It’s the reason why young people have just abandoned any thought of appealing to politicians. We all know what’s going to happen. The tax proposals are a sort of mock populist gesture, which everyone knows will be shot down. What will actually probably happen would be more cuts to social services.”

Perhaps that kind of quote doesn’t fit into the neat narrative of misguided, yet noble, cast of characters wasting their wealthy parents money at a sleepover in the park that Bellafonte was looking to portray. I’m not naive enough to think Graeber is representative of the crowd as a whole, but I also haven’t had the last ounce of idealism beaten out of me to think the inmates are completely running the asylum. The answer, I think, lies somewhere in between and if successful and given time to evolve, could inspire others in America to find the will and motivation to finally stop allowing themselves to be taken advantage of.


26 September 2011

blog comments powered by Disqus