The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street

For several weeks now, thousands have been protesting in New York under the banner “Occupy Wall Street.” Their goals or demands are not explicitly defined, but they claim to be the %99 rallying against the elite %1.

Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions,” states the website occupywallst.org. “The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”

Websites http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/ and www.occupywallst.org reveal a collective dissatisfaction with the current distribution of wealth, taxation, healthcare, unemployment rates, and the recent bailouts.

On wearethe99percent, anonymous users have been posting self-photos holding text, explaining their predicaments.

“I am a college graduate with no job and nearly $50K in student loan debt,” writes one submitter. “Since I lost coverage in 2006, I have only had emergency-basis treatment for bipolar disorder. My depression and anxiety are often crippling, and repeated bouts of mania ruined my credit. Medication costs $325. I have $15 to my name. I live with my boyfriend. If he loses his job, we lose everything. I did everything I was supposed to do and I have nothing to show for it. I am worth more dead than alive. I am the 99 percent.”

On September 17, protestors took to the streets of New York and have been growing in numbers ever since. However, major media outlets have been slow to take notice. Nonetheless, “Occupy Wall Street” has not been without its high profile support. Naomi Klein, Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, and Kanye West have all made appearances at the protests. Furthermore, organized labour groups such as the New York Transit Workers Union, the United Federation of Teachers, the United Steelworkers, Workers United, and Service Employees International have all expressed solidarity. Even Ben & Jerry’s have thrown their hat in the ring, giving out free ice-cream to hungry protestors.

Still, the protests have mostly been met with indifference, condescension, and, sometimes, outright distain. One story out of The New York Daily News referred to the protestors as “precious insufferables.” Recently CBC’s capitalist mascot Kevin O’Leary – the Don Cherry of business/finance – has thrown some darts as well. And, of course, Fox News is in full spin mode, expending considerable verbiage to discredit the protestors, trying to show how their darling Tea Party is the superior counter-culture movement.

Seriously, is there any better indication that you’re doing something right than Fox attacking you?

Moreover, it has recently been alleged that Twitter has been censoring tweets containing #Occupywallstreet hashtags. Apparently, the revolution will neither be televised nor tweeted.

Luckily for the “precious insufferables” there is the NYPD.

“Occupy Wall Street” finally managed to make some traction in mainstream media when approximately 700 protestors were arrested Saturday night, October 1st, after swarming Brooklyn Bridge. Police accused protestors of disorderly conduct, while protesters claimed they corralled and led into a trap. There was also scumbag extraordinaire Anthony Bologna who maced a crowd of unsuspecting, non-violent protestors.

Of course, this is all to be expected. Protests that are met with disdain and hostility can only mean they are hitting a nerve. To quote Gandhi, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” We need only look to what happened with the Arab Spring to confirm this.

Admittedly, as this is a protest lead mostly by young, recently graduated twenty-something, it is nonetheless frustrating to observe the way the talking heads of mainstream media have tried to dismiss it. Contrast this with the media’s treatment of the Tea Party movement. Evidently, if you’re a punk wearing a t-shirt and piercings, carrying signs criticizing Wall Street you’re a dangerous radical; but if you’re a retiree wearing a tricorne, adorned in teabags, carrying poorly spelled and grammatically challenged signs comparing socialism to nazism, you’re a fresh new voice in the political discourse that commands respect.

Both are nonviolent, yet only one is deemed worthy of their right to protest.

Some will argue that the Occupy Wall St. protests are illegitimate because they lack a coherent message; that it is a cacophony of conflicting complaints and unclear demands. But this is both unjustified and elitist.

Unjustified because the message of Occupy Wall St. are indeed clear enough. It is a collective cry against the deregulation of financial institutions that have created the recent recession, which necessitated the excessive bailouts. However, for all the sound and fury that came out of Washington and the media, those responsible came out relatively unscathed, and the middle and lower classes have been paying for their mistakes. Why must the many pay for the faults of the few – that is the message of Occupy Wall St.

This is of course easier said than done. Redistribution of wealth in a capitalist society is a complex task, and no one has the exact formula to reconstruct a failing economy. However, this isn’t, nor should it be, the protestors’ prerogative or responsibility. This is the job of policy makers and elected officials. In a democracy, for better or worse, the people voice their opinions and the elected politicians must oblige.

Interestingly enough, OWS and the Tea Party share a lot of common ground here. They are both reacting to similar problems, the difference is their philosophy. While Tea Partiers want “smaller government,” OWS want greater regulation on the behalf of government on corporations and financial institutions. In effect, both groups agree that Washington in its current state serves a elite class that is corrupt, avaricious, and dangerous to America. The difference is that the Tea Party represents a discourse that actually facilitates corporatism. It was deregulation and unbalanced taxation that got America (and the world) into this mess, so I wonder why Tea Party protests were so widely televised and reported and left uninterrupted by law enforcement; yet OWS are ignored by the media, and routinely harassed by the police…

It is elitist to criticize the protestors of Occupy Wall St. because their message is “unclear.” Their message is a cry of frustration and a demand for change. They are not policy or legislative experts; they are the disenfranchised majority who are sick of being unrepresented by their government.

The most common criticism has been that the movement needs a clear goal/demand. This is wrongheaded for two reasons. The open nature of the movement inevitably leads to a mishmash of voices. I won’t deny it’s been a smorgasbord, but that’s exactly the point. This is about the majority; there are no leaders or organizers here. Secondly, the current economic and societal problems are so multifarious that to specify any one demand would mean to limit their scope, thus disarming the power of the movement.

This is more about a change of philosophy on behalf of government. The point is that however the government is currently thinking/operating it isn’t working, and things need to be shaken up now.

If I were to offer some kind of summation it would be this: the separation of corporation and state.

cheers,

-B

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~ by braddunne on October 14, 2011.

2 Responses to “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street”

  1. Okay bro – a few things!

    “Some will argue that the Occupy Wall St. protests are illegitimate because they lack a coherent message; that it is a cacophony of conflicting complaints and unclear demands. But this is both unjustified and elitist.”

    What do you mean by elitist?

    Secondly, I do believe it’s justified, because it does lack a coherent message. You’ve provided an excellent example of their message – however, I found it (this message) difficult to track down. (often muddled together with other, more random, grievances.)

    “Redistribution of wealth in a capitalist society is a complex task, and no one has the exact formula to reconstruct a failing economy”

    Obama’s trying to impose a more defined progressive tax system currently which would redistribute the wealth.

    “societal problems are so multifarious that to specify any one demand would mean to limit their scope, thus disarming the power of the movement.”

    Perhaps – but I believe it is much like applying a force against a surface. A large amount of force on a small surface area makes an impact. A large amount of force over too large an area does nothing. I believe if they don’t start laying down specific policy changes – this thing is going to fizzle, in terms of effectiveness at convincing politicians to change policies and alter regulations.

    “Both are nonviolent, yet only one is deemed worthy of their right to protest.”

    Is it that they aren’t deemed worthy, or rather, they aren’t taken seriously?

    I agree with everything else! 🙂 Well written and to the point.

    • “What do you mean by elitist?”
      – What I mean to say is that the majority of the protestors (myself included) are not experts in policy and legislation, and thus have no detailed plan of action as to how to fix it. People feel the system does not represent them and are angry. And as far as I’m concerned that’s good enough. To dismiss their points simply because they don’t have sophisticated theories etc. is basically telling them they don’t deserve to be part of the political discourse because they’re not smart or knowledgeable enough.

      – In terms of the message, they’re frustrated by the corporatism and lack of regulation on behalf of Washington. I think that’s obvious enough. There’s lots of rhetoric getting thrown around but I think that’s basically the crux of it. The fact that they’re protesting on Wall St. is symbolic enough.

      – Yes, Obama is trying to increase taxes, but the key word here is trying. He hasn’t been successful in changing the culture in Washington, and people are dissatisfied. To compound the problem, it appears lobbyists on behalf of the banking firms, etc. are fighting to block these. Thus the very groups that got everyone into the mess and had to be bailed out are trying to maintain the status quo.

      – In terms of your physics analogy, sure you can affect a smaller surface more easily, but maybe that doesn’t achieve anything substantial considering the challenge. Like Bugs Bunny sticking his finger in the dyke of a dam about to burst. I’m confident the protestors understand the scale of what they’re demanding, and understand they’re talking about major structural change. I also don’t think it’ll fizzle out simply because these people are mostly unemployed and have no where else to go.

      – OWS hasn’t been deemed worthy because authorities have consistently tried to shut them down. This is much more serious than not taking them seriously.

      thanks for the response, Ryley!

      cheers,
      -B

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