This fall, a conversation started that has captured global attention. A conversation that might be the most interesting in decades; something that’s never before happened has sprung up and sparked a giant awakening.
This conversation has really stirred a lot of people on all ends of the political and ideological spectrums. It’s a discussion that’s been debated, skewed, spun, extremely confused, tried to be stamped out, silenced, manipulated and in some cases hijacked or attempts to hijack by people, political factions and of course, the media. In many cases the conversation has been greatly misunderstood, seen by some as an incredible threat and by others, an incredible hope.
Though, as The Great Disruption continues to sweep the world from the Middle East to Europe to Wall Street, there are still many, especially in America, who sit idly by, caught up in their own self-absorbed worlds to even acknowledge an immense movement happening right outside their door. I would even argue to say it’s like growing up in the 60’s completely unfazed by the Civil Rights movement. Despite how you may feel, or think you feel about it based on your sources, at least take an interest, read from all sides and sources, visit an encampment, interview people and see for yourself. Don’t be afraid or judgmental, just do it. I know for me, as a journalist, I can’t help but have a genuine curiosity about the world and what’s happening in it, especially when history is happening every day… We’re living in unbelievably fascinating times.
Unfortunately, the actual message of Occupy Wall Street constantly gets buried and confused in the midst of chaos and leaderless disorganization. As a result of the economic collapse, a shattered confidence in the American dream led to this response which started with a protest on September 17th in Lower Manhattan’s financial district. My friend Jess and I were there on day one to get the story and watch the protest play out. Frustrated by the financial sectors influence on the government, economic injustice, high unemployment, taxation policies and the monied corruption of democracy, the leaderless Occupy Wall Street movement spread nationally to thousands of cities with encampments vowing to occupy the space until there are major changes. At the heart of all of this, the undue influence of corporations – particularly from the financial services sector, on the government is what sparked this revolution.
Anyone who says that they have absolutely no idea what the protesters are protesting about are not being honest. Whether you agree or not, I think it’s incredibly clear what they’re upset about. Investment bankers working on Wall Street get richer while things for most of the rest of us get tougher. Banks are bailed out by the very politicians that they themselves bought. Something is wrong with that system.. where Wall Street walks around a Congress that it owns and where corporations donate large amounts of money to the politicians in charge of regulating them.. Instead of being pawns, wouldn’t it be a noble idea to think that all politicians would have to think for themselves and the people they represent instead of their backer$? Don’t get me wrong, there are very noble politicians who really do want to stand behind their constituents and make things happen, but it doesn’t change the fact that the system is the way it is.
However, it’s obvious why there is confusion. There are many who attend Occupy Wall Street rallies and encampments that do not know what they’re talking about at all. The movement has attracted a lot of crazies that totally distract from the purpose of Occupy. As people continually become more and more distracted by the way in which the protesters are going about handling their protest, they continually miss the very noble American message of ending the monied corruption of democracy where corporations and banks don’t completely run the show. In the same way the Tea Party attracts some pretty crazy people, it doesn’t mean we write off their message. You can agree with the message of the Tea Party but disagree with their rallies. What’s really interesting is that Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party have extremely similar concerns. The difference is, the Tea Party sees Big Government as the problem and OWS sees Big Banks as the problem. The funny thing is, what’s the difference? These two are essentially one in the same, since, for the most part, the Big Banks control the Big Government. So many times you hear people say the protesters should be in Washington and not Wall Street because Washington makes all the decisions, but if the source of those decisions comes from Wall Street.. well.. get it? But just because there are bad apples in a movement doesn’t mean we should ignore the message altogether and just let things continue as they are. If someone was discouraged by an unorganized Tea Party rally would we ignore the entire message of the Tea Party? I think this is key to understanding OWS.
The occupiers argue that the 1% of top earners use their money and stature to have most if not all of the influence on our laws and politics with greater force than the 99% is capable. A country where 1% of people make decisions for the 99% is not a democracy and your personal level of success does not excuse their behavior.
With lobbiests hired by giant corporations and voting people in and out of office essentially being a chess game of moving bought politicians in and out of positions, the Occupiers have come up with a seemingly bizarre option of “occupation” but one that keeps the conversation in the center of the limelight where it would otherwise get swept under the carpet and buried underneath all the mighty influence of those with all the power, money and control. It just sucks that the occupiers who want to take a stand for what they believe in, sometimes end up disintegrating into these sometimes violent, dirty mobs who prevent those within the 99%, like cops and construction workers, from doing their jobs. I think this stems from no leadership. For the vigilante cyber collective Anonymous, leaderless works, but in person, I personally feel like leadership is totally necessary. But America is seeing it’s first internet-era movement which is unlike any civil rights protest, labor march or presidential campaign. It doesn’t take its cue from a charismatic leader with simple goals and seeing itself as having a particular end point. However, I do understand their attempt to steer completely away from a political faction because the movement is seen as bigger than that, knowing that politics and parties divide, their focus is on abandoning labels of left, right, conservative, liberal, republican, democrat and mutually agreeing that America is gravely ill and needs a united remedy.
It’s rather unfortunate that the noble conversation has disseminated in many cases to a confused banter with too many scattered demands rather than focusing on the one. Though, for the most part, I really think the one demand is pretty clear and most of America actually agrees. The polls all show that approval is fairly consistently larger than disapproval, click here and check the Public Opinion section of the Occupy Wall Street Wikipedia entry. I think many American’s know that despite whatever happens with these protests, the good and the bad, Wall Streets influence on Washington is unbelievably out of control.
Another major rash misunderstanding about the Occupy Wall Street movement is that the occupiers are all against capitalism and want to see its demise. I’m sure for some radicals, that is true, just as some radical Tea Partiers would like to see the demise of the government’s involvement in our lives. Here we have Occupiers criticizing corporate America while tweeting through their iPhone. Douglas Rushkoff, a media theorist and author said that, “The simplistic critique is that if someone is upset about corporate excess, he is supposed to abandon all connection with any corporate product. Of course, the more nuanced approach to such tradeoffs would be to seek balance rather than ultimatums. Yes, there are things big corporations do very well, like making iPhones. There are other things big corporations may not do so well, like structure mortgage derivatives. Might we be able to use corporations for what works, and get them out of doing what doesn’t?” I would say it’s embarassing for the person who generalizes that OWS is totally anti-corporations and anti-capitalism. What OWS is against is the messed up version of capatalism that we have going on.
Rushkoff goes on to say that “some kids are showing up at Occupy Wall Street because it’s fun. They come for the people, the excitement, the camaraderie and the sense of purpose they might not be able to find elsewhere. But does this mean that something about OWS is lacking, or that it is providing something that jobs and schools are not (thanks in part to rising unemployment and skyrocketing tuition?)
To me, nothing is more disrespectful and degrading to this country than seeing a huge problem, being fully aware of an injustice and doing nothing about it. Yet, surprisingly, many people who would rather the whole Occupy conversation go away consider themselves totally proud Americans, 100% patriotic, and for some bizare reason, some do not even see an injustice… (because we all know America is headed in the right direction… And that these occupiers should occupy a desk and get a job… because there’s just plenty of jobs out there today… isn’t that right Newt? (;
Having been able to cover this story from day one on Wall Street to the start of Occupy Atlantic City for AC Weekly, to the other night’s raid on Philly, my favorite moment happened on a live-stream I was watching at 2 AM when an occupier thanked the media for giving them coverage and reminded them that their duty, my duty, is to the public and not the corporate media sponsors; to tell the truth no matter what. That.. is real journalism. Something almost foreign in American culture. Something incredibly noble. #Solidarity.
Yet, it’s so sad to see really hard working middle class people totally oppose anything to do with Occupy because of their trust in their one or two media sources that happen to be owned by giant corporations (right or left, take your pick) with specific agendas. Again, I understand being against the actions of Occupy, but the message, well, most Americans do agree with it… click here.
Just for the record, I have personally defended the right and the left and have been called liberal by my conservative friends and conservative by my liberal friends for doing so. I’d like to see it as educated, informed and truth seeking rather than aligning myself with the manifesto of a particular party. There are things I like more than others, but I have a hard time selling my soul to a party.
Here in America, we have the right wing media desperately trying to smear and destroy the Occupy Wall Street movement and the left desperately trying to hijack and almost claim it for themselves, as if Obama didn’t raise more money for democrats from Wall Street than all Republican candidates combined. OWS sees Obama as a corporate puppet. Both the right and the left are wrong in their approaches to this situation, but both see opportunity for their own agendas and to continue the polarization of opinion.
One of my favorite examples of mainstream media actually getting this right is here. Click and watch. Notice Chris Wallace is upset with the OWS movement’s actions, focusing on them while Juan is focused on the message behind the movement. In this case, I feel like both Chris and Juan are actually right about what they’re both trying to say and would probably even agree with each other if they had more time to talk it out.
The media’s reaction to this has been so interesting to observe as well as the response to these “Occupations.” It’s strange to think that the Westboro Baptist Cult can interrupt funerals for soldiers and hold nasty signs that say things like ‘God hates fags’ yet if you think Wall Street has too much power in government, well, you’re screwed. A story that kind of got buried but I thought was pretty awesome was how Anonymous hacked the pepper spray cop from UC Davis, releasing his private classified information to the internet. “It is quite difficult to engage in a peaceful protest when you come bearing arms like we’re flies to the swatter. We are here to inform you that it will no longer be tolerated,” the hackers stated.
America supports protests in other countries, especially recently in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, yet our own country seems to have, in some cases, trouble responding to them, and in other cases, they’re incredibly well handled. We’re concerned that cities have spent so much money on police for these occupations but is it really necessary? They’re nonviolent, unarmed people standing against what they feel is an injustice. You would think there would be bigger fish to fry than playing cat and mouse with some peaceful protesters who don’t agree with corporate greed. I see it from both sides, the police and the protesters, disagreeing with the police in the case of what happened in Oakland and agreeing with them in the case of Philly where the plaza the protesters were camping in had a planned construction project. Then you have New York City’s mayor Bloomberg who, as the 12th richest man in the country, used his money and power to replace a judge that ruled the Occupiers could bring their tents to Zuccotti Park, so he could get the answer he wanted. According to The New York Observer he has said that the NYPD is his very own personal army.. The occupiers also see jail as proving a point, that an average citizen who believes in something and practices their 1st amendment right gets arrested while bankers get away with murder. It’s a fascinating perspective and while many Americans sit idly by, these people don’t want to. Is that a big deal? To stand up against what someone feels is an injustice? And by the way, isnt it kind of hard to justify these banks?
“What upsets banking’s defenders and politicians is that OWS hasn’t stated its terms or set its goal in the traditional language of campaigns. That’s because, unlike a political campaign designed to get some person in office and then close up shop (as in Obama’s election), this isn’t a movement with a traditional narrative arc. As the products of the decentralized networked-era culture, it is less about victory than sustainability. It is not about one-pointedness, but inclusion and groping towards consensus. It is not like a book; it’s like the internet…”
However it may seem, the occupiers appear to be onto something.. and many, especially at the top, are freaked out because it challenges them and pulls the carpet out from underneath what they have been too comfortable with for too long. So it’s clear that something is happening.. and none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they’re free. If you think Occupy Wall Street is merely a phase, well.. then, you don’t get it.