Occupy Wall Street Picks Up Broad Themes of Mass Popular Outrage
I continue to believe that the crackdown on the Occupy Oakland facility will only grow the movement of the 99%. But I know the establishment has scratched their heads wondering what the goals of the movement are. Dahlia Lithwick sets them straight:
I don’t purport to speak for anyone but myself here, although I spent time this weekend at Occupy Wall Street and my husband spent much of last week adding his voice to the protesters there. I saw an incredible array of people that defy any simple demographic characterization and a broad range of signs that made—imagine!—more than a single point. But if I may hazard an opinion, it would be this: One of the most fatuous themes of mainstream OWS coverage is the endless loop of media bafflement at this movement that doesn’t have a message. Here’s CNN’s Erin Burnett in a classic put-down of the OWS’ refusal to tailor its message to her. It takes a walloping amount of willful cluelessness to look at a mass of people holding up signs and claim that they have no message.
Occupy Wall Street is not a movement without a message. It’s a movement that has wisely shunned the one-note, pre-chewed, simple-minded messaging required for cable television as it now exists. It’s a movement that feels no need to explain anything to the powers that be, although it is deftly changing the way we explain ourselves to one another.
One benefit to this multi-channel, multi-platform, experiential anti-messaging is that it has set the establishment scrambling to placate the protesters, even while they claim to not know what the protesters want. And so you have the born-again populist in the White House, and Republican Party leaders making speeches that reference income inequality, and so on. The entire conversation around out politics has changed, and those who wind up on the wrong side of the conversation simply lose their legitimacy. A popular movement, by definition, is popular. That makes it dangerous for the political class to take up unpopular positions against those themes, like whitewashing Wall Street crimes, or making the poor or elderly pay for a deficit caused by financial malfeasance.
As Matt Stoller points out, it’s a testament to how precarious the established order is that a bunch of people sleeping in mildly unsanitary public parks can upset that order. In truth, these broad themes of justice and accountability and fairness and a voice of dissent against crony capitalism were lying around, waiting for someone to pick them up. And when forces try to silence the protests, sometimes with force, that only makes them stronger.
I’m interested to see how this will evolve, especially in the next month, with the Super Committee and a return to the deficit talk that indirectly sparked this movement. Maybe it will evolve into an electoral force. Maybe it will just be a symbol of how to live off the grid, outside the system, a model for a different kind of societal structure. I don’t have any idea. But I know this: the Occupy Wall Street protesters have done more to change the political dynamic in the country in a month than national Democrats have done in 30 years. So I’m not going to be giving them any advice on how to further their movement. They seem to be doing just fine.