Thursday, November 17, 2011

The message of Occupy Wall Street

“Protesters and Officers Clash Near Wall Street and in Zuccotti Park”—NY Times

“Dozens arrested in Occupy Wall Street march in New York”—Globe&Mail

“Occupy protesters march on NYSE”—Chicago Tribune

From the Guardian - OWS protesters re-entering Zuccotti Park Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images
I had expected to read a lot of negative reaction and analysis about the Occupy Wall Street movement in the major mass media. I was wrong. MSNBC continues to portray the protesters as unable to articulate a single message. But most of the other major media present credible, balanced and even sympathetic coverage. CBC radio has repeatedly made this point.

Today, November 17, 2011, the state apparatus in the US is moving in concert to shut down the protests across the country. In several cities, they appear to have succeeded. By latest accounts, the protesters have been pushed out of Manhattan’s Zucotti park but are now disrupting the streets in other parts of the city, and they haven’t been defeated nor have they surrendered, yet.

Still, it looks like the movement is reaching a turning point, one forced on it by the government. So I thought I would blog about my thoughts on the movement and its portrayal in the media.

First, I should state that I’m largely in favour of the movement. It’s fundamentally democratic. This is a broad-based group of people gathering in public areas around the world to voice their opinions. Whether you agree with them or not, in democracies, they’re allowed to speak their minds.

It’s not surprising that the state would oppose their ideas. It’s not a conspiracy, but it does prove the theory that the government apparatus of the US, at least, is controlled by the wealthy elite.

However, the elite’s and the state’s response has not been effective. From the beginning of the protest, the elites and the mass media have tried to portray the movement as disorganized and incoherent, without a clear message.

That argument against the OWS protests is an illustration of the “Big Lie” school of propaganda: repeat an untrue statement loudly enough, often enough, and people will believe it.

Actually, I find the message is pretty cohesive. Lately, the “99 percent” mantra has come to sum it up. Yes, the protesters represent a number of different causes: financial and tax reform, eradication of poverty, reduction of unemployment, elimination of debt, even environmental protection.

But this is not incoherent. What ties these causes together is that, if successful, they would benefit most people, at least in the West. However, they’ve been blocked for decades by the corporate elite that controls the politics of the developed democracies. The message is simply that the 99 percent are fed up with the way the wealthiest 1 percent blatantly abuse their power to benefit themselves at the expense of the majority.

The movement has broad support: professionals, trades people, teachers, professors, even airline pilots have demonstrated. The behaviour of the protesters have been exemplary. Until today, there have been no real problems (notwithstanding two deaths over so many thousands of participants). There has been no looting, no rioting, no bad behaviour. In Ottawa, for example, the Occupy protesters moved their tents and other effects to make room for Remembrance Day ceremonies.
The only disreputable behaviour has been on the part of the state against them, pepper-spraying seniors, bludgeoning people, making mass arrests people for walking on the street.

Things are starting to look ugly in New York now. But it’s still a good time to ask: has Occupy Wall Street succeeded?

Superficially, no. Debt and unemployment are still high, the financial system has not been changed, the rich are getting richer, wealth continues to concentrate in fewer hands and the middle class continues to see its position erode.

But they did succeed in raising the issues and increasing awareness of the concentration of wealth. People — voters — are now more sensitized to these issues.

The test will come not in the next election, but in the next scandal where the top 1 percent are caught with their hands in our pockets, again. What will the state do? What will the people do?

What will you do?


  1. Living in England I miss out on so much. Posts like these are great ways for me to stay connected until I move to FL next month.

    Great point about the next scandal!

  2. Just... thanks for putting this essay out here. I found it quite a bit later, I'm still processing how this is evolving and trying to find ways to help as I can from where I sit. It's a good analysis you've done, realistic and still hopeful. I'm going to digest that for a while.

    So again, thanks...