Over the past ten days, hundreds of people have occupied Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan in New York as part of Occupy Wall Street. Citizens have faced down a city that has fortified Wall Street with blockades so corporate criminals responsible for the economic collapse in 2008 can avoid confrontations with angry, passionate Americans.
Citizens have camped out and held daily marches in the face of a massive police presence, which has sometimes been very intimidating as individuals have been arbitrarily picked off and arrested. And last weekend, the police corralled them into an area near Union Square and proceeded to make a number of violent arrests; eighty to one hundred were arrested on Saturday.
The organizers, who pride themselves in being “leaderless,” have sought to bring together a diverse crowd of various political persuasions. They have rallied behind the slogan, “We are the 99%,” to show they will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the top 1% in America. They have rallied against banks that engage in tax dodging while at the same time foreclosing on Americans’ homes and charging exorbitant interest rates on student loans putting young citizens in deep debt. They are rising up against increased unemployment and war against the poor in America. And they have used what is known as the General Assembly process to make decisions, which democratically gives all people present an opportunity to influence the continued organization of Occupy Wall Street.
Traditional media have characterized the plurality of voices and the number of issues the occupation is seeking to challenge as a weakness. Establishment media has been openly condescending. Ginia Bellafante’s report in the New York Times has generated significant attention for her focus on the fact that some “half-naked woman” who looks like Joni Mitchell to her is the leader of this movement of “rightly frustrated young people.” [cont’d.] Bellafante accuses the protesters of lacking “cohesion” and “pantomiming progressivism rather than practice it knowledgeably.” NPR reiterated NYT’s focus on the “scattered nature of the movement” in its coverage of the occupation (and tellingly used a photo of a man holding a sign that reads “Satan Controls Wall St”). Local press have treated the occupiers as if they are a tribe or a group of nomads focusing on occupiers’ behavior instead of trying to understand the real reason why people are in the park.
Liberals have shown scorn, too, suggesting the occupation is not a “Main Street production” or that the protesters aren’t dressed properly and should wear suits cause the civil rights movement would not have won if they hadn’t worn decent clothing.
The latest show of contempt from a liberal comes from Mother Jones magazine. Lauren Ellis claims that the action, which “says it stands for the 99 percent of us,” lacks traction. She outlines why she thinks Zuccotti Park isn’t America’s Tahrir Square. She chastises them for failing to have one demand. She claims without a unified message police brutality has stolen the spotlight. She suggests the presence of members of Anonymous is holding the organizers back writing, “It’s hard to be taken seriously as accountability-seeking populists when you’re donning Guy Fawkes masks.” And, she concludes as a result of failing to get a cross-section of America to come out in the streets, this movement has been for “dreamers,” not “middle class American trying to make ends meet.”
First off, nobody in the last week can claim to be reporting on Occupy Wall Street and genuinely claim it isn’t gaining traction. Ellis conveniently leaves out the fact that Occupy Wall Street is inspiring other cities to get organized and hold similar assemblies/occupations. Second, if the protesters did have one demand, does Ellis really think that would improve media coverage? Wouldn’t pundits then be casting doubt on whether the one demand was the appropriate singular demand to be making? Third, so-called members of Anonymous are citizens like Ellis and have a right to participate in the protest. It is elitist for Ellis to suggest Occupy Wall Street should not be all-inclusive. And, finally, there is no evidence that just “dreamers” are getting involved. A union at the City University of New York, the Industrial Workers of the World, construction workers, 9/11 responders and now a postal workers and teachers union have shown interest in the occupation.
The Middle Needs to Rise Up
Nothing captures the disapproval the establishment has for the people in Zuccotti Park like the conversation on “Real Time with Bill Maher” last Friday. Center-right establishment pundit John Avlon had nothing but a smug grin and atrocious centrist political talking points for musician Tom Morello and filmmaker Michael Moore. He and former Democratic congresswoman Jane Harman provided an example for why Americans are so frustrated with American politics:
Maher: You have to wonder what will make people rise up?
Avlon: I’ve been there. It’s a couple hundred [minimizing what is going on with a smirk]
Harman: The people in the political middle rise up and demand that people in Congress get some work done. Where are they?
Moore: How would you have them rise up? Write a letter to the editor?
Harman: No. They have a vote…
Moore: Uh-huh. And who do they vote for? Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dummer…
Harman: No, I think there are a lot of good people in Congress but it is a broken place.
Maher: If you mean like centrist Democrats, I think they’re the problem. Like the Democrats have 53 senators… Like forty of them are good but it’s people like Mary Landrieu—Jim Webb came out against Obama’s taxing the millionaires plan. It’s those centrist Democrats who are really corporatist Democrats, who work with the Republicans—That’s what cockblocks everything in this country.
Avlon shakes his head – couldn’t be more wrong he says
Harman: Working together is what Congress used to always be. We can disagree with each other but to get something done you have to work together…
Maher: Who works together? It’s those Max Baucus Democrats with the Republicans. That’s who works together.
Morello attempted to set people like Avlon and Harman straight:
Morello: …A lot of people who put [Obama] in office put [Obama] in office to fight for them—to fight against the Tea Party, to fight against this bullshit in Congress, to fight against the sonsofbitches who are attacking the working class and the poor in this country. And he hasn’t done any of that [Avlon wags finger at Morello, shakes head “no.”]
At the same time, I’m not waiting for him. I’m with the people in Madison. I’m with the people occupying Wall Street. That’s what my music is about. And I know Michael knows this too – when progressive, radical or even revolutionary changes happen, it’s always come from below. When women got the right to vote, when lunch counters were desegregated, it was people you do not read about in history books who stood up in their time for what they believed in.
Avlon: But, Tom, all these changes happen when good ideas are adopted by reformers. Politics is really not divided between left and right. It’s radicals and reactionaries and reformers and that’s why the center matters. We got a divided government. The only way you can get anything passed is if you try to reason together. That’s the core idea of our government. It’s broken down. The hyper-partisanship, the polarization of the two parties, that’s hurting our country because it’s stopping us from solving…
Avlon is an example of why many Americans do not support Occupy Wall Street. They understand that Occupy Wall Street wants to have an impact on the system and force the system to respond to the occupation’s demands, but they see protesters do not want to work within the system and lobby members of Congress and sign petitions and find out what piecemeal reforms representatives and senators think they can manage to deliver without jeopardizing their re-election campaigns. They are afraid of people power or “too much democracy.”