Friday, October 21, 2011

Occupied with the Occupying

A couple weeks back I talked about my direct experience with the Occupy L.A. protests, and that topic clearly has only gained more traction in the public consciousness...

Tuesday's The Daily Show includes this genius piece where John Oliver covers the Occupy Wall Street protests and how the protesters that were get the most attention were the freakishly dressed ones rather than the rational-looking ones, and how that undermines the message in the media.
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At the end he sits in a bar with some people of (what we'll call) regular appearance who discuss the topic in a calm manner. They all support the movement, but when Oliver mentions they are the sort who should be the ones down there at the protest getting the attention they all note how they had to get home to the kids, or to work, or just home to watch the Jets game.

And I think: Such is the problem with the 99%: We don't like what's going on with the financial sector or the government, but we have lives and cannot camp out in a park for weeks on end.


On this week's Culture Gabfest podcast they also touch on the Occupy Wall Street movement, but all I wish to mention from that conversation is how at one point one of the panelists alludes to the difficulty of protests on "the left" is the challenge of having a specific message (because so many want to insert their specific issue into the mix).

And I think: As soon as the movement that purports to represent "the 99%" who are not the wealthiest—a distinction based on income—becomes associated with one side of the political spectrum, that narrows the representation by affiliation down significantly, rendering it only applicable to (at best) roughly half of the people.


On the latest Common Sense episode, Dan Carlin breaks down how the media manipulates the narrative of the protests by focusing not on the "regular" people marching but on the freakish ones to make it seem foolish (they did the same thing with the Tea Party protests, and Carlin suggests that's been the template for decades—and if foolish won't fly as a story, then make it seem elitist, or even dangerous) and make the protests seem out of step with average Americans—as he puts it, the insurance salesman won't want to align himself with the hardcore folks in the costumes, even if there's actually a bunch of folks in regular dress who merely don't get on camera. That's part of why some people don't join, but he knows from his background that there's no small level of manipulation of the visuals presented—not necessarily out of a conspiracy but because that's what gets ratings.

He then notes that part of what makes the protest off-putting to people—the lack of a specific message—is also what allows a lot of people who are involved to stay in, because that allows every participant to interpret the message as he/she fits; as soon as a more defined message is out there, the people will peel off as they realize that message is not theirs. That's also what prevents the media and the pundits from having a specific message to mock and tear down. It's as much of a strength as it is a liability.

He does suggest there could be a simple message of repairing the broken system that most agree our government is, and keeping it only to that then it would be easy to garner mainstream support and be a difficult message to mock or take apart by the establishment.

He then offers unsolicited advice to the Occupy movement: Don't let the Democratic Party operatives co-opt your movement the way the Republicans got the Tea Party, as that merely gives one side's pundits to more easily dismiss your message.

And I think: Precisely.

Carlin notes that while there was plenty that those considered "Wall Street" certainly had done plenty to warrant ire against them, making them the focus in the name of the movement was not addressing the problem of government corruption and our elected representatives going along not with the will of the people but with the requests of their campaign contributors, because there's plenty of other special interest groups besides big corporations. Also, no small measure of responsibility lay at the feet of the president, whose performance in office could not help but prove disillusioning to those who were moved by his rhetoric during the campaign. Those who are taking to the streets in these protests seem, at least in part, spurred on by disappointment in what they were led to believe back in 2008 and how the promise of change largely has been a delivery of the status quo.


And I think: It is likely Obama set the bar too high. Rookie mistake. Should be interesting to see how this all plays out as he must start campaigning for re-election. If he has learned anything, he'll play it low-key and rely on the GOP's inability to find a candidate who would be embraced by those who were disillusioned, getting a second term more or less by default. And then when he doesn't have to worry about getting re-re-elected, maybe he can dedicate himself to being the leader that was suggested four years earlier, and become the representative of the actual 99%.

It's clear that the Republican nominee won't be Ron Paul, so that's probably a reasonable strategy.


Recapping: I did vote for Obama, but at no point did I overlook the fact he was a politician. Thus, at no point was I disillusioned; I never had illusions that he would live up to the highest aspirations of the campaign. And that is perhaps part of why I haven't taken to the streets.

As I've said, my cynicism is not admirable but it's what decades of experience has armed me with.

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