Across the country dirty, unemployed and uninformed 20-somethings have lined up with protest signs and vague slogans about corporate greed. The media has shot them one laughing glance, declared them anti-capitalist 60s flashbacks and moved on to bigger and more newsworthy things.
But if I could defend Occupy Wall Street for a second here...
The biggest problem, I think, is the word "protest." When people line up with picket signs and march through New York streets, the world expects them to have an specific issue and an established goal they're trying to achieve. To raise minimum wage, to end the war, etc. Occupy Wall Street's grievances range from animal rights to war funding to student loans. That's pretty vague. Their point that many of America's problems right now are caused by unregulated corporate greed is a valid one, but what do they propose to do about it? Well, nothing really yet.
Nothing yet, but that seems to be, from what I've seen, what Occupy Wall Street is determined to find out. In probably the best piece of writing on the protests I've read so far, Douglas Rushkoff defines and separates what he calls "20th century protesting" and "21st century protesting." The difference, according to him, is that this new social media-age movement is less designed to achieve a preset goal than it is to create a national discussion. As he later said in an interview, Congress' job is to argue and debate issues, come up with solutions, and come to agreements on them, and since Congress has elected to withhold from all that stuff to make way for party posturing, the "99%" decided to take it upon themselves to do that for them. Yeah, they came up with the lame catchphrase, "We are the 99%," but I can forgive that in the name of protest.
The media's been pretty unkind to OWS. It paints them as wildly idealistic, which they pretty much are, and it paints them as kind of stinky, which I'm sure they also are, and it paints them as angry, but that's also about where they stop with the painting. Here's the thing about journalists, of which I am kind of one: they like to take the most extreme, most colorful, most newsable corners of any event, and then turn them into obscene caricatures to be whipped out at the public in soundbites before deadline. Because that's marketable. But I seriously doubt that these guys are accurate representations of the protests.
The way I see it, these protesters have reasons to be angry. The middle class is dying. Banks are committing housing fraud and being punished with bailouts while enjoying tax cuts. Okay, the US saw a profit after banks repaid bailout money, but let's say mom bakes me and my brothers cookies. My older brother punches me right in the mortgage and eats my cookie. I'm not going to feel that much better when mom bakes us all new cookies. As Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laurette in economics, put it at the site of OWS, "We are bearing the costs of their misdeeds. There’s a system where we socialize losses and privatize gains. That’s not capitalism. That’s not a market economy." And what else— Corporations have influential grips on both the media and our politicians. America has seen a debacle of an administration followed by one that hasn't followed through on the fantasies that it promised and that voters bought into. We're still funding shitty wars.
Congress has transformed from law-making body into Obama-blocker, so in light of the many valid issues that OWS brings into play, I think this national discussion that it's trying to bring forward is a pretty good idea right now. Now, whether you call this a "protest" or a "movement" or whatever you will, what I've seen is a massive self-teaching. What I've seen is a bunch of mostly confused, fully frustrated, kind of dirty, young and old people gathering into a forum and educating themselves on American economics, on their government, and on the way corporations function. On the barest of margins, even if no saving legislation is passed and no Wall Street revolution occurs, I consider that a success of American assembly.