|Posted by Alicia, Roar Correspondent on October 7, 2011 at 9:20 AM|
Good day. Welcome to the inaugural dose of musings penned by Roar’s resident New Yorker. I am honored to have been invited to add my perspective to this project; thank you for reading. Initially, I had planned on discussing my experience commemorating 9/11, especially as a New Yorker who was in the city that day. The gist of the piece was going to focus on how I had avoided most press coverage to allow for a more personal reflection; how, at odds with what the fear mongering talking heads often suggest, 9/11 actually illuminates the essential goodness, not depravity, of most people. After all, the events that day were so shocking because they were, in fact, shocking. However, the Occupy Wall Street protests, both those held in New York City and the offshoots held elsewhere, and the coverage of them demand more immediate attention for a whole host of reasons, not least of which includes how little immediate attention was metered out to them by the mainstream media. At first. Additionally, much of the coverage of both political events shares a certain deficiency: an attempt to create more easily marketable narratives populated by two-dimensional heroes and villains.
In fact, perhaps the latter helps to partially explain the belittling tone of much of the first media coverage. It is not news that many have been hit very, very hard by this demented economy. Nor is it news that people are scared and furious. Yet there was a downright eerie dismissiveness and assumption of novelty with which the majority of corporate media approached the Occupy Wall Street protests up until just the past few days. That is, the scant press coverage that existed prior to the availability of images of the police using pepper spray on protestors or arresting hundreds of protestors last weekend at the Brooklyn Bridge. Not surprisingly, apparently Law and Order! was considered far more tantalizing than Peaceful Free Speech! Furthermore, the protesters were frequently caricaturized as poorly informed young people who lacked consensus on any goal beyond their desire to document themselves. Leveling criticism at the fairly universal hyper-self-consciousness of us all in this era of instant digital documentation was considered acceptable journalism.
This deserves a wagging finger, if not several. While it is true that their demands vary and the particulars of their goals remain somewhat nebulous, the sincerity of the protestors’ frustration links them not only to each other, but to the rest of the populace. Americans are a diverse, not always cogent bunch. Rabblerousing has always played a role in the development of our democracy. The variegated nature of the complaints cements, not attenuates, the significance of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Additionally, as institutions unto themselves, major newspapers have a vested interest in advertising their superiority to the print and online information disseminated by such an amorphous group. Let me say this as a disclaimer: I wholeheartedly believe in the necessity of a professional class of journalists. However, certainly the do-it-yourself spirit of modern communications has created a distinctly different intellectual choreography of undeniable import. The protestors’ paper and web videos have their place not despite, but because they exist outside of the status quo and its rigidity. Perhaps it was easier to attempt to lame the Occupy Wall Street enthusiasm rather than to match its spontaneous footwork.
Lastly, despite the group’s diversity, the news media, nonetheless, tried to fit it with a ready-made nomenclature of Good or Bad, Respectable or Laughable. We are all accustomed to a superhero vernacular. Frankly, the 99% versus 1% encapsulated in their “I am the 99%” mantra also plays on the Us versus Them mentality at-large, even though on the surface it specifically refers to the oft-touted statistic regarding who holds the most power in this country. However, vast socioeconomic inequity still exists within that 99% in regards to everything from quality of education to job opportunities to access to health care and so one; the whole gamut.
Maybe what the 99% really represents is a group of people who share a desire for social mobility and a guaranteed decent standard of living, reasonable expectations in market-based economic systems, when they are not left unchecked and a social safety net is in place. (The latter, by the way, is why the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is so relevant to economic recovery.) Nowadays, many people can barely scrape by, and even those who are doing okay financially still have a family member, friend, or neighbor, or several, who is or are not. The real unemployment rate, if one factors in the percentage of people who are underemployed or who have simply given up on finding employment, hovers somewhere around the 20% range. Regardless of political bent, most reasonable people find this utterly unacceptable and want to know what or who to blame. Political dysfunction is a fair answer. After all, a functional government is one that serves to effectively mediate the prickly rivalry between political realism and ethics in such a way so that the former does not just swallow the latter whole like a snake eating a robin’s egg. When so many people are genuinely suffering, something has gone terribly awry. In our midst, there are some snakes with very full bellies.
A vital, free press maintains its stewardship role in part by holding the government accountable to this mediation role. That is why the dismissive tone of the initial major media coverage was disheartening. It lessened the perceived legitimacy of the protestors’ ails and their participation in the democratic process.
However, now that major unions have joined the ranks of the protestors, the tone has shifted immensely. The protests have been discussed with seriousness in a number of traditional sources that now consider the generality of the Occupy Wall Street message a point of strength, not an embarrassment. Political strategists are contemplating how to best finagle the Occupy Wall Street energy into 2012 election wins. Even though the Occupy Wall Street protestors have openly stated they do not wish for their decentralized structure to morph into the top-down power structure of the traditional unions, certainly the solidarity between the groups has increased their visibility and influence. After all, suddenly, an advantage to be had has been sensed, and everyone wants to know just how to tap into that advantage. Peacefully camping out indefinitely in a park can no longer be written off as foolish.
Which brings me to what may be the greatest significance of both the Occupy Wall Street protests as distinct events unto themselves and what they symbolize for the country, as a whole: the protestors have, in fact, remained peaceful. Despite the horrifically high rates of unemployment, of health insurance coverage lapses, of foreclosure, of sheer bewilderment, these citizens are not rioting. They are holding signs. They are sleeping in a park. They blocked a bridge, but did not cause, nor attempt to cause, damage to it.
If only, for goodness’ sake, the mainstream media would also focus on this.
The this being the bedrock of democracy: goodness, itself, and the essential goodness of most people.