Occupy Wall Street: A Movement Ignored

It’s only taken three weeks, but the Occupy Wall Street movement is finally receiving the attention it deserves. Sure, a lot of this attention has to do with the harsh response of the New York police to the protestors, as well as some of the movement’s more outlandish costumes and behavior, but it’s better than being ignored (I myself did not even know it was happening until they had been camped out for a week).

I find it ironic that the “liberal media” is so willing to follow every little rally and event hosted by the Tea Party, no matter how sparsely attended or wild such events can be, but cannot be bothered to report on a peaceful protest aimed at criticizing the rapidly growing divide between rich and poor and the continued erosion of our cherished political system by mountains of money.

Perhaps when it started people didn’t pay much attention, since the movement was largely disorganized and didn’t have a clear message. That isn’t true anymore — the Occupy Wall Street movement has released a statement of purpose, one that, like the Declaration of Independence, includes a list of grievances committed by our financial system and the leaders we elected to serve in our best interest but instead chose to ally with the rich and powerful.

If there is one point to be remembered above all others, it is that this money really is the root of all evil  — it is why so many Americans are out of work, why there was a housing bubble capable of bursting in the first place, and why it is now becoming harder and harder for our votes to amount to much when they are buried by millions of dollars spent on politicians who pledge to maintain the status quo.

Major labor groups joined the fray and even famous Nobel Peace laureates and musicians spoke not long after the police brutality went viral. Until that point some were beginning to predict the end of the movement, as fewer people showed up and the attendance expectations the occupiers had were not met. But if anything, the movement has grown both more prominent and widespread.

Though the bankers and stock-market speculators cannot see them from their corner offices overlooking the crowded New York street, there are similar protests popping up all across the country. The movement is spreading, even while it has still received very little attention.

The reason for this is not hard to figure out. The corporations that control most of the media outlets in this country undoubtedly have an incentive to limit how this movement is reported, since this protest is one calling attention to the blatant wealth disparity that exists, contrasting themselves with arguably one of the biggest symbols of runaway greed, Wall Street. They are understandably uneasy about letting people hear about it, but when it bleeds, it leads, so inevitably the harsh crackdown to the protest gave the movement the opening it needed to finally get its message across. It’s a start, and I suppose it’s too much to hope that there is a responsible reporter out there that will actually give the American people a glimpse of the important debate they should be having. But there aren’t because they don’t even know it’s taking place.

It is quite fascinating that in addition to the double standard regarding protest movements being covered in the press, there is also one regarding the use of the term class warfare. When the president proposes a plan to create jobs and allow for real shared sacrifice (not the shared sacrifice in the budget battle that amounted to both sides suffering cuts to precious programs while taxing was left untouched), he is accused of engaging in class warfare. The president is labeled a socialist and accused of redistributing the wealth, when it is Wall Street and corporations who have benefited from corporate welfare.

The banks have been bailed out and major corporations have been allowed to shelter gobs of cash through tax breaks, which they insist will allow new jobs to be created. Meanwhile, they refuse to hire new workers, and the banks decline to offer loans and continue to foreclose on the same citizens whose tax money saved them from financial ruin. Favoring the wealthy at the expense of everyone else cannot be called anything else but class warfare. It is simply the other side of that war — the small minority that nevertheless controls more of the nation’s resources and capital than the vast majority.

The two sides have been defined, the stakes are clear. The only question is what side will win, the entrenched moneyed elite or the self-proclaimed 99 percent, the rest of us who are not fortunate enough to buy off our representatives and take advantage of lucrative tax breaks and clever accounting tricks. It is not an easy war that is now being waged, but like other movements throughout history, something will come from it. What we are seeing is not unlike Gandhi’s explanation (which happens to be a variant of a line from a trade union speech by Nicholas Klein) of his nonviolent movement:  “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Kerry Wakely is a fourth-year political science student. He can be reached at kwakelt@uci.edu.