The Voices of the 99

Free-For-All Friday: The Voices of the 99


Three weeks ago, on Sept 16th, something big happened.  It didn’t look big.  At first, it didn’t even sound big.  But the few dozen students in New York City who had decided to make their displeasure with corporate America known had started something they probably didn’t even fully appreciate themselves.  So no wonder few people realized at first what was happening.


I am, of course, talking about the Occupy Wall Street Protests.  And now people are beginning to realize how big this has really become.

posted by @alexgoldmark on Twitter

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of New York City to protest corporate corruption, federal bailouts of banks, corporate personhood, and a variety of other problems related to the economy, corporations, taxes, and the job market.  And over the last couple weeks, to show their support and make similar protests, people in cities across the country have begun their own Occupy protests.  Just a few of these cities are Los Angeles, Boston, Minneapolis, and, starting yesterday, right here in Houston (which I’d love to go join, even for awhile, but school has prevented me from doing so).

For those interested in learning more about the movement(s), there are any number of websites you can go to, including:

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Together

Occupy Wall Street Adbusters Page

The NYC General Assembly

Occupy Houston (for Houston residents, obviously)

There are also quite a few news articles and blogs that look at the protests for a variety of angles.  Here are just a few:

“First Official Statement from the Occupy Wall Street Movement” (with some interesting and occasionally inflammatory comments at the bottom)

“There’s Something Happening Here, Mr. Jones”

“Top 5 Reasons Why The Occupy Wall Street Protests Embody Values of the Real Boston Tea Party”

The CNN “Seriously, Protesters” video segment by Erin Burnett (which takes a negative stance on the movement – I’m trying to show all sides here)

To say I’ve become a tad obsessed with this situation would be a tad bit of an understatement.  I am fascinated by the protests, the way the movement has spread across the country, and the variety of positive and negative reactions it has garnered.  I have collected almost every bit of news and social media coverage I can get my hands on.  I am archiving the #occupywallstreet, #generalassembly, #occupytogether, and #occupyhouston Twitter Feeds (and I watch them obsessively late at night when I’m done with my homework and should be going to sleep).  I’m collecting pictures of the various posters and signs people have made and posted on their websites and flickr and such.  And I am currently researching discourse analysis, activist rhetoric, and the history of protest movements in preparation for my plan to write a large Sociolinguistics paper on the discourse and language-usage as it pertains to the movement, and how people represent and index the protesters on Twitter and in the media.

I think a few of the critiques and insults against the protesters might be one of the more fascinating (and frustrating) parts of the whole situation.  Here are the three that seem to be the most common:

posted by @MWJ1231 on Twitter

1)     The Occupy Wall Street Protesters Stance/Demands/Ideology (ie, all that stuff they’re protesting), is so diffuse, so varied, so numerous (because they are trying to include everyone’s pet-complaint), that the whole thing becomes too messy, unfocused, and unorganized to be particularly effective or to be taken seriously.

Now, this critique is true in a lot of ways.  The Occupy Wall Street movement is attempting to work without real leaders, relying instead of group dynamics, the General Assembly, and consensus to make decisions.  This means that everyone involved gets a say in what happens, and many of the people involved, while focused on the economic/corporate corruption issue, also bring to the table many other issues that are sometimes obviously related, occasionally sort-of-tangentially related, and often not really related at all.  Thus, if you read the concerns listed in “First Official Statement,” you’ll notice plenty of things about corporate personhood, bank bailouts, CEOs giving themselves bonuses while laying off thousands of workers, etc; and then you’ll also notice things about animal cruelty, corporate farming, and other such things that I can certainly see as being sort-of-kind-of related (in the sense that everything is connected to some extent or another), but which are not (or should not) be the main focus.  This gives some observers and detractors the perception that the movement lacks coherence and focus and a real point.  I do not believe, in the long run, that these additions detract from the overall power of the movement, but it is a legitimate critique. (In contrast, I think this blogger’s much simpler version is probably more useful: “Submitted to #OccupyWallStreet for Consideration”.)

2)   The second big critique/insult against the protesters is the general claim that they are all “unwashed, lazy, hippies who don’t work, and live off the welfare of others and don’t pay taxes.”

posted by @sherrytalksback on Twitter

A) While there are, no doubt, hippy-types involved in these protests, the general stereotypes about hippies is just plain silly, RIDICULOUS, and insulting.  B) If you look at the pictures of those involved, or listen/read to much of the commentary from or about those involved, you may begin to notice (if you are open-minded and willing to listen to ANYONE), that a very large number of the people involved DO have jobs: they’re teachers, union-workers, small-business owners, service-industry employees, etc. and most (if not all) of them DO pay their taxes.  C) Quite of the few of the people involved are not working because they were laid-off, their companies went under, they are 20 and 30-somethings fresh out of college and unable to find a job ANYWHERE, etc. and most of them STILL pay taxes.

3)   The third major critique/insult is that the protesters are all communist and/or anarchist, who want to completely dismantle every corporation and business that is the foundation of the U.S. economy and essentially destroy capitalism as a whole.

First, of all, that’s just plain silly, and I want to know if anyone who says this has actually listened/read to a WORD the protesters have said.  Yes, whenever you have ANY sort of social movement you are going to have that tiny minority of people on the fringe who go to the absolute extreme and call for the total destruction of capitalism, blah blah blah.  Just as the Tea Party asks that the whole group not be judged based on the extreme racist comments of some of their members, so too should the OWS protesters not be judged based on the opinions of a very VERY small element within the movement.  The vast majority of the OWS protesters have been very clear: they want an end to corporate corruption, they want the CEOs of those companies responsible for the recession to be punished, they want their (legitimate tax-paying) jobs to be protected, they want proper oversight of corporate America, and they want to stop corporate America from running some very large parts of the government from behind the scenes.  This is not about destroying capitalism or becoming a communist country.  It is about real democracy, and it is about strengthening the economy through free capitalism instead of monopoly.

I have ranted enough about this for today.  I’d love to hear what you think about the situation.  You can, no doubt, tell that I have sympathetic to the cause, but I have no problem if you want to tell me why you disagree with the movement as long as you are civilized about it.  What do you think?  Any stories to tell?  Links to share?  Please, chime in!

10 thoughts on “The Voices of the 99

  1. Nice post and well written. You should watch the news channels to get more insight into how the movement is being portrayed. Last night on Fox Bill was calling those in the movement “crazies”, “loonies”, “lefties”. I lost a lot of respect for him. I am not a Fox jockey as I enjoy watching the news from several various channels (if you can still call it news), but they are really out of touch on this issue.

    Good luck with your project. I will be amongst the protesters this weekend in the Northwest to observe and talk with them and to take some pictures.

    • Tincup,

      Yes. Herman Cain was right about one thing: he doesn’t understand the protesters. But that’s the fundamental difference between a liberal and a conservative, isn’t it? A liberal seems the system as essentially broken and in need of major reform. A conservative views the system as essentially sound but for the interference of the damned liberals!

  2. If we will fail if we protest they will listen if we give in they will not change if we ask for reform they will lie if we force complete restructuring of the core economic values they will fight back if we boycott products the wealth of their dark hearts will be demolished and their life line of greed will be choked off from their human desires they must always be worried about us or they will surely repeat theit ways now is the time for change

  3. Hey Amanda,

    Thanks for a fantastic post. Really great. Very informative, and it’s great to hear about your personal interest.

    I identify as a socialist and also as an old school anarchist. (The nonviolent kind of anarchist.) I consider myself a libertarian socialist, which would be a similar philosophy to Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. While such a viewpoint is certainly “fringe,” as you point out, I find it difficult to believe that our governmental system–which is essentially in bed with Big Business–can ever bring about meaningful, long-term reforms. Working within the system to reform the current capitalistic system seems to me to be essentially flawed because it still seeds power to the political system.

    One thing that Howard Zinn points out in his People’s History of the United States is that protest movements are often absorbed into a mainstream political group and then two things happen: the energy drains from the protest and there is substantial compromise. This makes Zinn’s history somewhat depressing to read, actually! At each potential turn for the best, protest movements become absorbed into mainstream politics. It may seem like substantive change at the time, but in historical hindsight, it is only superficial changes.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. Even if this movement is absorbed into the Democratic Party, it might make a difference in pushing us to the left. I mean, all of a sudden Democrats have the guts to propose a millionaires’ tax. That’s a score! Up to now, it’s been depressing to watch the last three years.

    Power to the People.

    • Thank you for commenting! I should say that I sound more dismissive of socialism and anarchists above than mean to be. I am VERY left, but I can’t quite make the final step into socialism, I think mainly because I just cannot see any practical way of making it work. As screwed up as the current system is, I just don’t see how we could possibly tear the whole thing down safely. I just can’t see, structurally and practically speaking, how anarchy can work. Perhaps it is simply that I do not have enough imagination. I don’t know. But all I can hope is that if we keep trying, keep chipping away at the system until we find something underneath it all that will work.

      Again, thanks so much for commenting!

      • I think you are like me in that you see the most basic ideals of socialism to be good, but ultimately impossible due to the greedy nature of humanity. Many people love the idea of a society like that of the Federation of Star Trek fame, one in which everyone is viewed as equal and important as they all work towards bettering themselves and society as a whole. What they fail to realize is that the Federation is a blending of true democracy and socialism minus the flaws that humanity’s basic nature instills.

  4. I’m entirely sympathetic to the cause and I actually think the movement has done a lot of things in an intelligent way – and that the police brutality has been horrifying.

    However, after also staying up after homework to research it, I have this bad taste in my mouth about the refusal to obtain permits for the marches. I…well, this is going to sound horrible, and cynical, but I can’t help but feel like it’s viral video baiting. Now sure you can have ethical debates about free speech and permits but to me it makes sense that you would want to warn society about your intention to block traffic. Especially for a cause like this, which would want to include people trying to get to work, not just piss them off.

    I also don’t see this as a leaderless protest. At all. It seems to me that the media team is playing the role of leaders, but conveniently not calling themselves leaders, which means that there’s never anyone to be accountable for any of the choices made by the people running the show.

    For example. A peaceful protester who attended this Wednesday’s protest and did not attempt to walk on Wall Street probably felt that this behavior was in line with the goals of the group. But the protesters that branched off to walk on Wall Street probably felt the same way, even though they were vastly different choices. Both protesters get to be right because there’s no one to correct them.

    And IMO the protest, collectively, has been talking out of both sides of their mouth. They say they’re peaceful yet do things like push against cops that block their way. And let’s face it, if there hadn’t been civil disobedience this protest would not have gotten the traction that it has.

    I know I’m sounding like I’m coming down harsh. I think the media criticism has been ridiculous and a terrifying look at how much the media is ruled by money. And like I said, the police brutality has been totally, totally terrifying.

    I guess I’m just worried that this whole thing is one viral video away from becoming a riot.

  5. This may be a brilliant display of power of the people, but I wish something cohesive would come out of this. Otherwise people will lose steam and issues that DO need to be addressed will not be.

  6. Hi Amanda,

    I stumbled across your blog during a recent search–appears we are working toward the same goals in terms of research. I’m currently a doctoral student and am engaged in the same kind of collecting of visual artifacts for the purposes of analysis. I’d love to collaborate if you’re interested. Feel free to email me at ediehl(at)….

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