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!