When the Occupy Wall Street protests began nearly three weeks ago, skeptics claimed it was too disorganized and too unfocused to be successful. But the occupation hasn’t gone away – and that’s because, even as it has become more organized, the protest hasn’t adopted a specific platform.
Media coverage — even on the left — has been minimal, and what coverage has existed has been largely derisive. Cable’s liberal stalwart Rachel Maddow didn’t have a segment on the protest until last night, Mother Jones ran an article entitled “why #occupywallstreet isn’t working,” and Grist’s Dave Roberts said the occupation was “designed to discredit leftie protest.”
And, yet, the occupation is spreading. There are now occupations and solidarity demonstrations in dozens of cities around the country, including Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston. (D.C.’s version is scheduled for Oct. 6.)The Air Line Pilots Association has joined the protests, the 34,000-strong Transit Workers Union Local 100 voted unanimously to support the protests, and several other major progressive groups, including MoveOn.org and the SEIU, are finally throwing their weight behind the movement.
To some degree, of course, the images from the protest have played a role in organically popularizing the movement. The pepper-spraying of innocent protesters last Saturday and the pictures of Wall Streeters doing their best Marie Antoinette impersonations — drinking champagne and mocking a protest march — have been particularly powerful.
The most important images, though, are in a collection of stories from what the protestors are calling “the other 99 percent” of America: people drowning in debt, people forced to choose between groceries and rent, people who work long hours for little pay and even less job security and yet are “the lucky ones.” There’s despair and sadness in these stories, but the most prevalent emotion is anger — at the few who were bailed out after crashing the economy and at leaders who have often ignored just how unequal the country has become. That anger is the one thing the protesters all agree on, and the biggest impulse driving the occupation forward.
As this anger demonstrates, despite what the skeptics demanded, these activists didn’t need to present yet another platform. Groups have been proposing platforms for years, under both Democrats and Republicans, and yet inequality continues to rise. Instead, simply changing the conversation is the best thing the protesters can do right now. While still in its earliest phases, the occupation is right to echo many Americans’ frustration that Wall Street and Washington have recovered, while the rest of the economy hasn’t. Should there be more specific ideas down the line? Of course. For now, though just focusing the conversation on Wall Street and inequality is victory enough.