From the editorial page to the news pages to a page of graphic design, the spreading leftist protest known as Occupy Wall Street occupied major swathes of Sunday’s New York Times, and the mood was celebratory – at last the left wing (or as the Times puts it, “populist message”) is off the mat and fighting back.
In the paper’s Sunday Review, journalism professor and veteran leftist Todd Gitlin gushed over the leftist revival on Wall Street (while attacking the Tea Party) in “The Left Declares Its Independence.”
If some aspects of the Occupy Wall Street protest feel predictable -- the drum circles, the signs, including “Tax Wall Street Transactions” and “End the FED” -- so does the right-wing response. Is it any surprise that Fox News and its allied bloggers consider the protesters “deluded” and “dirty smelly hippies”?
The Tea Party, for all its apparent populism, revolves around a vision of power and how to attain it. Tea Partiers tend to be white, male, Republican, graying, married and comfortable; the political system once worked for them, and they think it can be made to do so again. They revile government, but they adore hierarchy and order. Not for them the tents and untucked shirts, the tattoos, piercings and dreadlocks that are eye candy for lazy journalists. (“Am I dressed too nice so the media doesn’t interview me?” read one Occupy Wall Street demonstrator’s sign.)
In contrast, what should we make of Occupy Wall Street? The movement is, of course, nascent, and growing: on Oct. 5, it picked up thousands of marching supporters of all ages, many from unions, professions and universities, and crowded Foley Square. Its equivalents rallied in 50 cities. Deep anger at grotesque inequities extends far beyond this one encampment; after all, a few handfuls of young activists do not have a monopoly on the fight against plutocracy. Revulsion in the face of a perverse economy is felt by many respectable people: unemployed, not yet unemployed, shakily employed and plain disgusted. A month from now, this movement, still busy being born, could look quite different.
In Sunday’s news section, Jennifer Preston found the OWS crowd stirring up a latent “populist message” (not leftist) online, “Wall Street Protest Spurs Online Dialogue on Inequity.”
What began as a small group of protesters expressing their grievances about economic inequities last month from a park in New York City has evolved into an online conversation that is spreading across the country on social media platforms.
Inspired by the populist message of the group known as Occupy Wall Street, more than 200 Facebook pages and Twitter accounts have sprung up in dozens of cities during the past week, seeking volunteers for local protests and fostering discussion about the group’s concerns.
Some 900 events have been set up on Meetup.com, and blog posts and photographs from all over the country are popping up on the WeArethe99Percent blog on Tumblr from people who see themselves as victims of not just a sagging economy but also economic injustice.
Preston marveled at the fact the young activists were using Facebook and Twitter (not exactly cutting-edge technology in late 2011):
To help get the word out about a rally at 3 p.m. Saturday in Washington Square Park, the group turned to its Facebook and Twitter accounts. “If you are one of the 99 percent, this is your meeting,” the Facebook invitation said. Nearly 700 people replied on Facebook saying that they would be there.
While people in New York are still dominating the conversation on Twitter, an analysis of Twitter data on Friday showed that almost half of the posts were made in other parts of the country, primarily in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, as well as Texas, Florida and Oregon, according to Trendrr, a social media analytics firm.
Mark Ghuneim, founder and chief executive officer of Trendrr, said the Twitter conversation was producing an average of 10,000 to 15,000 posts an hour on Friday about Occupy Wall Street, with most people sharing links from news sites, Tumblr, YouTube and Trendsmap.
The Times showed its support for the aggressive leftist aggregation in a prominent place – the Sunday lead editorial slot: “Protesters Against Wall Street – It’s obvious what they want. What took so long, and where are the nation’s leaders?”
As the Occupy Wall Street protests spread from Lower Manhattan to Washington and other cities, the chattering classes keep complaining that the marchers lack a clear message and specific policy prescriptions. The message -- and the solutions -- should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention since the economy went into a recession that continues to sock the middle class while the rich have recovered and prospered. The problem is that no one in Washington has been listening.
At this point, protest is the message: income inequality is grinding down that middle class, increasing the ranks of the poor, and threatening to create a permanent underclass of able, willing but jobless people. On one level, the protesters, most of them young, are giving voice to a generation of lost opportunity.
When the protesters say they represent 99 percent of Americans, they are referring to the concentration of income in today’s deeply unequal society. Before the recession, the share of income held by those in the top 1 percent of households was 23.5 percent, the highest since 1928 and more than double the 10 percent level of the late 1970s.
After that bit of mind-reading, the Times made excuses for the movement’s failure to actually put forward goals besides getting arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge.
It is not the job of the protesters to draft legislation. That’s the job of the nation’s leaders, and if they had been doing it all along there might not be a need for these marches and rallies. Because they have not, the public airing of grievances is a legitimate and important end in itself. It is also the first line of defense against a return to the Wall Street ways that plunged the nation into an economic crisis from which it has yet to emerge.
Lastly, the Sunday Review included a page of op-ed art, curated by non-staff graphic designer Seymour Chwast, containing seven ideas for logos for the OWS movement under the banner “Every Movement Needs a Logo.” Except the Tea Party – Times Watch doesn’t recall a graphic artist (or anyone else at the Times, for that matter) showing a trace of enthusiasm for that larger and more influential political movement. From Chwast’s promotional copy:
What is a protest movement without a logo? Peace groups have their doves, black nationalists had the panther. The 88-year-old War Resisters League has two hands breaking a rifle in half. But what about Occupy Wall Street? The demonstrations against inequality and corporate greed that began last month in New York, and have since spread to other cities, need a symbol, a visual identity. Here is my suggestion, along with other ideas from fellow graphic designers and design studios:
The caption for the logo above, designed by Chwast himself: “When I heard that corporate greed is a major factor for the protesters, I realize that the period of corrupt robber barons of the late 19th century may still be with us.”