New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt fretted about the loss of public attention on the "populist" (not left-wing?) Occupy Wall Street movement on Sunday: "For Occupy Movement, a Challenge to Recapture Momentum." (The Times didn't exactly treat the plight of the Tea Party with such sympathetic concern.)
Six months after the Occupy movement first used protests and encampments to turn the nation’s attention to economic inequality, the movement needs to find new ways to gain attention or it will most likely fade to the edges of the political discourse, according to supporters and critics.
Driven off the streets by local law enforcement officials, who have evicted protesters from their encampments and arrested thousands, the movement has seen a steep decline in visibility. That has left Occupy without bases of operations in the heart of many cities and has forced protesters to spend time defending themselves in court, deterring many from taking to the streets again.
After a paragraph on the Occupy Oakland protests without a word on the violence and vandalism that marked them, Schmidt provided more excuses for the movement's dissipation that didn't include public reaction to the arrests and reports of violent behavior at the lefty campouts:
Occupy does not have a traditional leadership structure, making it difficult for the movement to engage in conventional political organizing in support of state legislators and members of Congress, like the Tea Party has. And some activists, angry at politicians across the board, do not see electoral politics as the best avenue for the movement, complicating efforts to chart its direction.
Occupy activists acknowledge that building and maintaining a populist movement is daunting and that the clashes over the right to protest have drained some energy.
Mr. Grimes said that new ways of gaining attention could come in the form of flash mobs or banner drops from buildings, like the ones used by protesters in Europe.
“We need to keep them guessing,” he said, referring to the news media and the police.
The movement’s staying power will depend on the success of several events planned for the coming weeks. Despite recent actions that have fizzled, including an Occupy Corporations day in February, organizers are planning a strike and demonstrations on May 1, International Labor Day. But the response has been mixed, and activists now say that Americans could show sympathy for the cause in other ways, like not shopping that day.
Schmidt is far from the first Times reporter to suggest the Occupy movement has in a sense already won:
Whether Occupy has a resurgence, it has already had a significant influence on American politics, making economic inequality -- and specifically the top “1 percent” -- a major issue in the national dialogue.
In December, 48 percent of Americans said they agreed with the concerns raised by Occupy, although only 29 percent approved of the way the protests were being conducted, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center.
After that poll, Pew stopped surveying specifically about the movement. “The movement was not in the news as much coming into 2012, and the nation’s focus and our polling turned to the Republican primary,” said Michael Dimock, an associate director of research at Pew.
Schmidt left out poll findings by Quinnipiac University (Nov. 3) and Public Policy Polling (Nov. 16) showing public support for Occupy Wall Street falling sharply after a month in which OWS was responsible for vandalism and violence. Instead, he continued citing Pew poll numbers more favorable to OWS:
Although the coverage has fallen off, concerns about economic opportunity and equality are at the highest levels since the mid-1990s.
In a poll released by Pew on March 2, 19 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that “success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside of our control,” the highest number since 1994.
What is more, 40 percent of Americans -- also the highest number since 1994 -- agreed with the statement that “hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people.”