Sunday, November 13, 2011

Assignment Desk: Liberal Journalists Wonder If, Maybe, They Should Find Out Who Is Behind Occupy (This Space)

After almost two months of Occupy (This Space) protests squatting on public and semi-public land, not to mention the occasional riots and blockades, the NY Times public editor has experienced a random burst of journalism, asking himself, shouldn't we be looking into the people (not to mention the funding and programs) behind the Occupiers? Given that they are essentially calling for the complete re-writing of our Constitution and our economy, I'd say, yeah, you might want to look into that:

The Times has mentioned several times on blogs that Adbusters, a Canadian magazine,first proposed Occupy Wall Street and even set the date. Yet this intriguing nugget of information remains to be developed. Who is Adbusters? How did the idea leap the chasm between conception and action? 
An investigation into origins would lead to the identities of early leaders, at least, and the search for the broader leadership of the movement should continue from there. I polled a group of journalism educators on the question of how The Times should direct its coverage henceforth. Not all agreed on this, but most said it was important to understand who the leaders were and what demographics they represented. The point is: Who is Occupy Wall Street? 
“Leadership tells you a lot about a movement,” Jerry Ceppos, journalism dean atLouisiana State University and formerly executive editor of The San Jose Mercury News, wrote in an e-mail. “But I can’t cite the name of a single Occupy Wall Street leader. I know some members say the groups are ‘leaderless.’ But I have trouble believing this is an entirely organic movement that grew without a leader. I’d push hard to see if there are leaders and to profile them.” 
The push to establish origins and leadership would help surface the demands, or at least the most important underlying issues. Some of these are already clear, as the movement’s rhetoric returns often to income inequalityunemployment and the high cost of education.In its future coverage, The Times should examine how these issues are changing America, giving rise to movements like Occupy Wall Street and its ideological counterpart, the Tea Party.

Occupy, like the Tea Party, is billed as a "leaderless" movement, but that only means there isn't a central office where you can go to find out What They Want and, more important, who can deliver votes and/or $$. But, for a "leaderless" movement, Occupy has managed to attract some hardcore adherents willing to camp out in urban areas, and attract a few thousand riotous supporters when the police threaten eviction. Occupy has also done enough fund-raising such that hundreds of thousands of dollars are sitting in its coffers, with a (self?) selected handful having absolute control over how the funds are disbursed and spent. Occupy even has political spinners of a sort, always ready to excuse away the rapes, murders, deaths, and general squalor that have descended on the encampments. Leaderless these guys are not.  

In the case of the Tea Party, you can trace its origins from conservatives, libertarians, and disaffected independents who gathered in the wake of the leftist governance of the Obama Administration. Spread by blog posts and other social media, they eventually coalesced around the Tea Party name and began to get behind insurgent politicians like Marco Rubio in an effort to re-make the Republican Party in its image. What was unique about the Tea Party was that this was a grassroots conservative protest movement. The right has not been in the habit of Taking It To The Streets, at least not in modern American politics. 

In the case of Occupy, by contrast, they are very much of a piece with the leftist street protests that have been filling the public square, with wildly varying success, since 1789. Ten years ago, they were marching against globalization. Five years ago, they were protesting the Iraq War. This summer, the Bay Area occupiers - acting in concert with the leftist-inspired Anonymous - disrupting service on the local transit agency and protesting its transit cops. Occupy is made up of professional protesters and the college students whom they rely on for cannon fodder. Old reliables like ACORN, Van Jones, and the SEIU - not to mention the American Communist Party and Nazi Party - have offered tactical support. There is nothing new under this particular sun.

Still, someone (or several someones) is directing this stuff. Someone is writing the blog posts, Facebook message, and tweets that are animating the movement. Someone is running the General Assemblies, which are clearly designed to reach a pre-determined "consensus." The Times rightly notes that credit for conceiving Occupy goes to the anti-consumerist magezine Adbusters, which published this blogpost over the summer (sub-head "A Shift In Revolutionary Tactics". Yep! They're jes' folks!), calling for people to march on Wall Street on Sept. 17, which is what happened. I note that the post is unsigned, credited only to the Adbusters staff.  Very egalitarian, but also very suspicious. It's a strange thing when someone is unwilling to sign his/her name to a call for action. It's a reminder that obfuscation about motivation and goals have been a part of Occupy from its inception. 

The official message (from this "leaderless" movement) is that the Occupiers don't like Wall Street bailouts and want more equality and democracy, which sounds OK to the uninitiated, but are pure socialism. That's just what they let us see on the surface. It's anyone's guess what the Occupiers' program really is, but I don't think it's a stretch to say they seek to overthrow America's Constitution and capitalist system and replace it with God knows what. That is the way of the left; sow chaos in the streets, ginned up against The System, and then grasp power when chaos has destabilized the ruling order.  

It can't be denied that Occupy have struck a chord among liberals. Unions, academics, and the media were quick to glom on to the movement. They love the concept of the 99% standing against the 1%. If you are running for office, you have to love those odds. But reality has been more mundane: a few score at each encampment, augmented by hundreds spoiling for a fight whenever the authorities threaten to get serious. They are not the 99%. They are the .00000099%, if that. And yet they aren't going away, and the Democrats are doing little to distance themselves from this unappealing mess. A neat trick for a "leaderless" movement.

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