Occupy Wall Street and public discourse

UPDATETime magazine considers OWS the top news story of 2011.

I haven’t written much about OWS, since there’s so much being cranked out, and I didn’t see what I could say that was new or useful. But I had a conversation with three people who were dismissive, even angry, about OWS, basically seeing them as spoiled kids who went around trashing parks and interfering with local businesses and costing taxpayers’ millions of dollars and accomplishing nothing. These sorts of comments are very familiar to anyone who has participated in public protest (Newt even hauled out the “go home and take a bath” line). Nonetheless, I felt the need to rise to their defense, without much forethought, and in the course of that brief conversation, some thoughts crystallized.

While I share the distaste for some of the sloppiness that attends mass events like OWS – compared to what happened when Oklahoma State upended OU last night, it doesn’t seem so bad – and people who engage in this kind of action need to be mindful of the impact they have on day-to-day life and take care to minimize that. However, this kind of criticism misses the much, much larger point. (It also misses the fact that the MSM paid practically zero attention to OWS for weeks until there were complaints and arrests, so remember what you’re seeing and reading is through that particular media filter which focuses on conflict, rather than content.)

If you’re thinking along the lines of my fellow conversationalists above, look at George Packer’s profile of one OWS-er in the latest New Yorker.

OWS, for all its flaws, has forced economic injustice into the public domain. Two months ago, poverty, income inequality, and the stranglehold of a few very wealthy individuals and corporations over our lives were not being discussed in the public debate. Now, they are. That is a huge victory in and of itself.

And when you have Frank Luntz saying he's spooked, and Republicans having serious conversations about how to counter the OWS message, you know something’s going on.

I cannot predict whether OWS will continue to have influence. I’ve seen polling that Americans’ support for the movement peaked and is dropping. I am also very skeptical about a plan I’ve heard to “Occupy Christmas.” But OWS has directed attention at the most crucial economic issues we face, and for that, I applaud them.



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