From the Arab Spring to what some already are calling the American Spring, a months-long underground incubation finally burst onto Wall Street on Sep 17. Under the hashtag #OccupyWallStreet people mobilized to join the global uprising of courageous dissidents.
So who are these occupiers gathering at Liberty Plaza? The mainstream media hasn’t given the larger public a chance to ask this question. At first, most major news outlets totally ignored what was happening in lower Manhattan. Political commentator Keith Olbermann called out this media blackout. Anthony DeRosa of Reuters noted how people’s efforts were “mostly received with a mix of muted support and mockery” and he urged the media not to dismiss it.
When the established media covers a story, they often use a broad brush to cover up the faces and views of those who are characterized with words like ‘protesters’ and ‘activists’. They attach the same old images of uneducated, naive youth or potentially violent masses.
Last Saturday a peaceful march headed from lower Manhattan to Union Square. It was turned violent by New York police. More than 80 people got arrested including journalists. The New York Times reporter Brian Stelter on his tweeter presented this scene as a ‘battle’, insinuating that it was a fight between police and protesters.
In the article, Brian Stelter and the Pathology of Objectivity, New Jersey based journalist Michael Tracey called on this use of the word battle, noting that it implied both sides were violent, while the violence came only from the police. When Tracey confronted Stelter on his choice of words, Stelter defended his profession’s creed by stating that he was simply performing his job and maintaining his ‘neutrality’. Tracey pointed out that it is not neutral to use a word that portrays a group as violent when they weren’t. He concluded that “this is just another symptom of the ‘objectivity’ malady” that many journalists subscribe to.
The corporate media’s treatment of Occupy Wall Street has been revealing. Whenever citizens are described as ‘protesters’ in newspapers, it carries an emphasis as if they are unusual, even radical and that their actions are somewhat deviant from the norm of ‘acceptable’ behavior. By doing this, the media tends to differentiate the majority of people from those identified as protesters and activists and tries to maintain a divisive and predefined image of ‘ordinary citizens’.
This is similar to the racial profiling that took place after 911. With the collapse of the World Trade Center, people of Muslim descent and those with similar physical features were quickly marginalized by the newly assigned association with concocted fears of terrorism. Cornel West, in a DemocracyNow! interview spoke of how this new racial profiling for the manufactured War on terror is “niggerization of the public’, something that was done for centuries mostly to African-Americans.
At the recent San Francisco BART protest, BART police detained journalism students and homeland security officers were present. The buzz on twitter started to question: “Journalism student = terrorist now?” -@SpencerTDeVine. Indeed, when did a local protest become a national security issue?
Ordinary citizens have apparently become a threat to the State. Something similar is happening in the streets of New York where journalists were lumped together with the protesters and arrested. During Occupy Wall Street, a boy was arrested for chalk writing and police brutality escalated toward protesters. The YouTube video of police corralling women with a large net and using pepper spray on them with no provocation was widely circulated by way of social media.
Though police and politicians haven’t come out explicitly to say activists are terrorists, the actions speak loud enough. Indeed NYPD even admitted that the aggressive tactics last week were a practice in anticipation of possible London style riots.
It appears that anyone associated with these ‘activists’ are branded with an inflated radical label and are targeted for containment, harassment or arrest. Only last year, the F.B.I targeted a group of activists in the Midwest and without judicial approval went to their homes and seized computers with the allegation that those peace and justice activists were under suspicion for aiding foreign terrorists. Late breaking news about the assassination of two US citizens in Yemen reveals that anyone including Americans can now be targeted for extrajudicial killing. But is it true? Are they really extreme and their actions unreasonable? How did America get to this point?
In the article, “America”: Consumerism and the End of Citizenship Professor Elizabeth Dore and John Weeks described how the economic sphere shapes every aspect of life and that US citizens are expected to function only as consumers, workers and taxpayers. These consumers, including the press watch passively and distance themselves from those who have been labeled ‘protesters’. This is just a trained automatic reflex. In the eyes of these spectators, the activists’ refusal to accept the programmed economic and social reality that is handed down to them can appear rather irrational.
But who are these people that are being marginalized? Whenever we ask questions trying to see the faces of fellow citizens, all we see is media distortion. Now, alternative media and citizen’s reporting are bringing a new, more immediate view of these people on the ground. David DeGraw, on his Report from the Frontlines describes how:
The #OccuppyWallStreet 99% movement is a decentralized non-violent rebellion against economic tyranny. It is a leaderless movement that has been dependent upon tens of thousands of individuals taking it upon themselves to take action and fight back against their own personal financial hardships, in defense of their family and friends who are desperately struggling to make ends meets.
People from all walks of life are gathering at Liberty Park with diverse stories to tell. A mosaic of changing faces gradually emerges. Those who had been portrayed as violent and uneducated are now peacefully assembling. They are exercising their freedom of speech. Those who were perceived as being on the fringes of society are now connecting and collaborating.
Matt Stoller, a former congressional policy adviser described how Occupy Wall Street is a church of dissent, and not a typical political protest with concrete demands and clear leaders;
It is a group of people, gathered together to create a public space seeking meaning in their culture. They are asserting together, to each other and to themselves, “we matter”.
When focus is given to a perceived lack of concrete demands, it is easy to miss what is unique about Occupy Wall Street. Beneath the surface, there is a lot of self-organizing happening. By working together in the park near Wall Street, these people are creating a new space to mingle, share their stories and together envision an alternative future.
It is like a dress rehearsal for an egalitarian democracy. What young people have been practicing in the open space of the Internet is now unfolding in the streets. With assemblies based on the consensus model, people are learning how to rely on themselves rather than leaders or representatives, speaking and listening to one another. This encampment is in a sense reestablishing ownership of the public commons. These actions show people what is essential about being a citizen instead of simply passive consumers. They have been inspired by the Arab Spring model and now are inspiring people around the country and the world.
Are those gathering at Liberty Plaza representing the very thing that once made the United States a beacon of light in the world? Once it was the founding fathers who were called terrorists, engaged in a fight to overthrow the monarchy of the King George and claim their own significance.
“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” said George Orwell. On Sep 17 thousands flooded into the Big Apple to confront the Wall Street robber barons. These people are not just a few bad apples as some media outlets like to portray them. They are the 99 percent majority that will “no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1 percent”. Despite aggressive police presence and tactics, each day the crowd is growing. Some police even started to join. Over 100 officers refused to go to work in support of Occupy Wall Street.
The bull in front of Wall Street stands symbolically in the middle of all this. For the obscenely rich 1% of citizens who run Wall Street, this Bull represents the call to worship the almighty bull market. A bear market is when markets are in contraction (the Dow going down) and a bull market is when it is going up. For them the bull represents never ending profits for the rich in an ever-expanding, unsustainable plunder-based economy. The masses have been converted to this belief in the Bull. They have invested into the American dream, which has now turned out to be a ponzi scheme. Yet, Goldman Sachs and their ilk know that they will be making the ultimate killing when the market goes down.
At the onset of Occupy Wall Street, the police were on the side of this small minority, guarding the bull. It is a symbol of corporate occupied civic space. PayPal, Amazon and MasterCard, the three corporate stooges initiated the financial blockade of WikiLeaks. In the same way, Yahoo hedged their bets with Wall Street, rather than with the citizens by engaging in censorship of the protests. Now a rising tide of truth from the tweets and the streets are calling bullshit on what this Bull has come to represent; the vortex of a massive casino economy that is sucking the life-blood from the world.
Who are those people, the strangers standing in solidarity to confront this beast? In this crowd of unknown faces it’s not easy to identity political affiliation. Faces are changing each moment, moving with diverse colors and shapes. What comes to the surface is the courage, solidarity and compassion shared throughout history and across borders. One may begin to discover in the faces of those who gather; the unemployed, foreclosed, and students burdened with lifelong debt, ones own face. When the people take to the streets in frustration and anger and unite for one another, what has become a beast will reveal its true being.
This is a point of no return looking over the ledge. Hoping we can fly cause we’re getting pushed over the edge. I am in the sky like an angel … (joe DOE, Point of No Return/Emergency)
As the Dow falls, the face of a new nation rises. The world may begin to recognize that both the 99% and the 1% are one people enslaved by the same shackles of greed. The true nature of the Bull is our own strength within. Our vitality, creativity and collaboration is the only real wealth there is in the world.
The American Spring is here. It is spreading across the nation and this is only the beginning.