Occupy Wall Street is a 12 days long protest taking place at the Liberty Plaza, New York, not very far from its original target. On occasion the crowd there gets organized and stages walk outs, circling the sidewalks near and around what had become the symbol financial corruption in the United States. I am blessed with the fact that the Liberty Plaza is where I transfer from the metro to the express bus, twice a week. Thus far I was able visit the protest more than 10 times, mostly around the hours of 7.30 am and 7.30 pm. In its initial beginning, the protest drew thousands of people, but afterwards only a handful of participants remained in the park. Throughout the week their numbers ranged from as little as a few dozens to several hundreds, depending on the call they were able to send out, and the response they were able to gather. When I started to follow them on the twitter, they had around 3000 followers; today the number is swelled into 14,000 and steadily growing. Originally I was surprised how little media coverage the protest received, but this is no longer the case. Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, Rosanne Barr and Cornell West have visited the protesters and it has been mentioned by the media frequently since last Sunday, when a police officer used pepper spray on a group of peaceful protesters.
Last week, when the media coverage was still low, I saw a rather disturbing picture of the protest in the paper, depicting it almost like a juvenile orgy. I emailed a few columnists there, complaining about it and asking why they could not talk about it rather than condescendingly portraying it with such images. The ensuing email exchanges inspired me to write these paragraphs. Only Clyde Haberman and Ginia Belefante responded to my emails. Clyde Haberman’s reply was near condescending. He wrote “Actually, we’ve covered them every day, in the newspaper on Sunday and every day on City Room, our on-line blog. Aren’t we endlessly told that on line is where young people read these days?” In his view, so it seemed, this protest was about the young people, to whom the New York Times catered mainly electronically, whereas the print readers did not need to know about it (presumably because they were old), except, of course on the weekends, when the Americans notoriously read the least amount of newspapers. Ginia Belefante was more articulate, and wrote that she was working on a large piece to be published on September 25, and asked me if I was a grounded supporter or observing from afar. Finding out that I was an occasional follower, she ensured me that this protest was not as relevant as I believed, and if I had spent enough time around it I would have realized that they were an aimless bunch. When I pointed at how the Guardian hired Amy Goodman to write a column about the protest, she argued that they got some of their facts wrong. When I asked her what these facts were, and gave a list of the facts that I was familiar with, such as the harassment and the arrest of dozens of activists and the confiscation of recording devices and computers, she stopped responding to my emails.
On September 25, Sunday, the day after the police arrested a larger number of protesters and used teargas, the New York Times still went on with their scheduled essay by Ginia Belefante. Not to my surprise, she was heavily criticized for her lack of consciousness, understanding and solidarity. To be honest, I have never been a big fan of the New York Times, and subscribed this year, because my wife insisted on it. The above incident made me think that it is a newspaper that lacks any desire to promote change or progress in our country, and mainly stands as a relic of the old media erected to support the Democratic Party, which has become a co-opted institution serving the financial elite. However, there was something shocking going on. As a media giant, the New York Times failed to recognize what was the true strength of this protest.
Occupy Wall Street is organized by a group of alternative media/internet activists. They are the creators of an extremely successful journal titled Adbusters, which attacks commercialism and capitalism, while generating serious advertising revenues to support its self. Moreover, in this public protest, they joined forces with the Internet activists known as the Anonymous. Together, the Adbusters and the Anonymous constitute a media team far from incompetent and aimless. As one of their participants explained it to me, their main goal is to start a paradigm shift. They want people to question capitalism and unregulated markets. They are not romantic visionaries. They want a grassroots socialism generated by people for the people. They want people to understand that the form economy we are practicing is flawed.
The fact that they are talking about a paradigm shift shows how smart they are. They seem to have read their Michael Foucault and Noam Chomsky, learned that a peaceful movement must establish its strength via discourse, and aware that the Internet and independent media is their best option to organize something both grassroots and international. And, history tells us that a paradigm shift is no small thing.
A few hundred years ago, the transformation of power from the oligarchs into the middle and upper classes, which was initiated by the American Revolution and French Revolution, also relied on a paradigm shift. Both revolutions used pamphlets and newspapers, what was the independent media of their time, to raise consciousness and support. During the following century, many kings and sultans were replaced by the abstract notion of nation and national sovereignty. Today, it is rudimentary that we live in a nation state, with its preferred interpretation of citizenship and history. It is rudimentary that we live in a nation state where the economy and politics are governed by the middle and upper classes.
Down at the Liberty Plaza, a group of Americans are busy on a media desk, trying to grow their protest base. Like their forefathers, they know they are not acting in a vacuum. They know the spirit of revolution is everywhere, from Bahrain to Detroit. Like their forefathers, they know they are young and privileged subjects of a global economy. They know they are exceptionally lucky. They are mixed bunch, who also believe they lack liberty and self-determination, and they are brewing alternative economic ideas. Some old fashion newspapers think these kids are not worth much attention.