If you assumed, as did I, that the coming of winter would mean the end of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, well guess again. Whether because of the unseasonably mild weather prevailing here and elsewhere, Occupy Wall Street encampments stubbornly persist. And despite increasingly more aggressive measures taken against them by local authorities, the “movement” appears to be growing. “Occupy the Dream” demonstrations highlighted the celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday in Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco and many other places around the nation early in January, and an “Occupy Congress” rally was held in Washington D. C., on January 17.
Yet there are those, particularly on the political right, the mushy middle, and the corporate media, who claim not to understand what Occupy Wall Street protestors are complaining about, or what they want. It brings to mind the opening line of that immortal 1960s anthem by the seminal San Francisco folk-rock band, Buffalo Springfield: “There’s something happening here/And what it is ain’t exactly clear.”
To call Occupy Wall Street a movement at this point is not so much a misnomer as it is a media invention and mis-characterization. Whatever else one might call it, Occupy Wall Street is less a true movement than a spontaneous outburst of dissent over the great and growing economic inequality in this country. According to a recent report by the U. S. Census Bureau, just 10 percent of Americans today control some 56 percent of the nation’s wealth.
Nor is it an especially radical outburst. For as the few academics and journalists who have bothered to actually examine Occupy Wall Street up close and personally have reported, those camping and marching in cities around the nation largely represent, not some alienated fringe, but America’s broad middle class.
And as much as some might wish to deny even the existence of economic classes in this country, income inequality now tops both race and immigration as the greatest source of tension in our society according to a recent survey of over 2,000 adult Americans by the respected Pew Research Center, two-thirds of whom were convinced that “strong” class conflict does exist in this country.
Occupy Wall Street is not a movement because it has no top-down leadership, no organizing ideology, and no political agenda other than to end the flagrant fraud and abuse perpetrated by a tiny cadre of self-dealing politicians and financial types who have undermined our once vibrant and egalitarian economy.
What Occupy Wall Street speaks loudest to me about is as mainstream as apple pie, and was summarized nearly a century ago by the late, great U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who said, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.”
Ira Eisenberg is a local journalist.