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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Protesting in Real America

by digby

So the New York Times published a predictably snide, critical view of the Occupy Wall Street protests, taking particular exception to their garb and attitude:

“I’ve been waiting for this my whole life,” Ms. Tikka, 37, told me.

“This,” presumably was the opportunity to air societal grievances as carnival. Occupy Wall Street, a diffuse and leaderless convocation of activists against greed, corporate influence, gross social inequality and other nasty byproducts of wayward capitalism not easily extinguishable by street theater, had hoped to see many thousands join its protest and encampment, which began Sept. 17. According to the group, 2,000 marched on the first day; news outlets estimated that the number was closer to several hundred.

By Wednesday morning, 100 or so stalwarts were making the daily, peaceful trek through the financial district, where their movements were circumscribed by barricades and a heavy police presence. (By Saturday, scores of arrests were made.)

I can't help but recollect the slightly different coverage of our most recent protest movement when it first burst forth on "tax day" in 2009. Of course, it was corporate sponsored, so I guess that makes it much more serious:
The Web site TaxDayTeaParty.com listed its sponsors, including FreedomWorks, a group founded by Dick Armey, the former House majority leader; Top Conservatives on Twitter; and RFCRadio.com.

The idea for the demonstrations grew in part out of a blast from Rick Santelli, a CNBC commentator who on Feb. 19 at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange said that the Obama administration was promoting “bad behavior” in helping people who were at risk of losing their homes and that Americans should protest with a tea party in Chicago.

The main goal as a national organization, said Eric Odom, the administrator of the Tax Day Tea Party Web site, “is just to facilitate an environment where a new movement would be born.”

It was hard to determine from the moderate turnout just how effective the parties would be. In Philadelphia, a rally in Center City drew about 200 rain-soaked participants.

Several hundred people showed up in Lafayette Park opposite the White House, until the park and parts of Pennsylvania Avenue were cleared while a robot retrieved what the Secret Service confirmed was a box of tea bags.
In Austin, Tex., Gov. Rick Perry energized a crowd of about 1,000 by accusing the Obama administration of restricting states’ rights and vaguely suggesting that Texas might want to secede from the union.

In downtown Houston, there were some in the crowd of 2,000 that poured into the Jesse H. Jones Plaza who also wanted Texas to secede. They were joined by other conservative groups like anti-abortion activists, Libertarians and fiscally conservative Republicans. American flags abounded, along with hand-painted placards that bore messages like “Abolish the I.R.S.,” “Less Government More Free Enterprise,” “We Miss Reagan” and “Honk if You Are Upset About Your Tax Dollars Being Spent on Illegal Aliens.” [oh my goodness. You mean conservative protests mix up their causes too??? Somebody should organize them properly.]

In Boston, the birthplace of the original tea party, the protest was on Boston Common, near the State House. The crowd, initially about 500, grew throughout the day.

“I’m not happy with the way our government is managing our taxes,” said Jo Ouimete, 54, of Northampton, Mass., who was holding an umbrella with an American flag pattern, even though the sun was shining. The umbrella had a tea pot on top and Red Rose tea bags hanging from it.

“The American taxpayers are really getting pressed too hard,” Ms. Ouimete said. “We can’t live like this, and our kids can’t live like this.”

Some participants were dressed in colonial garb, including Paul Jehle, of the Plymouth Rock Foundation, who is also a professional Boston tour guide. Mr. Jehle offered his enthusiastic audience a history lesson about the 1773 Boston Tea Party.

I suppose the mainstream press could have colorfully described them as a bunch of cranks making fools of themselves. But they didn't. Apparently, it all about what costume you decide to wear. This is apparently evidence of seriousness:

They seem to have done pretty well for themselves.

The sentence I highlighted in the piece about the Tea Party is important: "facilitating and environment so a new movement can be born." Movements don't come nicely prepackaged, even when they're corporate sponsored. They need someone to create the political space for a spark to happen. That's what the Occupy Wall Street people are doing.

The truth is that protests always have an element of street theater to them and on the left, this happens to be the theater we produce. (There was plenty of drumming up in Wisconsin ...) The point is to raise consciousness, create reaction and see if something catches. It's not easy to get attention for this sort of thing, so early protesters tend to be people who are willing to take risks and make fools of themselves in ways that the rest of us aren't. It takes a village full of weirdos to start a protest movement.

So, the fact that these people don't have full power point presentation of their goals and are asking for all kinds of disparate things is not cause to shun them. It's an opportunity to use the moment to draw attention to the problem (even if there's no fully laid out solution) and bring more people to the cause.

If anyone else has a better idea, I'm all ears. But these are the only people doing it.

Meanwhile, the New York Times should be ashamed of themselves for that trashy piece of journalism. To say that smug reporter missed the story is an understatement:

In slow motion, and with annotation explaining what is happening, the video seems to show a high-ranking member of the New York Police Department spraying a substance — the video says it is Mace or pepper spray — toward several women who were standing behind a wall of orange netting. After the spraying, one woman can be seen dropping to the ground, screaming in apparent pain.

Those women, who were already corralled behind police netting and unable to leave, were sprayed right in the face with mace.

Weirdos maybe. But brave weirdos, indeed.