No “Streamlined Vision” for Occupy Wall Street

March 19, 2012; Source: Wall Street Journal

The press faces lots of challenges in trying to report on the trajectory of a social or political movement as protean as Occupy Wall Street (OWS). Over this past weekend, Occupiers tried to enter Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. The intent of some, it appeared, was to rebuild their semi-permanent protest facility.

The Wall Street Journal story on the event was titled “New ‘Occupy’ Tension,” and the Journal reported that 74 Occupiers had been arrested for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and trespassing at Zuccotti Park exactly six months after Occupiers had first set up tents there. The WSJ also gave some play to a tweet from someone that the Journal said appeared to be a protester threatening to kill police officers.  

CNN’s coverage mentioned the 74 arrests, citing filmmaker Michael Moore’s statement contrasting the vigor of the police action in Zuccotti Park with what he saw as a less energetic response to rowdy St. Patrick’s Day revelers: “Welcome to New York City!” he posted on his website. “Feel free to get drunk and barf on the streets as much as you want, just don’t take on the banksters or we’ll beat the ever-loving crap out of you.”

Fox News, on the other hand, assumed that the unknown tweeter represented the entire movement, which Fox reports is somehow aligned with the current occupant of the White House. Reprinting an article from the UK’s Daily Mail, Fox added its own hyperbolic headline: “Obama-Endorsed Occupy Wall Street Threatens: ‘Kill a Cop or Two.’”

An Associated Press story, republished by the Huffington Post, used the Saturday protest and arrests to suggest in its headline that “NYC Activists [Were] Reflect[ing] on Occupy’s Direction.” The comments picked up by the AP reporter suggested some of the challenges that the Occupy movement was going to have to confront soon:

  • From a young grad student at Hofstra: “I’m really grateful to be part of a generation that wants change, ‘cause we should all want change,’ she wrote.  “But I’m not sure what that change is, or if they know what that change is.”
  • From a Harlem resident: “This is not a beauty pageant. We cannot homogenize this movement into one streamlined vision.”
  • From a nonprofit employee involved in the Occupy protest: “There was a lot of silliness and just kind of singing and dancing and really very jovial. We had some banners up. There was one tarp that was up but it was tiny. It could fit like five people under it.”
  • From another Occupy activist: “It’s going to get interesting during the election cycle. We’re going to be more of a presence in the political world. I know we have a couple of people running for office.”
  • From a member of Occupy’s direct action working group: “College students will have ‘a huge role to play this summer organizing around student debt.’”
  • From yet another Occupy protester: Looking to the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, he advocates “challeng(ing) the U.N. on what their vision of a green economy is.” 

The AP/Huffington Post discussion appears more open and perhaps sympathetic to the Zuccotti Park Occupiers than the others, particularly the hyperbolic Fox News, but in its openness to what the Occupiers have to say, it reveals the multiple concerns that are competing for attention and prioritization in the future OWS movement.—Rick Cohen