Many major media outlets are slowly beginning to give the OccupyWallStreet protests their due coverage, thanks to today’s school walkout & march, Union members joining the ranks, and similar protests breaking out in other major cities. While it’s a good thing that they’ve finally decided the protests are important enough to get appropriate coverage, they’re doing an awful job of wrapping their heads around the movement. They accuse the protests of lacking a clear, coherent, singular message. And they’re wrong.
What many commentators are missing is this simple fact: There are so many legitimate grievances to be held today – against the financial sector, against major corporations and against lawmakers – that these protests aren’t about any singular grievance.
Each individual at Zuccotti Park this moment is exactly that: an individual, each a snowflake – albiet an angry, discontented snowflake. As I discussed in my earlier post on the movement, every single one of the protesters has their own mixture of various concerns and complaints that are motivating them to get out their front door and join the others at Wall Street.
It’s best to understand the makeup of the protests as a multiple-set Venn Diagram. The protesters do not all fit neatly into one or two sets, but there is plenty of overlap between sets. Common threads include resentment of corporate tax loopholes; a belief that the banking system is too large, powerful and complex and ought to be broken up; and anti-war, “let’s bring ’em home and rebuild our home” sentiment. There are plenty of other grievances, and not all of them share each other’s qualms or, if they do share them, it is often to varying degrees. One issue may be extremely important to one protester, but only a minor problem in the mind of another.
Whether or not each of the individual protesters have a complex and thorough understanding of the economic and political forces which resulted in whichever mixture of conditions that are protesting is irrelevant. Did all of Gandhi’s followers conduct detailed research on the history and structure of the British East India Company before joining his ranks? Maybe a few, but likely not the vast majority. What mattered then is what matters now: People are angry for legitimate reasons, and they’re discontented and disconnected enough to join a movement to reclaim a feeling of self-worth and self-determination.
The lack of an explicit singular rallying cry does not mean the movement is to be put aside. In fact, it means just the opposite. To find the meaning behind the protests, one must only look very slightly under the surface: If many thousands of people are turning up for protests in New York and across the country for myriad reasons, that means many people are very angry and many things are very wrong.
And that is the singular message.