eyes on the U.S.

How Occupy Wall Street Was Able To Occupy American Media Attention

Over the past few weeks, the Occupy Wall Street movement has moved to center stage in the United States, where media outlets are now swarming to the story and dissecting its every detail. But France's Le Monde wonders whether it's all an

Reaching the masses? (dominic bartolini)
Reaching the masses? (dominic bartolini)
Corine Lesnes

NEW YORK -- If only it were true. Reading the American press, one gets the impression that the revolution is closing in and the planet will soon succumb to a wave of "peace and love" worthy of the 1960s. The Occupy Wall Street movement "is expanding," we are told. "It's gaining momentum." Last week, OWS, as it has been dubbed, celebrated its one-month anniversary with some $300,000 in donations deposited, not at JP Morgan Chase, but at the Amalgamated bank, which is 100% union-owned.

The press is having a field day. Occupy Wall Street is everywhere. In the news section, of course, but also in the Style section (for the creativity of the signs), the Art section (which logo for the movement?) and Opinion pages. "The left has declared its independence," sociologist Todd Gitlin wrote in the New York Times. Not even the demonstrations against the war in Iraq, even those with 100,000 people, got such treatment.

Writers have made the pilgrimage down to Zuccotti Park to see for themselves what the movement is about, gleefully reporting that the demonstrators, prohibited from using microphones and loudspeakers, have invented a method "generated by the people" to amplify sound. The first rows of protesters repeat in a chorus (THE FIRST ROWS OF PROTESTERS REPEAT IN A CHORUS) the speaker's sentence (THE SPEAKER'S SENTENCE), which permits the rows of people toward the back (WHICH PERMITS THE ROWS OF PEOPLE TOWARD THE BACK) to follow the statements (TO FOLLOW THE STATEMENTS). It is slow and tedious. The speeches are choppy and robotic, but at the same time, collectivized. The activists call it "the human microphone."

Oddly, the press does not appear concerned about the number of protesters. Whether it's in the hundreds or thousands, numbers remain less than clear. Social media sites report the check-ins and registrations for events of the day: six people in Jersey City, 51 in St. Louis, 403 in Boston, 3,660 in New York. By way of contrast, in only its second anti-tax protest in 2009, the Tea Party attracted 500,000 people. Still, this is not preventing the press from trumpeting: "Occupy Wall Street goes global." (In its cocoon, the American media believes the movement was launched with the Wall Street protests, rather than the Indignados in Spain, and elsewhere).

The numbers matter little. It is the perception that counts. The press is only reflecting the mounting sentiment of sympathizers. The "American Autumn" follows the Arab Spring and signals a rebirth of American activism - or so the narrative goes. The "outraged" are the flavor of the moment. There may not be many of them in sleeping bags on Freedom Plaza in Washington, but they have found a disproportionate voice in the political landscape.

Bankers, predictably, are somewhat less enthusiastic. John Paulson, the hedge fund manager holding the 17th largest fortune in America, lashed out at the group of people impudent enough to occupy the area around his 86th Street mansion. "The richest 1% pay 40% of taxes," he said. Another banker expressed his exasperation to The New York Times, warning that the United States would see even more jobs outsourced if attacks against the financial-services industry continued.

Republicans have been quick to sound off as well. Some accuse Occupy Wall Street of engaging in class warfare. They are already having nightmares about it, says real-estate developer Joe Kaempfer. "The children of the rich will be murdered in their beds by the starving," he predicted to The Washington Post.

Demons of class warfare

Until now, President Barak Obama has refrained from glomming onto the movement. What he did say is that he "understands the frustration" of the protesters and that Martin Luther King himself would have wanted "to confront the executives of Wall Street." But Obama also quickly added that there are dangers in "demonizing" the financial sector.

For Wall Street, it is probably too much. The financial sector that Obama bailed out in 2008 is now eyeing Mitt Romney. "Democrats can't have their cake and eat it too," summed up Politico.com.

The movement should help Barack Obama, who is attempting to wrest from the Republicans even the slightest tax hike for the super-rich. While the Tea Party has held ground for two years regarding the deficit, Occupy Wall Street has switched the conversation to the topic of inequality. Dire statistics that had remained largely ignored are now cited everywhere, and no one can ignore the fact that 150 million Americans are sinking. To get the message out, it took a movement without a megaphone.

photo - dominic bartolini

Read more from Le Monde in French

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