On the occasion of the American holiday of Thanksgiving, I, like so many others, had a big dinner with friends and family, some of whom I hadn't seen in a long time. That itself is something to be thankful for.
As often happens at such gatherings, conversation veered to politics, and at this time, that means talking about Occupy Wall Street. And someone I've known, liked, and respected for years said something that sort of jarred me: “OWS is anti-corporate, but they don't have a clear agenda or message.”
I shouldn't be surprised. This is The Conventional Wisdom Of The Day. That's what's on the TV, the radio, and in the newspaper opinion columns.
I made a weak objection. I said something like “If we were down there at the protest we might have a clearer idea of what's going on,” but this was met with an uncomprehending look. This person grew up trusting media to speak the truth to power, to double-check facts and to decide for itself what the story was.
It seems obvious to me that we can't trust an aggregation of huge corporations - “the media” - to deliver a message about the growth and abuse of corporate power. That's like asking the fox what happened to your hens. Of course the fox is going to tell you that the count of the hens had been incoherent and disputed. Of course he's going to point out that yes, the hens' plan of being not-fox-food had some merits, but really, if the hens had just cut their hair and landed themselves some respectable jobs, none of this would be an issue now.
That's what I should have articulated somehow, that's the idea I should have found a better way to communicate. A coherent message exists and isn't even that hard to find. But it's not coming from the major media outlets.
Here's another illustration of OWS coherency:
The mainstream media was declaring continually "OWS has no message". Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online "What is it you want?" answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.
The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.
No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.
This leaves me scratching my head a bit over “kale derivatives,” a turn of phrase which, Googled, points only to this column. Hm. The rest of it seems clear and coherent enough, though.
I could crack wise here about how this radical journalistic tactic of “asking them” is clearly outside the scope of what we can and should expect from stolid, respectable, mainstream journalism today. But that could just obscure what has to be happening. It's not like the OWS people are secretive. They don't pass up opportunities to talk. That would be the opposite of a protest.
The gulf between the way OWS is covered by the major media and the way it's covered on-line is just too vast to be explained as incoherency, or as lazy or inept reporting. If the message is muddy, it's because it has been muddied. If what OWS wants isn't clear, it's because it has been made unclear. I really think this is the simplest explanation that fits the facts in this case.