A National Conservative Examiner exclusive
Talk to people who’ve been to a protest aligned with Occupy Wall Street and it soon becomes clear there is no tidy narrative for Legacy Media messaging.
In addition to talking to those inside the movement, if you read statements on the Occupy Wall Street website, it becomes apparent the core of the movement is not eager to jump in bed with any established political party.
National Conservative Examiner had the opportunity to interview a young writer who has been on the ground covering the protests in New York City. Daphne Elizabeth Muller has provided content to media like Ms. and Action in Action.
Asked about the mix of causes and ideologies in play at OWS, Muller said the group is very diverse—“young, retired, lots of families, many different races, many different gender identities.”
Media have had a hard time understanding what is happening. Muller pointed out that media typically interview or profile white males although this constituency is “far from the majority of the group.”
Muller believes the movement is “apolitical.” She says no one cares about the two major political parties. Rather the common goal, if there is one, is to “end corporate influence in government.” Muller did acknowledge a “strong, growing libertarian presence at the camp.”
Despite obvious commonalities with Tea Partiers and even fiscal conservatives, OWS challenges both left and right media driven by a sound bite mentality. There is temptation to pigeon-hole the young protesters into standard ideological categories.
Asked about relevance to the tea party movement, Muller acknowledged some common ground with OWS. “They are both angry about corporate welfare and out-of-touch government.” She thinks “it would be great” if tea party supporters joined OWS movements. She does, however, believe the tea partiers were “partially” co-opted by members of Congress and “wealthy people like the Koch brothers.” She said that is “part of the motivation to keep OWS a horizontal movement.”
The young writer who grew up in the South and went on to earn degrees from both UNC Chapel Hill (B.A.) and Yale (M.A.) described an exchange with a reporter from CNN. The reporter, perhaps opting for a convenient storyline, asked Muller if she was there for a Radiohead concert. “It didn’t occur to her to ask me why I was there, or what my involvement was,” said Muller.
Muller insists the movement aspires to non-violence despite reports to the contrary. “There is actually a non-violent committee,” she said. “I have been to all the major protests and marches, and the only violence I have witnessed has been on the part of the police. A typical chant is This is a non-violent protest! Or NYPD, you are the 99 percent too! “
Reporters have sometimes suggested the young protesters are uninformed. Muller said that depends on whom you’re talking to. “I would say people are informed and are trying to educate themselves and others.”
She said there are daily group classes about issues like foreclosure laws and history and what securities and financial instruments are, as well as teach-ins on tax distribution—particularly related to war costs—and also Constitutional law discussions.
Asked about the risk of organized groups like Big Labor shifting the movement from a grassroots level to a more organized, politically targeted level, Muller affirmed the possibility exists. “However, organized labor has only been allowed to join/endorse if they promise not to inject leadership.” For instance, no formal group is permitted to speak for the movement or have their representatives co-opt demonstrations.
Muller said, “Sometimes the labor leaders try to stir the pot with the cops, and when that happens, they are usually asked to leave. That hasn’t been a huge problem, but I’ve seen it become an issue a couple times. Typically people will chant, This is a non-violent movement! over the instigators.”
Leading Democrats like Vice-President Joe Biden frowned on tea partiers, obeying political messaging from the Democratic National Committee to label them “extremists.” However, Democrats appear to be empathetic to the OWS movement, possibly realizing its potential ahead of the 2012 General Election. President Barack Obama carried the youth vote in 2008 and without it, he is a more vulnerable candidate in 2012.
Some of Obama’s core funders are, however, at odds with what OWS appears to be seeking. The president’s senior campaign adviser, Broderick Johnson, is a well-known Wall Street lobbyist for firms like JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America. According to a blog news directory, Johnson also lobbied for the Keystone XL pipeline. Johnson allegedly de-registered as a lobbyist in April.
Asked if it’s risky for Obama to express empathy for OWS, Muller said, “Risky for his re-election? I mean, at this point, he’s already made his bed. The only campaign promise he kept was to escalate the war in Afghanistan. In some ways, I think OWS is a response to Obama’s failure as a president—it’s harnessing that same energy that put him into office, but saying, Hey! We don’t need a leader—we can do it ourselves.”
OWS is in many ways a response to some of the same complaints other groups have about the government. Muller’s comments about corporate welfare and out of touch government resonate with reform-minded conservatives, liberals and Libertarians. The challenge for these youthful idealists will be to resist infiltration by political groups intent on using their energy and power towards status quo ideology.
Media have not relayed the OWS messaging thoroughly and accurately, sometimes selecting straw men to reflect the worst in the group just as was done to tea partiers. Nor have corporate media tendered the respect these young people and any other peaceful groups deserve as they exercise rights that are key to a free society—freedom of assembly and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances among others.
Although OWS has not been vilified as intensely as tea partiers, all who seek government reform can perhaps acknowledge the validity of these and other movements in the never-ending quest to preserve personal liberty and to instill accountability in the government whose legal power resides in “We, the people.”
Asked early on if coverage has been fair to the movement, Muller said she doesn’t watch much TV news. “I find it irrelevant,” she said. “Media wants a narrative. There is no narrative because there’s no leadership and that’s the point.”
Therein lay the challenge. If the effort continues to grow, will a leadership vacuum permit a seizure of power by Big Labor and other groups? The answer to that question looms in the future, reliant upon forces within the movement yet perhaps vulnerable to influencers from outside.