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Opinion: The Occupy Movement that isn’t: A media invention

If you assumed, as did I, that the coming of winter would mean the end of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, well guess again. Whether because of the unseasonably mild weather prevailing throughout much of the nation (including throughout most of California where hardly a drop or rain fell in December and ‘shirt-sleeve’ temperatures have prevailed during most daylight hours) or the sheer tenacity of its activists, Occupy Wall Street encampments stubbornly persist here and elsewhere.

And despite increasingly more aggressive measures taken against them by local authorities the “movement” appears to be growing. “Occupy The Dream” demonstrations are
being planned to take place in various cities around the nation including Sacramento on January 16th, and a massive “Occupy Congress” rally in Washington D. C. on January 17th.

Yet to call Occupy Wall Street a movement at this point is not so much a misnomer as it is a media invention and mischaracterization. Whatever else one might call it, Occupy Wall Street is less a true movement than it is a spontaneous outburst of dissatisfaction over the great and growing economic inequality in this country; nor is it an especially radical outburst. For as the few academics and journalists who have bothered to actually examine Occupy Wall Street up close and personally have reported those camping and marching in cities around the nation largely represent not some alienated fringe but America’s broad middle class.

Moreover, and as much as some self-styled “conservative” politicians, and think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, might deny even the existence of economic classes in the United States, income inequality today tops both race and immigration as the greatest source of tension in American society according to a recent opinion survey by the highly respected Pew Research Center. That study, which included over 2,000 adult respondents, including Democrats, Republicans and independents, found two-thirds of them convinced that “strong” class conflict – that is, between rich and poor – exists in this country today. Moreover, the perception of economic unfairness is supported by findings by the U. S. Census Bureau which reports that just 10 percent of Americans today control some 56 percent of the nation’s wealth.

Yet Occupy Wall Street is not a movement because it has no top-down leadership, no organizing ideology, and no political agenda other than the desire to end the flagrant fraud and abuse perpetrated by a tiny cadre of self-dealing politicians and financial types who, for the past several decades, have grown so big, brazen and corrupt that they are literally sucking the very life’s blood out of the most vibrant and robust economy the world has ever known.  

What Occupy Wall Street speaks loudest to me about is as mainstream as apple pie, and was most cogently summarized nearly a century ago by one of our greatest jurists, the late U. S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who said, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”


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