What is one of the hottest news stories being read right now in the U.S.? Anything and everything related to Occupy Wall Street (OWS). Pew Research centre, a leading “fact tank” in U.S. just released information today that public interest in the Wall Street protests noticeably increased last week, ranking #2 in the News Interest Index at 18%, just behind the economy in general. Not only that, but the protests accounted for 9% of the overall “newshole” compared with 7% the previous week and only 2% the week before that. But even though these numbers are clearly expanding, it seems that much of the coverage as well as interest consists of belittlement and outright ridicule of the movement. Even political talk show host Jon Stewart has jumped on board not only criticising the protesters as he and Rev. Al Sharpton discussed the phenomenon on Stewart’s recent show. The Daily Show also seemed to go out of its way to capture video pointing to “weirdos” at the site
But the real question may be if such a dismissive attitude is wise in the long run?
Maybe you remember a little thing called the Tea Party movement; also highly criticised and/or downplayed during its infancy. In fact, early 2010, The Los Angeles Times seemed to also play down the Tea Party phenomenon saying, “The movement is far from a well-disciplined army. Its pivot from protesting to politics has been fraught with internal disputes, turf wars…”. Not only this, but the media also offered its fair share of oral sex jokes about tea bagging (not unlike the “free love” angle that seems to hover around current media coverage of OWS). But the lack of early seriousness led to many being caught off guard when it came to the influential growth of force of the movement. In fact, well-respected media critic Howard Kurtz said in The Washington Post in 2010, “… CNN and MSNBC may have dropped the ball by all but ignoring the (Tea Party) protests.”
And now the Tea Party has caucuses in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, and is very influential (2010 elections, anyone?)
But if analysts such as Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport have suggested that the Tea Party movement is not a new political group, but simply a rebranding of traditional Republican candidates and policies.; are we also witnessing such a “rebranding” of Democratic Party, dare we even say Democracy, with the advent of OWS? Just how can you tell when a movement – this movement – has legs, so to speak?
Respected political theorist Dr. Benjamin Barber cites three steps in criteria. He says, “There are several points to consider:
1) look to see if the media is continuing to report on it. If you keep seeing coverage, it means there is something there; though you don’t have to believe everything that is reported. Just note the fact that there is reporting
2) inspect photos and voices of the protesters. Upon close inspection of many photos of OWS we can see great diversity in race, age and even dress. There are people in suits as well as casual clothing. This tells more of the real story.
3) watch for the capacity for the movement itself to persist and endure. If you see something strong, but it disperses after a week or two, then it’s probably not too serious. We see now OWS moving into its second month. It’s moving into other cities and other countries so that tells me that it embodies issues which touch a lot of people. A cord is being struck, and that suggests persistence. It may not be cohesive at the moment, but it’s there.”
However, according to an opinion piece media theorist Douglas Rushkoff recently posted, this is not a movement with a traditional narrative arc. He writes, “As the product of the decentralized networked-era culture, it is not about one-pointedness, but inclusion and groping toward consensus. It is not like a book; it is like the Internet. It models a new collectivism.”
Thus, it’s a new approach which may just call for wisdom in observation rather than quick judgment because, according to Dr. Barber, there is perhaps a worrisome side-effect to dismissing strong movement. He cautions, “There could be a danger in society not listening to loud and persistent voices of protest because the next sound one could her might be loud (verbal) fighting or loud violence. That could be the cost.”
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