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By Joel Straley
The media has become obsessed with the question “What does Occupy Wall Street want?” The media is becoming so frustrated trying to find the answer that they’ve begun to glorify the previous voice of protest in America, the Tea Party. They claim the Tea Party was different since it had a focused agenda and a stance on policies being pushed through congress. Just so we’re clear the agenda of the Tea Party was essentially “No Taxes, Small Government, President Obama is a Kenyan/Nazi.” In these turbulent times their concerns were less of about solutions and more about distractions.
The news media lives in such a fast-paced, ADHD vacuum that they cannot take seriously anything that isn’t creating constant soundbites, buzzwords or just some simple cheap gratification. It is obvious how this has affected political narratives in our country. This creates a confrontational dichotomy with two sides to every issue and nothing but complete cynicism and anger towards those with opposing viewpoints. Now instead of synthesizing our ideas and comprising in the name of progress, it is believed that anyone who disagrees with you lacks “common sense.” Politics is a game of conflict, policy is a game of compromise. The media is a business and creating conflicts gets ratings. Ratings get advertisers, everyone gets paid and nothing gets resolved.
The media sent out cameras to garner a bunch of these divisive soundbites to essentially write off the whole protest. This hasn’t been going as well as they planned:
The media loved the Tea Party because they gave them soundbites, confrontation and conflict. But they didn’t give any substance or thought to the new ideology and concerns they were supposedly bringing to America. They created news but had little concern for a discussion about solutions.
(Is Obama Hitler? Tonight on CNN)
In a time of economic turmoil with a jobs crisis and banks continuing to fight for their “right to profit" after having been bailed out by the government (by the taxpaying 99%) and Warren Buffet (who personally bailed out Bank of America while suggesting a tax hike on the top 1%), what would a bunch of disenfranchised citizens want in a protest against Wall Street and the lobbying control of congress? The media can’t figure it out no matter how many times they interview people holding signs that read "We are the 99%.”
The media just wants soundbites and the Tea Party was full of them because its message was so simplistic. Too simplistic. The Tea Party view of the global economy is one from the 1950’s (if not the 1150’s) while the Occupy Wall Street view is of 2011. If the goal of the Tea Party was truly to re-establish America to its 1776 roots then it’s surprising how overlooked the Occupy Wall Street’s approach is to that of Thomas Jefferson’s version of Ward Democracy with their holding of daily general assemblies.
When speakers at Tea Party events spoke about their economic views they were often so simplistic that I wondered how the crowd did not feel condescended to. Instead they cheered. It fed into the idea that this was “common sense.” In a way it was. But it was too common. It only restated the basic tenants of business as some new grand idea. It in no way took into consideration the current world that we live in and the economic challenges we face. Reading the syllabus of Econ 101 has to make a big leap in translation to truly tackle the greed of Wall Street whose rules are convoluted purposefully to mislead lawyers and politicians when investigating their tactics.
It’s all well and good to tell a crowd “The government shouldn’t tell you how to run your business” and get some applause. But we live in a world where the government tells an Oil company their Oil rigs aren’t up to standard and said Oil rig then explodes, killing 11 people and can’t be shut off, spending months pouring into the ocean while putting a substantial dent into the innocent coastal food markets. Now you start to see how there is a bigger discussion to be had here. This is also to say nothing of the complexities that come with financial regulations needed to correct the corruption and control of lobbyist over congress, which is essentially the black cloud that hangs over this entire debate.
The Tea Party achieved only one thing; getting media attention to their own narcissistic rambling. It shouldn’t even be a surprise that the Tea Party had no substance when they held events with speakers that ranged from wearing Revolutionary War costumes to an SNL cast member playing “The President is a Communist" on a ukulele. One of the most popular questions to a politician ever video-taped at one of these events was just a Veteran singing a verse from the Star-Spangled Banner.
There was no real agenda for the media to latch on to. Instead of having an agenda or a policy plan, it was just Americans who were angry and could unite over their bond of blind patriotism that is still connected to ancient ideals they don’t dare question, let alone take the time consider their relevancy to the cultural value changes that had made them so angry in the first place.
(You certainly never saw a sign like this at a Tea Party rally)
By pretending that the Occupy Wall Street protests don’t have any ‘demands’ or an ‘agenda’ the media is essentially admitting their own simple-mindedness. They’re too simple-minded to engage the conversation that Occupy Wall Street is trying to initiate (for instance: This ABC News segment). The Tea Party didn’t have a better or more succinct agendal; they just had a simple-minded, more confrontational agenda. We don’t live in nice and simple times. We face complex problems that will take a deep analysis and a sense of togetherness in order to find the solutions that reflect who we truly are as Americans.
Occupy Wall Street matters precisely because they don’t yet have answers to the questions they’re raising. They’re not fighting for short solutions to complex problems. We have been trying that for years. They’re fighting so we can try something new: having an actual discussion with each other without cutting off to a commercial break to appease advertisers. They’re fighting to try and get to what substance is even left in what we value in our society.
I constantly see conservatives bashing the Occupy Wall Street protests with the defense that the protesters are somehow spoiled and take the system for granted. Of course at some level they are spoiled-they’re Americans, they live in the richest country in the world in total GDP. But to be fair, the system has been taking them for granted for a long time. They are fighting to help improve the standard of life that America stands for, the one that it has allowed to drop to unacceptable levels. Through the lens of the media and those conservatives it is more American to just sing “Amazing Grace” in a microphone at a county fair than to believe we should be a more socially and economically just society. When did settling for whatever scraps you can get become so American? Is having pride that you had a house, even though it’s been foreclosed on an ideal America stands for?
In many cases those criticizing the Occupy Wall Street protests are showing a pride in their suffering and saying things such as “I don’t have health insurance and you don’t see me…” This comes from a party who recently went so far with their Tea Party libertarian ideals that they cheered for the death of those who lack health insurance coverage. It’s not that this is simply hypocritical as all those who brag that they “don’t have health insurance” could easily be left for dead under the policy changes they support. The fact that there is no substance in their ideology is what allows such deeply ironic hypocrisies to arise.
Every ideology has some hypocritical inconsistencies when it transforms from a passionate theory to a pragmatic practice. But if we rush to form sides before we even know what we’re debating we will never begin to have a real discussion, let alone find something we all agree on. For once, Isn’t that the kind of thing a guy at a podium, dressed like a Revolutionary war soldier, should be telling us?
And because it seems somewhat relevant: