Opinion: Wall Street Protests Skip the Script - and Why that's Good

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 - 12:08 PM

Protest signs line a sidewalk in the Wall Street area. (Kathleen Horan/WNYC)

What's happening on Wall Street? An ongoing protest, now in its second week, has brought together a wide array of participants from political newcomers afraid for their own economic security to veteran activists who pull upon a range of culture jamming techniques to celebrity endorsers, including Roseanne Barr, who made her way to Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. And today, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore joined in.

There is an inter-generational quality as economic insecurity has shown little respect for age. There is determination as well as anger, creativity as well as earnestness. And while there are themes that rise up again and again - that corporations have too much control over our lives and our political process, that Wall Street is still reaping profits while our country is suffering, that there needs to be accountability for those who caused this financial crisis - there is not one single chant. The Occupy Wall Street effort has been intentionally leaderless, in a way confounding both to the authorities and the conventional media.

The New York Times has received its fair share of criticism for its limited ability to understand the events (and Allison Kilkenny of the Nation offers a healthy alternative take.  And more sensational moments of police violence have attracted a greater share of attention than the messages of the protesters.

Twitter reports have recounted police asking to speak to "whoever is in charge" to the amusement of protesters. The media coverage of the first week of protest was scant, perhaps due in part to the absence of official spokespeople. While Michael Moore has shown his support and the organization Adbusters is credited with some of the inspiration, the actual events unfolding aren't following Moore's script or Adbusters' scheme - it's something more organic bubbling up, a petrie dish for dissatisfaction and frustration and mobilization, the result of which won't be known until after this process runs its course.

Which is counter to how many protests work - with scheduled speakers, officially printed signs, organized buses. But as those marches on Washington have found less and less traction in the media and the public imagination over the years, maybe something less scripted has a chance to break out.

While Occupy Wall Street has not found its narrative in mainstream media yet, it has resonated with other activists around the country and the world who are launching similar ongoing protests in other major cities. Twitter has been able to communicate the diverse, at-times cacophonous range of experiences and expressions at Zuccotti Park better than conventional media reporting - and in that way, a story is getting told that is inspiring more activity. Where all of this energy leads - into more street action or political change, into a new movement or nowhere at all - is a story still being written 140 characters at a time.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."


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Comments [20]


The wall street protests are going to get worse real fast - just read this - here comes the calvalry!

Oct. 20 2011 09:54 PM
Andy Cox from Sheptn Mallet

What is it with this 'Occupy Wall Street'? They're meant to be anti-capitalist, right? But what is capitalism? Simply put, it is a system wherein goods and services are produced solely in order to be sold on a market with a view to realising a profit. As such, it is a universal system, and no matter that some regimes may cynically style themselves as 'socialist' or 'communist', all are in fact capitalist, whether of the state or private variety - or something in between. This is what capitalism is all about: Profit. So if you want to straitjacket the system - to ameliorate the effects of capitalism - all you'll end up with is capital withdrawing to some locale more accommodating. Let’s get real!!
Hence, genuine anti-capitalism is all about nothing less than abolishing the entire decadent wasteful system. What does that involve? In a nutshell, it entails a world-wide democratic revolution aimed at abolishing money, wages, profits, private (or state) ownership of the means of production, and all the other features of capitalism, and replacing it with a world-wide system in which goods and services are freely accessed, where production is democratically controlled, and where the means of production are held in common. This is the only legitimate meaning of communism - forget the crap spouted by both the right and the left. Want to know more? Check out:

Oct. 17 2011 06:18 AM
rod from Santa Barbara

It is time the movie stars to cut on the millions
they take for a month work and share some
of their big money with the US hard working
but low paid people.
A doctor is paid for a surgery
absolutely peanuts comparing with a movie
star from Hollywood.
Is obscene how much movie stars a paid !

Oct. 15 2011 07:47 PM
Beverly Yoshioka from Puerto Rico

Lots of sympathy for the protests, but it is time to come up with solutions/measures to help control greed that adds zip to the economy. Wall Street and the banks are being allowed to promote and participate in gambling that would not be allowed in casinos.

For starters:
1)No more mortgage bundling--banks should hold the bag for the loans they give out.
2)Outlaw "short trading"--why on earth should we be betting against businesses like this--adds no value to the economy.
3)Put a stop to microsecond trading now popular with the supercomputer traders--it has nothing to do with the value of companies. Setting a 5 minute lag time on trading would fix this.

Oct. 14 2011 08:37 PM
Walter Paul from TX

I am 70.5 years of age and I love it.., time for the people in this country to kick out those greedy old foggies in congress and the white house.. Bring the troops home now and StOP Printing $$$.. close the borders and eject anyone who is not a citizen. and tell corparte amercia if you want to stay in business make your products here in the USA or SHUT DOWN.. no exucses anymore. Tell wall-mart to BUT america or go to CHINA and stay there.

Oct. 03 2011 02:41 PM
sharon horvath from queens

I vote for "Occupy Wall Street" to change it's name to "The Main Street Party"

Oct. 03 2011 10:33 AM

I find it odd that something would need a "narrative" to be considered newsworthy. Isn't the fact that it's happening enough? Narrative implies that you already know the end of the story, which is fine for history book. The job of the media, however, is to investigate what's currently unfolding and report the facts, regardless if it fits into a neat little easy-to-digest package.

Shouldn't the fact that this is new and harder to classify make it even more newsworthy and notable. Just goes to show you that the media isn't interested in reporting but in telling the same old stories that everyone like to hear because they're comfortable with what they know. That's pandering, not even good. Only entertainers should pander, not reporters.

Oct. 01 2011 09:05 AM

I find the collective organization, protest, and non-violent civil disobedience of the Occupy Wall Street crowd extremely refreshing. Some of their ideas seem nebulous and naive to me, but I agree that there are serious problems with the government of the USA, the banking/financial system, the health care system, the electoral system, I could go on and on. I've watched financial regulations put in place as a reaction to the depression of the 1930's to protect the majority of the American people from unscrupulous financial entities, whether people or corporations, get whittled away during the last 40 years. Just before the banking crisis of 2008, I saw ridiculous Mortages being advertised, and I though who would accept such a harmful loan. Morgage brokers called me frequently, offering these unfavorable loans. They offered no down payments, no credit checks, exagerated analysis of the customers ability to pay, low interest teaser rates, no principle payments. Obviously many uninformed people did take thes loans and suffered unpleasant consequences. Why was this allowed to happen? Why weren't unscrupuous mortgage brokers punish? Why aren't students taught to see though this nonsense in high school?

To begin with we need additional political parties in the USA; the Democrats and Republicans no longer represent the majority of people in thes country. Both existing parties are overly influenced by lobbyists; we need a political party that will not accept donations from corporations, unions, and other organizations, and limits all annual donations from individuals to a set amount, perhaps $1000, perhaps less. If we can elect legislators that are not beholden to the financial powers that be, maybe the coruption that plagues our society can be alleviated. In addition, people in the USA need to be educated enough about finance to protect themselves from unscrupulous loans and other financial venues.

Occupy Wall Street, keep up your protest, we need it.

Sep. 29 2011 01:45 PM
Brandt Hardin from Clarksville, tN

The movement is gaining momentum after a week and a half and Occupy movements are popping up all over the country! Stand up together and use your voice to give to those without. Tax the rich and feed the poor- you are the 99%! See my Occupy Wall Street painting and Anonymous homage on my artist’s blog at where you can also see videos of the protests and police brutality as well as get other sources for real coverage of the movement.

Sep. 28 2011 05:33 PM
84 and protesting from sag harbor and the Bronx

witnessing all this, I am 100% in agreement that this nation is in peril and I'll be down in Wall street with the rest this week-end!

Sep. 28 2011 03:46 PM
Gene Falco from Philippines

keep up the work, do not break the law. to get more press fly the American flag upside down as a signal of emergency for her distress. And God bless you always by faith in Jesus, gene

Sep. 28 2011 12:15 PM
Gene Falco from Philippines

do not break the law, and keep up the good work.
To get press like the American flag upside down as a signal of emergency in dire distress. I wish you well by faith in Jesus.

Sep. 28 2011 12:12 PM
Tom Louagie from Santa Cruz, California

The message is simple - "We're mad as hell, and we aren't going to take it anymore."
We're a long ways away, but if you can keep it going, some of us will join you when we can.

Sep. 27 2011 11:34 PM
Jane from New York City

There is something very deeply sick about a society that allows some of its people to die because they cannot afford healthcare or medication, while allowing others to earn salaries in the millions. (How many millions does one personal need, anyway?) Such disparity is inhuman and this is NOT what American should be about. I would love to see some sort of national strike so the corporations could see how much collective power a united nation truly has.

Sep. 27 2011 08:53 PM
Tired from NY

I think I speak for many when I say that I wish I could afford to take time off to stand there with them.

This real-life triage is what's been holding Americans at bay, and keeping most of us from speaking above an exhausted grumble. The holders, movers and shakers of our corporatocracy know it all too well. Growing, maintaining, and deploying superior resources against an exhausted populace (target) is their go-to paradigm for keeping things going their way, and maximizing what can be siphoned off from us.

We will only fix this mess when we stop exhausting ourselves and our budgets with marketed distractions, and re-enter real life with our full attention. (This engineered exhaustion is a major factor in the protesters' apparent lack of focus -- these people are still emerging from the haze, albeit ahead of the rest of us.)

Again, I wish I felt I had a real choice to help. But most of us would be neglecting responsibilities or risking loss of job to do so.  ( I just used my allotted lunchtime to add this comment.)

Sep. 27 2011 06:13 PM
Conor McLeod from Raleigh, North Carolina

Want to know something hilarious? I live in North Carolina and have heard next to nothing of this protest! I SUPPORT IT, though! I will admit that I google'd it many times, with a different combination of phrases, words, etc. I think that people are paying to prevent it from being searched because, for some reason, it won't show up. Why is the media not covering this? It is major news! If I was not in school right now, I would use my unemployment money to fly up there and join in; further, I saw that "Officer Bologna" character - the guy with the pepper spray? Sickening and sad that there is no news on him, either. And, like I said, I find it very odd that I cannot find much information upon googling the protests - I think the government has something to do with blocking it out. I am glad, though, to have found this site (after about 20 minutes of searching) and to have the ability to comment on the situation. To all the protesters: Hang in there! Know that there are some people (well, at least one) hundreds of miles away who is smiling, knowing that there are people who are not afraid to stand up for what is right. THANK YOU!

Sep. 27 2011 05:16 PM
seems to me from Brooklyn

this is about more than just wall street, there is an underlying theme that even President Obama won't touch about the lack of equal reciprocity in society. It's not just taxes, it's about resetting value sets all over the system. This capitalist economy has focused on short term gains for too long, while turning a blind eye to the whole.

Sep. 27 2011 03:08 PM
louis perez from wilmington, nc.

Wall st. has been the beast that needs killing for many years.

I lived through the 30's, their was talk (Union Square) then of marching to Wall St. and finishing the guilty ones. They did it again and if not stopped they will do it again. Let us begin to end this tyranny.

Sep. 27 2011 02:11 PM
Jeremy Hummel from New York, NY

Sign the petition to jail Anthony Bologna for assault and remove Raymond Kelly as police commissioner!

Sep. 27 2011 02:01 PM
CJ from Philadelphia PA

I support the protesters 100%. Corporate Greed and dirty politicians who accept their money as well as individual multi millionaires that influence politicians though donations or the threat of supporting the opposing candidate if you do not vote my way. We have real problems and Democrats and Republicans and other smaller political groups are all dirty.

Sep. 27 2011 01:33 PM

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