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On the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the Death Rattle of the Old Media, and America's Economic Disparity

By Michael Murray | Think Pieces | October 14, 2011 |

By Michael Murray | Think Pieces | October 14, 2011 |

Like most people I know, the Occupy Wall Street Movement came to my attention slowly. Little snippets about a protest began to appear in my news feeds. I figured it was just the normal currents flowing out from my left-leaning friends and didn’t imagine that it, whatever exactly it was, would amount to much. But the links and clips just kept coming, often with accompanying gloss that asked, “Why isn’t the mainstream media covering this?!”

LeGreca.jpgThis now famous clip was thrilling, even cathartic to watch. Watching this hyper-articulate everyman in the questionable hat, completely schooling Fox News lapdog Griff Jenkins, I had the feeling that a generation was being defined, just the way that a hippie girl sticking a flower in the rifle barrel of soldier during the 60s did for that era. Even though Fox never aired the interview, it caught fire online and the speaker, a man named Jesse LeGreca, almost immediately assumed a somewhat unfortunate iconic status.

For the most part, the movement has been free of celebrity intrusions (Radiohead was rumored to be playing last week, but this turned out to be a hoax), lending the proceedings a sincerity and authenticity that seems foreign to our political discourse. The unvarnished honesty of the LeGreca interview, and the fact that Fox refused to air what was obvious journalistic gold, just served to pull back the curtain from the mechanisms of Big Media, revealing the frail, partisan Wizards of Oz pedaling madly away in the hopes of maintaining the illusions it daily casts out.

The fact that corporate media is biased and self-serving is not news. It’s fast becoming an irrelevant dinosaur and few of us now even bother to read a newspaper and only tune into the local news to see if anybody was shot down the block. Instead, we rely on our social media feeds, watch comedic deconstructionists like Colbert and Stewart (or whomever your political equivalent might be) and scan the blogs and magazines we’ve deemed germane. This creates a customized, boutique kind of news service where our own interests and prejudices are reinforced rather than balanced. For instance, living in my self-constructed information trench, I might think that the Occupy Wall Street movement is either more or less important than it might be, depending on what’s valued in my niche community. And so regardless of how we get our information, the world will remain mysterious and we’re ever in danger of living in a tribal ghetto, be it of our own construction (better, I think), or one that’s constructed by some corporate entity (worse, I think.).

Watch Griff Jenkins cover a Tea Party rally, noting that this one did go to air:

Keeping in mind the subjective vicissitudes of any reportage, the stuff I’ve been watching from Wall Street is utterly striking, even inspiring. More than anything, it reminds me of the post 9/11 coverage, possessing a hand-held, documentarian gravitas. It’s inchoate, at times disorganized and radically personal, and there’s very much the feeling that what’s taking place is an organic manifestation born from a multitude of small, but very real and painful economic disasters, a micro national tragedy countlessly repeated, rather than one great macro tragedy for all to see on TV. The fact this movement was the Arab-Spring inspired brainchild of culture jammers Adbusters does little to diminish its integrity.

Undoubtedly, much of the information that comes spinning toward us is presented without sufficient context, is misleading or flat-out wrong. I mean, very few of us really know if the wealthiest one percent of Americans own over 70 percent of the nation’s assets, or if the typical CEO in America earns more than 425 times that of the average employee in that company, a rate that is completely incongruous with the rest of the world. But we do know, in our bones and through our experience, that there is a radical imbalance of wealth in America.

Vividly skewed, the economic disparities are unfair and wrong, and each one of us can see this regardless of how well we’ve been served by the system, or how much we’re told about the beneficent intentions of the invisible hand. When a natively observed dissonance resonates with the intuition of enough people, then you have a sincere revolutionary movement, and to me that’s what Occupy Wall Street could become.

One of the beautiful things about this movement is that it didn’t arrive as a ready-made shock and awe campaign, but as more of an evolving flash-mob, as much street theatre as partisan political rally. It’s being treated as a moral issue, treating the opportunity for economic equality as a civil right, and there’s not one single, defining demand to be negotiated, but a necessity to open up a dialogue and reach some sort of humane consensus. No doubt, this process will be bitter, painful and destructive, but that’s the very nature of the revolutionary thinking that gave birth to America.

The system is fucked-up and people are suffering terribly. The elected politicians have little ability to do anything more than fidget at the margins, and whether the market goes up or down, those in power continue to prosper, their wealth multiplying, regardless of the very real and very meaningful fact that they’re actually not creating anything.

It boggles my mind that in a nation as genuinely awesome as the United States could have people who readily accept the imposition of mandatory automobile insurance from government, but take up arms at the thought of the imposition of mandatory health insurance from government. This, to me, suggests a culture dangerously out of sync, a place where having a car repaired is seen as more intrinsically valuable than having a human repaired.

For well over a century, brute capitalism has served North America well, but the mythic age of untrammelled expansion toward limitless horizons, where each generation would drive their car into a more prosperous future, is over. We’re in a different place now, and we have unanticipated obstacles and realities in front of us that the old system, built for a different world, can no longer accommodate. What’s in place isn’t working and things have to change, whether we want that to happen or not, and the people on the front lines of the this protest are the agents attempting to initiate this.

Unaffiliated with the dominant political class and refreshingly free of partisan self-interest, Occupy Wall Street slowly gathers momentum, metastasizing across the country and in Europe. I hope it becomes a long-term encampment and that all who feel disenfranchised, inspired or merely curious, make their way to New York’s financial district and stay, until the system that we all, one way or another labor beneath is fixed.

Inevitably, one generation bows to the next, and this point in history feels like that moment when a critical mass is reached and the world as we’ve known it begins to tumble. And for those who are religiously or apocalyptically inclined, you can bet that if Jesus were around he’d be the first one shaking the barricades, and he’s the one we’re all supposed to follow, isn’t he?

So where are you?

Michael Murray is a freelance writer. He presently lives in Toronto. You can find more of his musings on his blog, or check out his Facebook page.