Published November 04, 2011
Press Should Occupy History Books Before Protest Coverage
“Corporate profits on the rise, soldiers have to bleed and die!”
-- Chant from Occupy Wall Street protesters joined by 100 veterans for a march on the New York Stock Exchange, as reported by the Associated Press.
The California-as-Greece meme picked up steam this week when Oakland turned into the poor man’s Athens – clashes with police, protesters shutting down the city’s port (one of Oakland’s few remaining economic engines) and calls for a general strike.
And there is a genuine danger for California, which has come upon some very hard times. The state is utterly broke and likely past its ability to increase revenue through tax increases. Wealthy individuals and businesses are fleeing the state for spots in Texas and across the West. New taxes would only worsen the trend.
California Democrats were able to resist the Republican wave in 2010 and, thanks in large part to hugely powerful government-worker unions, managed to elect Jerry Brown governor. But penury is still forcing some austerity measures and there will be many more to come, especially as, for the first time in the modern era, California will probably lag the national economic recovery, rather than lead it.
Lots of government workers upset about austerity, 2 million unemployed, a substantial permanent protest community, under-funded law enforcement agencies further constrained by public sympathy for the resistance and unresolved racial and ethnic tensions – that’s the recipe for some real chaos if the Occupy Wall Street movement can sustain itself on the Pacific.
But it’s different Back East. Here, the winter weather is starting to roll in, making permanent encampment for the anti-corporate forces of Occupy Wall Street harder to maintain. Plus, local populations are a lot less forgiving of disruption and nuisance, which empowers police and limits the expressions of solidarity from within the government.
When the Oakland rioters called for a general strike, local government agencies volunteered to let workers use leave time to join the march. That’s not happening East of the Rockies, at least so far. There are some jurisdictions where government workers have that kind of sway – most of Maryland, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Rhode Island and a few other spots – but the annoyance expressed by many in liberal New York for the malodorous emanations from Zucotti Park are more typical of the reaction to the protest clusters.
That hasn’t stopped many on the left and the right from casting the protests as matters of major importance. But Power Play would point out that by historical standards, this is strictly chicken feed.
Leaving aside the anti-Vietnam protests and the peaceful civil-rights movement and the riots of the 1960s and 1970s, which were fueled by the specific complaints about the war or racial grievance rather than a strict focus on the alleged evils of capitalism, you have to go back to the Depression era to find real social upheaval of the kind the Occupy folks seek.
Media reports this week marveled at the presence of 100 veterans at the Occupy Wall Street encampment, with the Associated Press enthusing: “A week before Veterans Day, generations of former military men and women threw their considerable weight behind the Occupy movement born in mid-September...”
Reporters are jazzed about covering the Occupy Wall Street movement, perhaps out of ideological bent but mostly out of a desire to be covering something world-changing. Add in a lack of historical perspective, and you have a recipe for some really gooey reporting.
Having 100 veterans out of the 22 million in the nation show up to protest isn’t significant. It might be effective messaging for the protesters to put forward a military appearance to undercut the popular notion that they are a bunch of hippies, but it’s not “generations of former military men and women throwing their considerable weight” behind the movement.
If 30 percent of America’s adult population is comprised of veterans, it shouldn’t be too impressive that 5 percent of 2,000 protesters served in uniform.
Power Play would remind reporters that in the spring of 1932, an army of as many as 17,000 veterans joined by tens of thousands of like-minded marchers, invaded Washington to demand early payment of their bonuses for their World War I service, not due until 1945.
They “occupied” Washington for months before a bloody clash with police prompted President Hoover to call out the Army to break up the encampments with then-Maj. George Patton commanding tank and cavalry units to drive them out of the capital city.
Shacks burning in the shadow of the Capitol and bayonets out on Pennsylvania Ave. – now that would have been a story to cover. It was certainly more action than writing about a graduate student live blogging from a tent across from the K Street Starbucks.
The temptation to overhype Occupy events will be acute again today as pressure mounts on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to shut down the long-running protest colony in Lower Manhattan because of the complaints of local taxpayers weary of the noise, odor and disruption.
There will also be some merry prankster antics in Washington as conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which receives funds from the Koch family, a particular target of liberal outrage, holds a meeting in D.C. where Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Herman Cain will speak.
But whether Americans are now just too indifferent or if the presence of public-welfare programs has shrunk the pool of potential economic revolutionaries or if things just aren’t that bad, the press should consider taking a deep breath when it comes to coverage of the current movement.
Americans have been rebelling since day one, first for their freedom and since then over everything from whisky taxes to police brutality. And while Oakland offers a stark warning for Californians about the potential direction of their state, the current moment calls for calmer coverage.
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.