It would be easy to dismiss the Occupy Wall Street protests as another disorganized and pungent liberal whinefest … because that's basically true. The demonstrations, taking place in New York and now other cities and other nations, have a classic lefty feel and scent. But there's more to this, if you dig deep enough. These protests do reflect the genuine economic fears that many Americans feel.
The few thousand that have turned out to occupy Wall Street 24-7 are mostly young, rarely bathe and chant a lot. (Even lefty comedian Jon Stewart compared it to concert festival "Bonnaroo.") Several were seen wearing face masks reminiscent of the movie "V for Vendetta," a common practice with the hacker group Anonymous which is backing the efforts. It adds a touch of street theater to the proceedings.
The protest has been going on for more than two weeks, but is drawing headlines as participants opt to ignore police warnings and get arrested. Seven hundred protesters were reportedly locked up in New York on Saturday because they didn't bother to get a parade permit and preferred to seize the Brooklyn Bridge while it was being used by traffic. While a police video clearly shows the protesters were told they would be arrested if they moved onto the bridge, their supporters are complaining long and loud about the mean old police officers. "Our bridge," they chanted. It's our bridge, too, they discovered.
The protest began with no stated goals, no public spokespeople and many of the most ridiculous attendees you could imagine - socialists, Code Pinkers, anarchists and more. (Anarchists are notoriously poor organizers.) Their slogans (they have many) include: "We are the 99 percent" and "This is what democracy looks like."
First off, no they are not the 99 percent. They are a very tiny piece of it, many of whom hate capitalism and want to see it overturned. You know, that system that helped make this country great and provided the wealth they now loathe. That's why a bunch of the protesters repeatedly interrupted an art auction at Sotheby's. It's even easier to mock the other slogan as "This is what democracy smells like," or as one person on Twitter said, "This is what hypocrisy looks like."
That's the kind of criticism they bring on themselves. The group's live video feed, which is often not live, is headlined "Global Revolution." They can't use megaphones (illegal), so they embrace "the people's microphone" where the crowd repeats each line a speaker says. It brings to mind laughable socialism such as actor John Candy in "Volunteers" discussing "the people's truck" filled with "the people's gas." Annie Day, one of the arrested protesters, told The New York Times her profession: "I'm a revolutionary." The headline of their protest paper, The Occupied Wall Street Journal, is "THE REVOLUTION BEGINS AT HOME."
Not exactly how to sell a movement to ordinary, taxpaying Americans, but demonstrators don't really care. Remember, this is a global effort. Many protesters aren't even American or despise American exceptionalism. But they have the force of propaganda on their side to push a typical liberal agenda and the media are throwing support behind them as well.
"A freelance reporter for The New York Times, Natasha Lennard, was among those arrested," wrote the Times. Unsurprisingly, the police can't tell Times reporters apart from radical leftists, a problem Americans have been grappling with for years.
The standard bearers of the liberal movement are already aligning themselves with the protest. "The actress Susan Sarandon stopped by, as did the Princeton professor Cornel West and former Gov. David A. Paterson of New York," explained the Times. Add Filmmaker Michael Moore, one-time funny lady turned shrill millionaire Roseanne Barr and throw in a growing union presence. It's Wisconsin East, except the protesters here aren't even striking from jobs. Many just don't work, though to be fair, that isn't always by choice.
Naturally, capitalism is their favorite target. They proclaim it in signs, comments and in interviews. Their "declaration of demands" reads like some deluded fantasy about things they hate in the world. Those include: corporate-produced food, animal testing, the death penalty, outsourcing, paying for tuition, campaign finance, colonialism and carbon-based energy. They left out some of the protest standards of "Free Mumia" and "Death to Israel," but those are sure to surface over time.
It's a classic catch-all designed to placate enough various radical agendas to garner media support. And it's already working. The Times is writing lovingly about such protest notables as one character named "Hero" and another called "Germ."
One NBC broadcast called it a "demonstrations against corporate greed," though how they were able to figure that out from the morass of demands is anybody's guess. ABC claimed "some Tea Party members have been down to Liberty Square to lend their support." They didn't explain how many hours they searched to find a few wayward Tea Partiers.
Staffers at the Russian government-supported Russia Today took a reliably anti-Wall Street stand and recalled the "Arab Spring" protests, saying this was "American Spring." (Does that make Obama equal to Egyptian dictator Mubarak?) Always comforting when Russians attack bankers. Last time they worked for Lenin, not Putin, but neither was pro-freedom.
Protesters complain that the Tea Party has gotten more news coverage, but they seem unaware most of that has been savagely negative. You won't see many old school journalists roaming this crowd looking for the most extreme loons, though that would be the easiest assignment in journalistic history.
But despite the lefty craziness and standard media love affair with such, even the protesters aren't 99 percent wrong. A web page devoted to horror stories of people trying to make it in a tough economy has far more impact than anything a bunch of protesters can manage. One man is unemployed, uninsured and battling cancer. Another is the parent of a young girl who wants a puppy but they have been unemployed for three years and can't afford it. No human could be unmoved by such agony, such fear.
Even there, though, the protests fall short. Mixed among the true hardship cases are people who voluntarily took on too much college debt. Young adults struggling with $30,000, $50,000 or more than $100,000 in student loans and surprised they're hard to pay off. And, of course, the occasional guilt-ridden lib who makes three times the median income but feels bad because he or she had parents who "could afford to send me to really good schools." My heart aches.
That's the crux of the problem with Occupy Wall Street. It doesn't distinguish between real problems Americans have and lots of things that reflect poor choices. But they are right that many Americans face true pain and the elite of both political parties seems completely out of touch about it.
If this protest has any chance for long-term impact, it's the fact that few in Washington are even aware Americans are pretty desperate and likely to listen to anyone - Tea Party or protesters - who has an answer.
Dan Gainor is the Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center's Vice President for Business and Culture. His column appears each week on The Fox Forum. He can also be contacted on Facebook and Twitter as dangainor.