Some Really Interesting Reporting & Writing on "Occupy Wall Street"


Via the Twitter feed of John Perry Barlow, I was pointed to this really interesting, heavily reported analysis of the "Occupy Wall Street" protest in New York City.

It's written by Robert Graham (ErrataRob), a self-identified libertarian at the blog Errata Security. He compares the #OWS protests to the Tea Party (and not in an invidious, snarkariffic way), gives actual details about the mass arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge (not a set-up by the coppers but the result of "stupidity and ignorance on both sides…barring a few on both sides who want to see the problem escalate"), notes that many of well-intentioned and dedicated participants are prisoners of pre-fab discourse (they spout "only propaganda" on various issues and, like many critics, are prisoners of "the filter bubble").

It's a terrific read, rich in details and thoughts I haven't seen elsewhere. Here's citizen journalism at its best. Which isn't to say it's holy writ, just that it's damn good stuff done by someone who did what pros claim to be doing. And aren't.

Snippets (all emphasis in original):

If you look at photographs in the news, you see the typical angry protester. This is the sort of action shot newsrooms prefer, i.e., showing the emotion of the scene.

But the protest isn't angry. Quite the opposite, it is loving and accepting. If you go up to protesters with the opposite political view and debate them, they will express their undying love for you and ask for you to join them to increase the diversity of viewpoints. I did this myself, and watched this happen to others, including cops. This attitude pervades everything they do, and is frequently reinforced by the hard-core occupiers….

This is the opposite of what happened during the protests against the Iraq war, the protests against the last Republican convention in New York or the violent protests during every G8 summit. Not only is this different than most other protests, it is the similar to the hyper-tolerant "Burning Man" festival that takes place in the Nevada desert every summer. Whether it's Burning Man or Occupy Wall Street, there is a cultural shift somewhere here. …

In many ways, the press treats this protest the way they treated the Tea Party, completely distorting the story. Journalists ignored the mainstream of the Tea Party and instead focused on the fringe. Instead of showing the hundreds of signs calling for smaller government, reporters instead focused on the one sign showing Obama as Hitler. In the end, this reporting became self-fulfilling. The Republican fringe disaffected with the establishment were convinced by this reporting, believing that they, too, should join the Tea Party, thus derailing it….

[The protesters'] loving acceptance of those who disagree with them is astonishing, but it's totalitarian. It asks that people give up their individuality to the state the occupiers are creating. Rather than free speech, the protest has a sort of "managed speech" to make sure everyone has equal time. There is also the flip side, that not to join the movement or to disagree with the protesters means that you are working against the interest of the people….

The protesters are…predominantly white with blacks underrepresented. On the flip side, blacks are over-represented in the police force. The protesters often compare themselves to the Civil Rights Movement, but the photographs of the recent arrests often show black policemen arresting white protesters. I don't know if this is a vindication of the Civil Rights Movement or if there is still more work to go, to get the blacks better ensconced in middle-class American to send their kids off to college with that combination of privilege and entitlement that turns them into protesters.

The makeup of the protesters also led to amusement among the cops, stationed in pairs on all four sides of the park. For some, their normal beat is in the poor areas of New York City. The police, who daily see the struggle of the real poor, had little use for protesters complaining about jobs while they carried around expensive MacBook computers paid for by their parents.

I mention the racial makeup for a specific reason. The Tea Party was also predominantly white, which was frequently reported in the news, despite the fact that guidelines tell reporters to avoid mentioning race when it's not relevant. They nonetheless reported it because it fit the narrative they wanted to tell about the Tea Party (that it has a racist component). In much the same way, they don't mention the racial makeup of the Occupation because it doesn't fit their narrative….

He concludes:

The press and pundits have already decided on the "narrative" that's independent of what's really going on. For example, many Republicans and Fox News commentators insist that this is "planned" by the left for some nefarious purpose. It isn't (although that might change if politicos seize control of the occupation). Conversely, the Left has a narrative about police oppression that isn't quite right, either….

Read the whole thing, including the serious and sharp ending that he neatly punctures with a smart, prophetic joke:

A decade from now, when the U.S. invades France over a cheese dispute, protesters will 'occupy' the streets using the same principles being developed now.

Trust me, it makes perfect sense in context.