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Occupy Lawrence

As Heard from the Hill’s Rebecca Fensholt and Jason Swartz give us their perspectives on the Wall Street demonstrations.

Rebecca Fensholt on Occupy Lawrence:

On September 17th, over one thousand demonstrators marched on the streets of New York City to protest government corruption and corporate greed in an ongoing event now known as “Occupy Wall Street.” The movement has grown across the nation, taking on the name “Occupy Together” as thousands of citizens rally in their hometowns in an attempt to represent the “99% who will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.” These figures refer to wealth disparity in the United States today, in which one percent of the population holds a majority of the nation’s wealth and income. The protests have attempted to spread doubt across the nation on the legitimacy of a system based in corporate power and a regime influenced by private financial contributions.

Even the location of the Wall Street protests provides an example of the privatization of once-public institutions. Demonstrators have taken up temporary residence in an area that was formerly known as “Liberty Plaza Park,” but is now re-named “Zucotti Park” after the businessman who privately funded renovations to the area in 2006. The irony is bleak, but this example shows how private funds have provided for American citizens in the past: New York City would not have chosen to afford renovations to a park without substantial contributions from a private financier.

While the government has an obligation to provide the public with certain necessities, government institutions cannot fund many projects without an alteration of the economic system on a federal level through means such as limiting defense spending or raising taxes. Corporate influence in the government prevents these kinds of policy changes. As corporations take hold of opportunities to prop up the government by selectively providing for the public when the government has failed to do so, officials in turn recognize the financial benefits of allowing such corporate interference in public and official institutions. The further this logic circulates, the more corporate influence grows.
Occupiers seek to call out the problems that have developed through this relationship.

American political philosopher Sheldon Wolin coined the term “Inverted Totalitarianism” in his 2008 publication, “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.” This phrase describes the corporatization of American government today. Don’t let connotation turn you off to his idea – in this theory, Wolin describes an amalgamation of corporations and government that has led to a corporate-centered state. In inverted totalitarianism, Wolin claims that mass mobilization is subverted by citizen disengagement and collectivism cast off in favor of individualism. Occupy Together turns this trend over.
This movement stands on a platform of solidarity as a means to mobilize the masses – the 99% – against state corporatization. This movement has set out to evolve modern American political culture from a state of complaints and complacency into a state of political expression and action. This movement is two steps away from inverted totalitarianism and one step towards democratic civil engagement.

James Swartz was on the scene during Lawrence’s own “Occupy Together” demonstration to give KJHK listeners input from local residents who took to the street this past Saturday to stand up for “the 99%.”

Occupy Together has been compared with the Tea Party as an example of radical political expression with intent to revolutionize the inner workings of American government. Evaluations of the Occupiers in relation to Tea Partiers vary in depth and consistency, but one contrast stands out in the analysis of each group’s political influence: that is, the level of media coverage. Mainstream media has only touched on Occupy Together as a side note in national news coverage. Why is the media set on ignoring one of the most significant political movements in recent years?

Privatization of mainstream media is increasing with greater focus on selling stories than informing the public. Media conglomerates are corporations, and coverage of abducted children or the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is more likely to compete with this week’s episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” than a story about indebted college students holding signs and camping out in a public park.

Sheldon Wolin, author of “Democracy Incorporated,” also claims that a corporatized government relies on private media as a means to pacify citizens. Funding to media corporations and politicians overlap in a way that allows the public and the electorate to be viewed as “market segments.” The market is open and the person with the highest bid wins authority over media coverage. It is unlikely that the highest bidder in this case will have must interest in promoting Occupy Together. Views held by the Tea Party, on the other hand, at times align with corporate financial interests and often receive significant media coverage.

Occupy Together has also been compared to the Arab Spring; in fact, Occupy’s website claims that the recent string of revolutions abroad inspired the initial occupation of Wall Street in New York City. Citizens of Middle Eastern and North African nations spent months on the streets to demand equality, transparency and accountability from their governments, similar to the message of Occupy Together. However, Occupiers’ lack of organization and leadership has resulted in confusion of goals and has likely contributed to the marginal media coverage as journalists struggle to define activists’ intentions.
While Middle Eastern and North African protestors formed oppositional parties and developed policy proposals, American Occupiers have done little more than produce a laundry list of grievances without offering much factual evidence to support claims of greed and corruption, despite easy access to such information, much less potential solutions. Students paint signs lamenting debt from loans while professionals call out the failings of capitalism, yet problems in the corporatization of public education institutions and faults in the American economic system are left implicit.
Further, only a handful of cities have emulated the tactics employed by Arab Spring revolutionaries who occupied streets day and night to promote their interests. Towns such as

Lawrence have instead organized short-term events such as the protest last Saturday. Public attention to Occupy Together’s message lasts only as long as the visibility of its spokespeople, and a three hour-long protest is fleeting at best.

The effectiveness of the demonstrations will be determined not only by the endurance of its members, but also by the clarity of the message and strength of the argument.

Occupy Together is closing in on its one-month mark of protesting corporate greed and government corruption in favor of the “99%” of the population. You can update yourself on the progression of this political movement online and through media outlets such as KJHK.