Last night police used tear gas and billy clubs to prevent Occupy Wall Street protesters from expanding the area they control in Oakland, California. Suddenly the fact that a very small number of individual protesters had broken windows earlier in the day fell to page 100 of the news coverage. The main stream and rightwing news media could have gone to town trying to attach the destructive values of the vandals to everyone else in the peaceful and peace-loving Occupy Wall Street movement. But the police attack was a much more powerful, and frightening story that drowned out the peccadilloes of the few vandals in the crowd.
The lesson once again, the one that Oakland authorities don’t seem to want to learn, is that most of the public favor the protesters and it therefore attracts very negative publicity to act violently against them. As I explained to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter a few days ago, governments and corporations should wait out the occupiers. Although I support Occupy Wall Street, I nonetheless predict that the movement will either graduate to other methods or play itself out when the weather turns cold.
Meanwhile, another phalanx of the rightwing news media launched an attack on the Occupy Wall Street movement yesterday. Unfortunately, it’s a dud that shouldn’t do any damage to the image of the movement, at least not among those who can do some common sense thinking.
The Daily Caller, a Washington, D.C.-based website founded by conservative pundit Tucker Carlson and former Cheney factotum Neil Patel, reported that the average value of the homes of Occupy Wall Streeters arrested in NYC was $305,000, almost 70% more than the national average of $185,400 across the country.
The headline shouted out the message: Many Occupy Wall Street protesters live in luxury.
As experts, the article quotes other Daily Caller writers: “Sleeping beside the hardcore activists are increasing numbers of wealthy students turning up to make the most of the party atmosphere, drugs and free food,” reporters Paul Bentley and Micela McLucas wrote in October. “While they dress down to blend in, the youngsters’ privileged backgrounds are revealed by glimpses of expensive gadgetry or the absent minded mention of their private schools during heated political debates.”
We’re supposed to frown on these lazy rich kids who want to party instead of getting jobs.
But the statistic is both misleading and meaningless. Misleading, because they are based on arrests made in the New York City protest. Even if many of the protesters came from around the country, the largest number will naturally have come from the immediate region, i.e., New York City, Long Island, Northern New Jersey, Westchester county and Western Connecticut, all of which have among the very highest costs of living in the country. I’m sure the average cost per home of protesters in Cleveland and Pittsburgh are much lower, because most of the people protesting in those towns live in those low cost areas.
The statistics are meaningless for two reasons: The one message that all of the various Occupy Wall Street movements around the country have broadcast clear from say one is that the movement represents the other 99%. I assure you that someone living in a home worth $305,000 is not among the wealthiest 1% of the population, who, let’s remember, own 35% of all U.S. wealth.
But beyond that, who cares if some of the protesters come from the wealthiest 1%? I would be delighted if it turns out to be the case that people in the top 1% have financed the Occupy Wall Street movement. It means that there are unselfish people around who realize that they have been taking too much of the pie resulting in recession, joblessness and widespread economic unease. It means that there are people willing to put their society ahead of increasing their own largess, to sacrifice for the good of the nation.
Of course, some might call them class traitors. To be sure, anyone wealthy who is part of Occupy Wall Street is a traitor to the basic American ideology since the time of Reagan: the principle that people should always seek what is in their own best interest. The theory, which takes out of context and then misinterprets one sentence of the 18th century Scottish economist Adam Smith, proposes that if everyone seeks his own selfish good, unimpeded by the state of course, then society will prosper. History disproved this theory even before Smith was born, for example, Spain under Phillip II, the French ancien régime and the last centuries of the Roman Empire.
The number of traitors to Reaganism increases on a daily basis, even if most of our elected officials still prefer to ignore or diminish our growing numbers. If in fact some truly wealthy people are involved in Occupy Wall Street, it’s good reason for the other 99% to rejoice.