Saturday, October 01, 2011

Glenn Greenwald: What's Behind the Scorn for the Wall Street Protests?

What's Behind the Scorn for the Wall Street Protests?
by Glenn Greenwald
Common Dreams

It's unsurprising that establishment media outlets have been condescending, dismissive and scornful of the ongoing protests on Wall Street. Any entity that declares itself an adversary of prevailing institutional power is going to be viewed with hostility by establishment-serving institutions and their loyalists. That's just the nature of protests that take place outside approved channels, an inevitable by-product of disruptive dissent: those who are most vested in safeguarding and legitimizing establishment prerogatives (which, by definition, includes establishment media outlets) are going to be hostile to those challenges. As the virtually universal disdain in these same circles for WikiLeaks (and, before that, for the Iraq War protests) demonstrated: the more effectively adversarial it is, the more establishment hostility it's going to provoke. (Occupywallst.org)

Nor is it surprising that much of the most vocal criticisms of the Wall Street protests has come from some self-identified progressives, who one might think would be instinctively sympathetic to the substantive message of the protesters. In an excellent analysis entitled "Why Establishment Media & the Power Elite Loathe Occupy Wall Street," Kevin Gosztola chronicles how much of the most scornful criticisms have come from Democratic partisans who -- like the politicians to whom they devote their fealty -- feign populist opposition to Wall Street for political gain.

Some of this anti-protest posturing is just the all-too-familiar New-Republic-ish eagerness to prove one's own Seriousness by castigating anyone to the left of, say, Dianne Feinstein or John Kerry; for such individuals, multi-term, pro-Iraq-War Democratic Senator-plutocrats define the outermost left-wing limit of respectability. Also at play is the jingoistic notion that street protests are valid in Those Bad Contries but not in free, democratic America.

A siginificant aspect of this progressive disdain is grounded in the belief that the only valid form of political activism is support for Democratic Party candidates, and a corresponding desire to undermine anything that distracts from that goal. Indeed, the loyalists of both parties have an interest in marginalizing anything that might serve as a vehicle for activism outside of fealty to one of the two parties (Fox News' firing of Glenn Beck was almost certainly motivated by his frequent deviation from the GOP party-line orthodoxy which Fox exists to foster).

The very idea that the one can effectively battle Wall Street's corruption and control by working for the Democratic Party is absurd on its face: Wall Street's favorite candidate in 2008 was Barack Obama, whose administration -- led by a Wall Street White House Chief of Staff and Wall-Street-subservient Treasury Secretary and filled to the brim with Goldman Sachs officials -- is now working hard to protect bankers from meaningful accountability (and though he's behind Wall Street's own Mitt Romney in the Wall Street cash sweepstakes this year, Obama is still doing well); one of Wall Street's most faithful servants is Chuck Schumer, the money man of the Democratic Party; and the second-ranking Senate Democrat acknowledged -- when Democrats controlled the Congress -- that the owners of Congress are bankers. There are individuals who impressively rail against the crony capitalism and corporatism that sustains Wall Street's power, but they're no match for the party apparatus that remains fully owned and controlled by it.

But much of this progressive criticism consists of relatively (ostensibly) well-intentioned tactical and organizational critiques of the protests: there wasn't a clear unified message; it lacked a coherent media strategy; the neo-hippie participants were too off-putting to Middle America; the resulting police brutality overwhelmed the message, etc. etc. That's the high-minded form which most progressive scorn for the protests took: it's just not professionally organized or effective.

Some of these critiques are ludicrous. Does anyone really not know what the basic message is of this protest: that Wall Street is oozing corruption and criminality and its unrestrained political power -- in the form of crony capitalism and ownership of political institutions -- is destroying financial security for everyone else? Beyond that, criticizing protesters for the prominence of police brutality stories is pure victim-blaming (and, independently, having police brutality highlighted is its own benefit).

Most importantly, very few protest movements enjoy perfect clarity about tactics or command widespread support when they begin; they're designed to spark conversation, raise awareness, attract others to the cause, and build those structural planks as they grow and develop. Dismissing these incipient protests because they lack fully developed, sophisticated professionalization is akin to pronouncing a three-year-old child worthless because he can't read Schopenhauer: those who are actually interested in helping it develop will work toward improving those deficiencies, not harp on them in order to belittle its worth.

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