In light of the recent protests, the following article makes a very good point:
“This simple concept—that the vast majority of us are getting screwed because of policies that protect the rich minority—is the best populist message I’ve heard in years. Unlike Occupy Wall Street’s official declaration, which couches the movement’s many demands in terms of “they”—the rich—this slogan draws attention to “we,” to the people’s sheer numbers, and therefore our power. It distills the movement’s huge range of issues into one devastating phenomenon: the wealth gap. It reclaims populism from conservatives and the Tea Party in a very literal way, yet it doesn’t divide the country along political party lines.”
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This made me think of what defines grassroots activism of the populist variety. How can one tell that a political movement is authentic in this sense? Two things came to mind.
First, populism is by definition what is popular. Populism can’t be based on a minority position, can’t be dominated by partisan activists on either of the far wings of the political spectrum.
The Tea Party, for example, wasn’t populist. They were in fact further to the right than the average Republican. Their original message of fiscal responsibility appealed to independents and even some liberals and left-wingers, but the movement was taken over by vocal social conservatives: God, guns, and gays. This criticism of those who co-opted the Tea Party comes from even some of the early leaders, organizers, participants, and supporters of the Tea Party.
A movement can’t claim to be populist when it is funded by big business (Koch brothers) and promoted by a partisan major news company (Fox News). These big money funders helped put on some of the ‘protest’ events (including paying for buses to transport people to the events) and heavily covered them in the media. They sent some of their best media pundits to lend support. They even at times tried to pump up the crowd in the way they would do with a studio audience and used fake footage to make events look larger.
Second, populist grassroots movements will never be treated fairly or positively by most of the mainstream media. Typically, this is how it works. Populist grassroots movements are initially ignored. If they won’t go away and can’t be ignored, they will only be briefly mentioned in a way that draws the least amount of attention as possible. If the movements actually grow in numbers and influence, the MSM will increasingly refer to them dismissively and try to portray them negatively.
Obviously, a populist grassroots movement wouldn’t be treated in the way the Tea Party was treated. It’s not so much if a movement is treated positively or negatively when it first starts. Rather, the first sign to look for is if the movement gets any significant media attention at all. The Tea Party received immediate attention whereas the Wall Street Occupation was initially ignored.
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To demonstrate these two points, consider the anti-war protests during the Bush administration. It was the largest and most wide-spread protest movement in US and world history.
Was it non-partisan? Yes. It included Ron Paul libertarians and left-libertarians, right-wingers and left-wingers, anarchists and socialists, social justice Christians and pacifists, and on and on.
Was it treated fairly by the MSM? Of course not. Relative to its size, it received very little attention and most of that attention wasn’t positive.
As the largest and most wide-spread protest movement ever to exist, one would expect that it would have been taken more seriously and that it would have had greater impact on Washington. A real populist grassrooots movement wouldn’t likely get so many politicians into power so quickly as the Tea Party did, and certainly if they did those politicians wouldn’t be so partisan as the Tea Party politicians are. Tea Party politicians are simply right-wing Republicans.
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In the context of the above, is the Wall Street Occupation a populist grassroots movement?
I don’t know enough about it at present, but it seems to closer to the anti-war protests than to the Tea Party protests. So, I’ll be watching the news about the protests with all of this in mind. I certainly hope it is and remains a populist grassroots movement. That is what we need right now. Eventually, there will be a breaking point. The Tea Party failed, but maybe it was a learning experience for some activists which will help them avoid the same pitfalls.
As a sign of what seems like a more grassroots populism, I noticed two things following my posting the above. First, I read a number of articles in the alternative media praising the Occupy Wall Street movment and I also noticed some more establishment media articles (including from liberal sources such as Mother Jones) that criticized the movement. Second, I noticed one particularly interesting thing in a short article with a video:
“In our first episode: The 99ers are a small but determined movement of the long-term unemployed (whose unemployment benefits ran out after 99 weeks). One NYC band of 99ers went on Friday to join Occupy Wall Street, where the occupiers have taken to calling themselves “The 99 percent.” Watch what happens:”