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Biometric Door Locks and Bulletproof Windows: How Occupy Wall Street Is Scaring the Heck out of the 1%

Are the sustained protests in Manhattan's Financial District and around the country getting to the wealthy bankers who are being targeted?

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Now, of course, a Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs sweatshirt is something your bosses might warn you not to wear in public for fear of outrage.

Redefining the Terms of Debate

Executives like Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, as well as politicians like House majority whip Eric Cantor, who have been solidly allied with the 1 percent, seem to be feeling enough fear to actually cause them to cancel public appearances.

Blankfein was scheduled to talk at Barnard College, the women's college associated with Columbia University in New York, as part of a lecture series called (no joke) “Power Talks.” But Blankfein canceled when Barnard students planned their own protests, according to the  New York Times, called “School the Squid” (a reference to Matt Taibbi's now-infamous description of Goldman as a giant vampire squid). 

And Eric Cantor canceled an appearance at Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was scheduled (also no joke) to speak on the subject of income inequality.  Cantor canceled when he learned the speech would be open to the public and that he might actually have to face some disagreement, rather than the “Wharton Community,” who later distinguished themselves by chanting  “Get a job!” when the protest came to their campus despite Cantor's absence. Apparently business school isn't so good at explaining unemployment statistics.

While they still have power and influence far beyond that of the protesters in parks around the country, the wealthy and powerful are no longer able to completely control the terms of the debate. The media's normal ability to quote the powerful without feeling compelled to balance them with someone affected by their policies is negated somewhat by the power of a mass movement that provides all the quotes one could possibly need about the power of the wealthy and the impact of corporate greed.

Zaid Jilani at Think Progress noted that the occupiers seem to have successfully shifted the media narrative away from the Tea Party and Republican-determined obsession with deficits to the real economic crisis—jobs, jobs, unemployment, and jobs. He wrote, “It now appears that the resulting 99 Percent Movement has scored at least one victory: successfully re-framing media coverage onto the jobs crisis and real economy rather than trumped-up fears about the national debt or deficit.”

And bad publicity from police overreactions, from the Brooklyn Bridge arrests in New York to the rubber bullets and teargas used in Oakland, has led mayors and their police forces to promise to work with protesters rather than crack down on them, adding momentum to occupations and exercising some control over the police for the time being. From Albany to Cleveland, Oakland to New York, protesters are winning battles over their ability to claim and hold public space. 

Of course, the fear and pressure on the wealthy doesn't mean they're going to see reason--it's more likely that they'll double down, throwing more money at sympathetic politicians, investing more money in private security and public police departments, and fight back hard. 

Still, despite the fact that Goldman Sachs executives ignored the letters and the giant sign bobbing outside their window and are continuing business as usual, the occupiers appear to be winning the battle for the media, and as AlterNet's  Lynn Parramore wrote, the battle for public opinion.

And the battle for public opinion, in a democracy, is still the most important one.

Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @seasonothebitch.

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