As Occupy Wall Street Gains Momentum, a Harsh Critic Recants in the Mainstream

The Occupy Wall Street movement is gaining momentum. After  disturbing, video-documented police brutality and 80 arrests at their march last Saturday, non-supporters and skeptics are being forced to notice a group for the people - the 99%  - suffering without the wealth hoarded by the ultra-rich. Once facing a mainstream media blackout, the Occupy Wall Street  movement is now up against a different obstacle - one that it seems to be overcoming.  

Media as popular as Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore have spoken out against against insufficient Occupy Wall Street coverage, which has appeared to give way to a cesspool for criticism.  But today, in a powerful display of Occupy Wall Street's growing popularity, the bold demonstrations and their supporters earned a harsh critic's corrected analysis. 

Sally Kohn's September 27th piece for the American Prospect  totally slammed Occupy Wall Street.  Categorizing demonstrators as unorganized, purposeless punks and "reincarnate hippies," Kohn suggested that the demonstrators were camping out, marching daily, and facing police brutality just for sake of a protest - for the fun of it, so to speak. But today, in a piece for CNN, Kohn expressed a drastic change in heart.  Instead of calling the protestors inefficient anarchists, she actually likened them to Ghandi and Frederick Douglass.  

From Kohn's CNN piece "Protestors: Today's 'rioters', tomorrow's righteous":

The first recorded use of the phrase "protest march" was in 1913 to describe a demonstration organized by Mohandas Gandhi against the South African government's restrictions on Indian nationals. After Gandhi was arrested and the protests grew more heated in response, the South African government labeled the gatherings "riots." Ever since, impassioned groups of politically similarly situated people have been called either protesters or rioters. Which phrase you choose mainly depends on where your own political sympathies lie.


This weekend, after protesters involved in the Occupy Wall Street actions were arrested by police, the New York Post called the demonstration a "near riot" while Salon said the occupation involved mostly "beds, kitchens, peaceful barricades"

I'm not going to weigh in the relative merits of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Suffice it to say I'm sympathetic with their critique that our economy and political system is too beholden to the interests of Wall Street, overlooking or even abusing the middle class and the poor. In fact, polls show that more than two-thirds of Americans think major corporations, banks and financial institutions have too much power in our society. Yet I imagine there are some fed-up Americans nonetheless scratching their heads as to why a bunch of their fellow citizens are camped out in our nation's financial headquarters in New York.


She continued,

Frederick Douglass once said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand." Douglass knew of what he spoke. Because black people and poor whites weren't even allowed to vote in the early days of our Union, slavery could only be ended through protest. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, black and white Americans launched protests and outright revolts against the system of slavery. Many of those protests were peaceful. Sadly, some were not. But looking back, we don't condemn Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner and John Brown for their "riots" -- just as most Americans don't condemn the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Ella Baker, even though at the time, all these great heroes were attacked and tarnished for their protests.

And then came her most powerful point, through which she clearly recanted her former criticism:

What is brave and noble through the distance of history can often seem disorderly and disruptive in the present. Think of the Boston Tea Party, which helped spark the American Revolution. The nervous British ruling class denounced it as a riot. And yes, that protest ultimately turned very violent.

Kohn's correction of her own Occupy Wall Street analysis is at least the second of its kind.  Two days ago, The Nation published the piece "correcting the abysmal 'New York Times' coverage of Occupy Wall Street," in which the author called the similarly critical NY Times piece  a particularly dangerous  example of "rubbernecking style of journalism." As Occupy Wall Street builds its base and wins the minds of the American people, more positive critiques may grow in correlation.  But  for the mainstream media, their analyses may come too late to reach the American people, many of whom have already made up their minds to support the brutalized protestors. 

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at September 28, 2011, 9:54am

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