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Think Occupy Wall St. is a phase? You don't get it

(CNN) -- Like the spokesmen for Arab dictators feigning bewilderment over protesters' demands, mainstream television news reporters finally training their attention on the growing Occupy Wall Street protest movement seem determined to cast it as the random, silly blather of an ungrateful and lazy generation of weirdos. They couldn't be more wrong and, as time will tell, may eventually be forced to accept the inevitability of their own obsolescence.

Consider how CNN anchor Erin Burnett, covered the goings on at Zuccotti Park downtown, where the protesters are encamped, in a segment called "Seriously?!" "What are they protesting?" she asked, "nobody seems to know." Like Jay Leno testing random mall patrons on American History, the main objective seemed to be to prove that the protesters didn't, for example, know that the U.S. government has been reimbursed for the bank bailouts. It was condescending and reductionist.

More predictably perhaps, a Fox News reporter appears flummoxed in this outtake from "On the Record," in which the respondent refuses to explain how he wants the protests to "end." Transcending the shallow partisan politics of the moment, the protester explains "As far as seeing it end, I wouldn't like to see it end. I would like to see the conversation continue."

To be fair, the reason why some mainstream news journalists and many of the audiences they serve see the Occupy Wall Street protests as incoherent is because the press and the public are themselves. It is difficult to comprehend a 21st century movement from the perspective of the 20th century politics, media, and economics in which we are still steeped.

In fact, we are witnessing America's first true Internet-era movement, which -- unlike civil rights protests, labor marches, or even the Obama campaign -- does not take its cue from a charismatic leader, express itself in bumper-sticker-length goals and understand itself as having a particular endpoint.

Yes, there are a wide array of complaints, demands, and goals from the Wall Street protesters: the collapsing environment, labor standards, housing policy, government corruption, World Bank lending practices, unemployment, increasing wealth disparity and so on. Different people have been affected by different aspects of the same system -- and they believe they are symptoms of the same core problem.

Are they ready to articulate exactly what that problem is and how to address it? No, not yet. But neither are Congress or the president who, in thrall to corporate America and Wall Street, respectively, have consistently failed to engage in anything resembling a conversation as cogent as the many I witnessed as I strolled by Occupy Wall Street's many teach-ins this morning. There were young people teaching one another about, among other things, how the economy works, about the disconnection of investment banking from the economy of goods and services, the history of centralized interest-bearing currency, the creation and growth of the derivatives industry, and about the Obama administration deciding to settle with, rather than investigate and prosecute the investment banking industry for housing fraud.

Anyone who says he has no idea what these folks are protesting is not being truthful. Whether we agree with them or not, we all know what they are upset about, and we all know that there are investment bankers working on Wall Street getting richer while things for most of the rest of us are getting tougher. What upsets banking's defenders and politicians alike is the refusal of this movement to state its terms or set its goals in the traditional language of campaigns.

That's because, unlike a political campaign designed to get some person in office and then close up shop (as in the election of Obama), this is not a movement with a traditional narrative arc. As the product of the decentralized networked-era culture, it is less about victory than sustainability. It is not about one-pointedness, but inclusion and groping toward consensus. It is not like a book; it is like the Internet.

Occupy Wall Street is meant more as a way of life that spreads through contagion, creates as many questions as it answers, aims to force a reconsideration of the way the nation does business and offers hope to those of us who previously felt alone in our belief that the current economic system is broken.

But unlike a traditional protest, which identifies the enemy and fights for a particular solution, Occupy Wall Street just sits there talking with itself, debating its own worth, recognizing its internal inconsistencies and then continuing on as if this were some sort of new normal. It models a new collectivism, picking up on the sustainable protest village of the movement's Egyptian counterparts, with food, first aid, and a library.

Yes, as so many journalists seem obligated to point out, kids are criticizing corporate America while tweeting through their iPhones. The simplistic critique is that if someone is upset about corporate excess, he is supposed to abandon all connection with any corporate product. Of course, the more nuanced approach to such tradeoffs would be to seek balance rather than ultimatums. Yes, there are things big corporations might do very well, like making iPhones. There are other things big corporations may not do so well, like structure mortgage derivatives. Might we be able to use corporations for what works, and get them out of doing what doesn't?

And yes, some kids are showing up at Occupy Wall Street because it's fun. They come for the people, the excitement, the camaraderie and the sense of purpose they might not be able to find elsewhere. But does this mean that something about Occupy Wall Street is lacking, or that it is providing something that jobs and schools are not (thanks in part to rising unemployment and skyrocketing tuitions)?

The members of Occupy Wall Street may be as unwieldy, paradoxical, and inconsistent as those of us living in the real world. But that is precisely why their new approach to protest is more applicable, sustainable and actionable than what passes for politics today. They are suggesting that the fiscal operating system on which we are attempting to run our economy is no longer appropriate to the task. They mean to show that there is an inappropriate and correctable disconnect between the abundance America produces and the scarcity its markets manufacture.

And in the process, they are pointing the way toward something entirely different than the zero-sum game of artificial scarcity favoring top-down investors and media makers alike.

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Reader Comments (40)

Dear (Soon to be) Dr. Rushkoff,

Thank you for writing what I was thinking before I had a chance to write it. How convenient. Now I can simply post the URL.

I thought you might be interested in what Schein has to say about organizations, learning, and dialogue:

and I thought you might also be interested in Sen's take on dialogue and democracy:

Looking forward to reading more of your work.

(Soon to be) Dr. Stephanie Doscher
Associate Director
Office of Global Learning Initiatives
Florida International University

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Doscher

Very well written. I have to admit that I was at first swayed by mainstream media to think that the people protesting were a ragtag bunch of professional protestors. That's what we were told. Now I'm starting to see it differently...that this group is protesting a system problem that has many faces. Rather than having a short, easy to explain beef, they're against a broad range of problems that are related. Great piece!

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris Taylor

+1 to Dr. Doscher's comment!

Unfortunately, the links she pasted were truncated. =(

Thank you Douglas, really.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterchepi

The Sen link should work for's the Schein:

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Doscher

"Occupy Wall Street aims to force a reconsideration of the way the nation does business"

As this nation has been an example for many during most of the 20th century, this movement may also trigger other movements throughout the world... Wall Street is a symbol, in our system. As it is being questioned by the people and systemic problems are revealed, the world may reconsider the way it does business.

From Europe: Keep it up!
& keep making articles which explain what's happening. Thanks

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRadard

This is the next logical step from the Rally to Restore Sanity - the same attitude, the same people by and large, and the same disregard for the tired, old ways of doing politics. Of course the system can't comprehend what's going on. They are not natives of the Internet, and look at it as something far less than what we do. We are the first cyborg generation, we were born with microcomputers, connected to each other over modems and AOL chat rooms, and myspaced andtwittered and facebooked our social network into place. We ignore the rules of what is "fit to print". We read foreign news, unlike any previous generation of Americans.

So, we are a little alien to previous generations. We recognize the failure of single-issue campaigning. A few rallies and letter-writing campaigns will not fix our country. Marching around and chanting slogans will earn us nothing. We will create our own space, our own narrative, and if it scares the comfortable, good. They should be. For we are the future.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim

the website went up yesterday as a platform for people to make demands and to vote on demands made by others. Its a valuable tool for building nationwide consensus, fostering discussion, and as an up-to-date reflection of the changes real people are wanting to make happen.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJack

What if the top 1% launched a counter-protest against Occupy Wall Street... Occupy Williamsburg maybe?

check it out.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercate


The NYSE is owned by a company in Europe. It's called Euronext. In 2008, the USA bailed out European banks to the tune of trillions of dollars.

Why are the Wall Street protesters only talking about general ideas and not being very specific? Republicans and Democrats have given the country away.

Here's the proof:

It's time to stop the protesting and start creating a better America. Not by complaining, but by encouraging initiative and independent thinking.

God bless you all.

I suppose if someone in the old USSR had a TV or refrigerator, they'd be hypocritical to say anything mean about centrally planned state socialism? Those "reporters" are just plain stoopid.

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Carson

The Occupy Wall St. actions encompass a broad spectrum of related angst related to the results of free market capitalism as it exists here and now. One dimension of this "angst-space" is the need to achieve balance individually between our equally important evolved drives to compete ruthlessly for resources and to care for our family.

A Seussian Ode considers the cost of grabbing that stick on the economic end a little too enthusiastically:

The Leeches (with tepid apologies to Mr. Geisel)

Now greenback leeches had backs of all green
While redbacks were, well you can guess what I mean
Those colors weren’t bright; you might think that such hues
Would really be most inconsequential news
But because their backs were no longer red
All greens who saw reds just turned up their head

The leech’s whole world was scattered with crup
Nuggets of metal they always picked up
And carried back home on top of their backs
To bury in holes and crannies and cracks
Contact with crup for some strange reason
Turned red skin greenish regardless of season

So leeches whose crannies were crammed with crup
Had backs of green to show reds up
Inside their green clubs they paraded about
Sneering and snooting and keeping reds out
All of the reds stood out feeling sad
To not have much crup was so frightfully bad

While inside the clubs the greens were engrossed
In carefully sorting the gathering host
Into growing gradations of subtler hues
So all would know whose was better than whose
The greener the green the crammer the crup
If you weren’t green enough the rest would throw up

And throw you up too, right on out with the reds
Where you’d gnash all your teeth and shred all your shreds
Just wishing your back was a bit greener shade
And crying over the choices you’d made
Wishing you’d spent more time gathering crup
And less time watching your kids growing up

One day while the reds moped outside of the clubs
Drowning their sorrows inside run down pubs
Downing their pitchers, feeling low, feeling mean
Staring at suckerball up on the screen
Cursing their luck ‘cause their backs were not green
A stranger walked in with two eyes clear and keen

“I can see you feel low. See you’re feelin like crap”
“Well, I can fix that, I’m the fix it up chap.”
My name said the chap is McMonkey McFaust
And I tell you your ship has just entered the houst
I have what you want, I have what you need
My prices are low and I work at great speed
And my work is 100% guaranteed

So your backs are not green, don’t just cry in your beer
Don’t sit here and whimper while greens sit and sneer
Are you not leeches, or are you just slime
What are your offenses, what is your crime?
Your backs are not green enough it is true
But come with me boys and you know what I’ll do
I’ll make all your backs the most greenest of hue
And all it will cost is a moment or two

Then McMonkey McFaust in two moments between
Put together a very peculiar machine
And he said in a voice quite piercing and keen
Gather round and see something you’ve never yet seen

So you want your back green, so’s to stop eating crap
From the ones in the clubs who all say you’re a sap
Wish you’d spent more time working hard in the race
And been more successful cramming crup in your place
Wish your eyes had been keener in the spying of crup
And your pods had been quicker in grabbing it up

Well have no fear boys, I can tell you today
That it’s not too late now to have it your way
My McFaustess machine can easily make
Your backs just as green as your conscience can take
Those moments you wasted in trivial pursuits
You can trade back in now for the greenest of loots

Step right up and tell me how much green you lack
Then tell me those moments you wish to give back
We’ll make a sweet deal cause I’m in a deal mood
Crup for moments, what’s wrong with me, hurry up dude
Grab the crup before I come to my sense
And leave you all standing here in the past tense

My machine changes hues in one thousand shades
(Those green clubs are filled with the deals that I’ve made)
Hurry up now and make your deal before I tire
So you don’t end up crupless and never retire
My specials today are the hottest of deals
I must be crazy to give you such steals

One shade for one lousy birthday kid party
Two shades for that recital (one-half to be tardy)
Three shades for one week of stories at night
Two more for kissing that stupid bug bite
One shade for hearing those stories at supper
Two more for holding that little throw upper
Four shades for cuddling until that nightmare
Left that tiny head and went poof in the air

Three shades for coaching that little brat team
(Look you’re much greener, you see what I mean)
Five shades for each week of spooning your wife
Look how worthless you’ve been, what you’ve done with your life
Four shades for each boring conference at school
I’ll throw in a shade just for wiping that drool
Off the baby next door that you held to your chest
And another for smelling the head of that pest
One more shade for each week of after-school catch
With each poser Visquel (wait a sec while I retch)
And for every test that you helped them each study
A shade (and a half for a bonus) there buddy
For shuffling carpools both to sports and fro
I’ll throw in three more, my friend, here you go

You’re looking more sober, your psyche more lean
You’re becoming a mean, green crup-finding machine
You’re well on your way to get into those clubs
As I kindly erase the worst of your flubs
And give you that most rare thing in life a new chance
To do what’s important, your wealth to enhance
Just think how you’ll feel inching inside that door
Where they measure your shade then the brandy they pour
They will light your cigar and pound on your back
And you’ll thank me for getting your life back on track

Just a few more years that you so poorly spent
Put in my machine and away they will went

Every tucked in counterpane
Splashed-in puddle in the rain
Every lunch of jam and bread
All bumps kissed on every head
Each Band-Aid on every knee
Skinned from shimmying a tree
The books all read while in your lap
The colored states on every map
Each field trip on every bus
Every cry and every fuss
Every fight that’s pulled apart
Every little battered heart
The smiles shared over sleeping heads
Angelically tucked into their beds

As my machine does whisk away
Each wasted hour, minute, day
You can step up and take your place
Among the proud greenback club race

You’ll have lots of time for billiards and brandy
Not having a family comes in rather handy
Oh, you didn’t notice when they slipped right away?
Not to worry chum, they were red anyway

With your crup crannies crammed so full
You can get a new wife; you’ve got the pull
Younger and better, and especially green
Thanks to McFaust and his magic machine

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaurice

Pretty much the way I would have called it. Though my analysis is a bit more intuited based on rough historical precedent rather than informed by a deep knowledge of network analysis. I keep thinking of the 17th century and how the failed wars of Charles I finally tipped Britain over edge of the massive social upheavals that had been building since the reformation and enclosure movements of the 16th century.

I'm not sure I myself really qualify as a member of the cyber generation. Too old and only have the loosest grasp of the technology. Which, as you've often pointed out, is typical of the way even millenials passively accept the architechture of the environment they so passionately embrace. That makes me question just how deliberately the Occupy process is evolvling.

But you've got some powerful points. The acceptance of the inner contradictions and ambiguities seems new. That probably is at least indirectly a function of the internet age. That must be the key thing differentiating this from the Tea Party.

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiam_McGonagle

You've covered a lot of my thoughts on this issue. I've been very annoyed with these shallow criticisms, especially from people who are just as disgruntled as the protesters yet aren't doing anything.

I only have one thing to add. You've done some comparison between the nature of the dialogue within this movement and internet culture. Would you go so far as to say this can be considered the first "open source" social movement?

October 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSalmonGod


October 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMyoho

Brilliant essay, Doug! Best I've read on the "Occupy" movement so far.

When you say, "Anyone who says he has no idea what these folks are protesting is not being truthful," you are being very polite indeed. Any person or group who outspokenly attacks powerful institutions can expect those institutions to attack back in force. The media cliché, "these people don't know what they're protesting" is just part of a concerted effort to discredit and disable the "Occupy" movement before it spreads (which it already has). The same phony "criticism" that "they're not serious, they just want attention" etc. has been directed at every American protest movement since at least the Vietnam era.

October 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Vankin

If a reporter stuck a CNN mic in my face and asked me to say my abc's I would sound stupid. Like most people I'm not used to or comfortable with public speaking, hell I'm nervous enough writing this post. I would think it's unfair for the mainstream media to suggest that my opinion is irrelevant and I'm ill-informed because I can't articulate myself on national television.

October 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMissy Lou

"Whether we agree with them or not, we all know what they are upset about, and we all know that there are investment bankers working on Wall Street getting richer while things for most of the rest of us are getting tougher."

Occupy Wall Street is a load of .... and this statement demonstrates why. Look, if you're one of those for which things are getting tougher; well, maybe you're in the wrong boat. Here's an idea, instead of sitting around protesting, why not go and learn about investment banking, and wall street, and apply your new-found knowledge to go get yourself richer. That's the beauty of America versus the rest of the world, there's nothing getting in your way of seizing the same opportunities as others except for yourself.

There's nothing wrong with the system and anyone in this country can join in ... it's unfortunate that anyone would praise those few folks that are just to unmotivated to go and educate themselves a little bit.

October 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJacob


Not everyone is ok with the rational of "if you can't beat them, join them"

1. Some people have a conscience.
2. Different people have different talents. Selecting only one talent to be the successful one is simply ludicrous and harmful to society, especially when the people you're selecting for contribute absolutely nothing besides manipulation of an imaginary number game to their favor.
3. How the hell is the world supposed to work when everyone is scrambling to become an investment banker?

You expose your own ignorance when you call this movement unmotivated and uneducated. The majority of these people have done honest work for most of their lives and been tossed out like garbage when they're no longer needed, or put hard years and mountains of debt into becoming educated, only to find no rewards at the end of that struggle.

Currently in America there are only 4 ways to survive.

1. Be lucky. Come from a family that has the resources to support you.
2. Be a genius. Only a PhD is guaranteed to get you anywhere these days. The only financially successful person I know has a PhD and a Masters. He's 31, and just got his first well-paying job a couple weeks ago. Not everyone has that opportunity, talent, or drive, and the lack of those things should not be a crime punishable by poverty.
3. Be evil. Learn the science of exploitation and how to step on people, while climbing to the top.
4. Be a drone. Work 3 jobs and die a soulless husk before reaching middle-age.

October 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSalmonGod

well said SalmonGod.

October 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMissy Lou

Thanks Jacob for putting the capitalist dream into a nutshell: hey, it doesn't matter if a small elite are getting rich off the rest of us, we're all invited into that elite and if you don't make it, well maybe you're just a 'loser' and deserve to fail. It's life as sporting contest, the 'winner' takes it all and second place is first loser.

The other version of that is that 'the money will trickle down to the rest of society'. It doesn't, and also you and I are not invited into the elite and never will be. To them we are like cattle they milk every morning and evening, nothing more than that.

You're welcome to your world view but maybe this Occupy Wall Street movement and others around the world are the start of a new paradigm where everyone wins.

October 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGuy

Hmm... so his main argument is that this is a "21st century protest" and so doesn't need a point or a goal? If it's a dialogue, a raising of awareness, that's cool, I'm into that, but then I don't know if camping out on Wall Street is the best avenue to do that. The nature of the protest is that it's pointing a finger, and in pointing a finger it does seem to have some sort of goal, yet it simultaneously can't agree within itself on what that is. Again, it comes back to it being a bunch of people who are upset with a number of things about the country and want their voices heard. Awesome, but I don't know if a big meandering focus-less protest is the best way to do that. The main idea of a protest is to draw attention to an issue that a group feels is not being given its fair due. Without a clear message or goal, what is being conveyed, aside from that people are unhappy? In my opinion it runs the risk of diluting any messages being expressed and having the opposite effect of having people take their concerns seriously, as the media's reactions reflect.

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

the lyric of the latest Single release ‘Talking Occupy Wall Street Movement’ by Topical Songwriter Michel Montecrossa sums it up - here it is:
Money is the language of greed. / Greed is governing Wall Street. / Wall Street speculator gangs / are killing entire nations by downgrading them for gaining / high interest rates till default, / followed by swallowing of bail out funds / which are fed by our tax money.
Step by step we lose our money / through rising taxes and lower pensions, / through rising prices and lower wages, / through rising rents, health and education cost.
Politos and bankas claim / world power and world domination, / want to bring down the people to the level /of slaves and of cheap labour force.
But everywhere, I say, there are also / the good ones and the young, of course, / who want to have a future / and that?s why there is good hope for change of the financial system / and of polito corruption / and for the coming of free education / and work for all and fair wages.
The unity of mankind can bring that: / the living celebration of humanity / and the coming of / the United States of Planet Earth.
Money then is no more the language of greed. / Greed no more is governing Wall Street. / Wall Street speculator gangs no more / are killing entire nations.
Lyrics & Music: Michel Montecrossa © Mira Sound Germany

Michel Montecrossa says:
“My song ‘Talking Occupy Wall Street Movement’ is dedicated to the ‘Occupy Wall Street Movement’ of the 99% that no longer accept the greed and corruption financial system of the 1% threatening the very existence of entire nations.”

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

"The other version of that is that 'the money will trickle down to the rest of society'. It doesn't, and also you and I are not invited into the elite and never will be."

I think the fact that a thousand people can remain unemployed and sit on their asses all day in a public park, and still have their necessities provided for them by the generosity of others is only proof that the policy works. This wouldn't be possible anywhere but a capitalist society.


"Currently in America there are only 4 ways to survive.

1. Be lucky. Come from a family that has the resources to support you.
2. Be a genius. Only a PhD is guaranteed to get you anywhere these days."


Right. You need either luck or talent to survive. Natural circumstance or nurtured ability. I didn't realize there were any other methods of survival but you and the protesters seem to think there is.

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterReagan

@Reagan '...and still have their necessities provided for them by the generosity of others' - yes, others who are protesting the capitalist system, while those trying to protect it are using violence to try to stop them sitting in a public park.

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGuy


I think you need more practice before you can make use of misleading quotes as a debate tactic.

You quoted me saying "there are only 4 ways to survive", then quoted only two out of the four ways I listed, and responded to me as if I had only listed two.

Your half-assed dishonesty is only undermining your own message.

October 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSalmonGod

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