Protest defined my college years. Drawing a page from the courageous and disciplined Civil Rights marchers of the early ’60s, the more ragtag, anti-war students of the late ’60s took to the streets to protest the war in Vietnam.
And the news media obliged. Not yet jaded by the notion that people could take action against government, they gave the protests prominent coverage, encouraging that many more people to join in.
But once the war ended, news media seemed to tire of populist street protests, which for four decades came and went quickly. There are signs that is changing.
Now, a few years after the Tea Party movement on the right reshaped and rekindled the power of protest for political ends, an interesting and largely non-ideological gathering calling itself Occupy Wall Street is showing signs of morphing into a sustained movement with some overtones of the ’60s.
From what I read, Occupy Wall Street is so far more against the greed of banks and Wall Street than for any particular policies (other than more jobs). Its ranks have marched around lower Manhattan with sandwich boards that say things like, “A job is a right. Capitalism doesn’t work.”
That’s not terribly sophisticated stuff. And yet something has kept this crowd of computer-carrying 20-somethings camped on New York City streets for two weeks despite scores of arrests by police. NowNew York City unions have signaled their support. A sympathy protest cropped up in Chicago. And calls to spread the movement to cities from Boston to Los Angeles will test whether it grows or fizzles.
Given the state of the economy, the paralysis in Washington and the burden of joblessness on the young, I’m betting it will grow and gain focus.
These young adults are anything but their parents or grandparents clones. They carry smart phones. Like some of the leaders of Arab Spring, they use social media to communicate and incite action. And if some may look unsavory, something certainly true of our ’60s crowd, many are smart and articulate, helping to draw growing media coverage and keep their actions peaceful.
Certainly this so-far deeply anti-political gathering bears watching. It seems disciplined and is bringing some energy to displaced young — the so-called lost generation largely ignored by our millionaire Congress.
Perhaps I’m naive. But I like this iconoclastic band, determined to do what neither the news media nor politicians of either party have taken on: To shed light on the corruption, greed and selfishness of the wheeler dealers who brought this country’s economy to its knees and have made it that much harder for it to stand up since.