Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Movement VI: Who Are The Protestors?

Who are the Occupy Wall Street Movement protestors? According to several media outlets, the Occupy Wall Street Movement protestors are:

“Messy, indolent, drug-addled, anti-Semitic, violent, disobedient, freeloading individuals who are comprised of an unrepresentative segment of the electorate.”

The media, in arbitrarily defining the members of the movement, are attempting to undermine the basis of the idea – that corporate corruption and greed has created a problem that is tearing at the financial fabric of our country. The critical question should not focus on who specifically identifies with the movement. Instead, it should focus on the essence of its existence. Yet again, the media consistently attempts to de-legitimize the movement for its lack of a clear and identifiable purpose or plan. This perspective is misguided. Especially considering that the primary critique is that there is a major problem, namely, that one percent of the population controls approximately 40 percent of the wealth. In other legal context, this disparity alone would be sufficient to shift the onus of any proof from the individuals claiming to be harmed to the individuals perpetrating it. For example, in the context of tort law, the doctrine of ”Res Ipsa Loquitur,” meaning that the action speaks for itself, applies to relieve a plaintiff of having to prove how a defendant’s behavior caused the resulting problem and shifts the burden of proof to the defendant. To invoke this doctrine, the law generally requires a showing that the accident is the kind that would usually be caused by negligence and that the defendant had exclusive control over the instrumentality that caused the accident. The mere fact that so much of our country’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few is highly compelling evidence that someone has been negligent. As for the second element, large corporations, through their power and influence, have exercised exclusive and unbridled control in making corrupt decisions. It is very difficult to articulate an exact path or solution to a problem when corrupt corporations have created a labyrinth of lies. As such, the media’s focus should be on the large corporations that have caused the problem, not The Occupy Wall Street Movement. More accurately, the Occupy Wall Street Movement should be applauded for bringing attention and focus to an important issue of social, financial and political concern, not unreasonably dissected.


  1. Todd, I love your post! The media role and perspective is often interesting. The media scuffs at first, and then often comes around when it finds that a social movement is picking up momentum. Ironically, the media initially was very dismissive of the Civil Rights Movement. We see how that turned out. The Civil Rights Movement certainly brought about change in society. I have a feeling the Occupy Wall Street Movement will do the same eventually.

    I love your tort analogy. The thing certainly does speak for itself. Again, hats off to you for great post.

  2. It is actually surprising to me that the mainstream media outlets are being so dismissive of the OWS movement. I would have thought that a liberal leaning movement such as OWS would garner the support of a blatantly liberal media but it does not seem so. Rather, it is very reminiscent of the way in which they addressed (and continue to) the tea party movement. It seems as though the media discredits and neglects to cover popular movements that it does not agree, hoping that such movements will quickly dissolve. It is obvious from OWS and the tea party movement that the vast majority of not only just Americans, but people worldwide are no longer content with the status quo. However, the main concerns with the success of OWS are a lack of demands and leadership. One has to wonder what degree of change will satisfy the movement and if such change is even achievable. I believe their best chance is to mobilize into a political force that can exert pressure on those lifetime politicians that are reelected in spite of their divergence from service to their people. Threatening those in power with removal from office is really the only way to enact legitimate change and it often takes a movement like OWS to get their attention.

  3. JesseeB_MemphisLawOctober 26, 2011 at 3:27 AM

    I find it not only surprising, but troubling that the media has largely portrayed this movement in such a negative light. Whether we admit it or not, the media significantly shapes the views and opinions of the general public. While we, as citizens, have a responsibility to seek out information for ourselves and develop informed opinions, unfortunately, oftentimes this is not the case. Many people rely on the media to tell them what is or is not newsworthy and what to believe. At the very least, the media owes a duty to report on the Occupy Wall Street movement fairly and accurately because the grievances and concerns it encompasses relate to such substantial portion of the population. While being touted by many media outlets as a progressive, liberal movement, the fact is, corporate greed and corruption negatively affect almost everyone. As a society, we should find these problems within the corporate system objectionable, regardless of our race, political views, economic status, or walk of life. The media should applaud, rather than dismiss or discredit these protesters who have chosen to take an active and visible role in the political process by representing the growing frustration felt by millions of ordinary people across the nation who have been affected by the economic crisis and wrongdoing, negligence or indifference of corporations. While I have definite concerns regarding the overall effectiveness of the movement and its lack of clear objectives, I'm extremely encouraged that such a large number of people are finally waking up and realizing that something within the current system is very, very wrong, even if it cannot be specifically articulated. It will be interesting to see whether this movement fizzles out or sparks a flame that can perhaps grow into a powerful political force and bring about real change. A large part of this will depend on how the media and the protesters themselves choose to frame the movement as it evolves in the months and weeks ahead.

  4. Jessie C (Memphis Law)October 26, 2011 at 3:35 PM

    I also agree that part of the reason that the movement has not gained even more influence is because of the media and how it is being portrayed to the public. For example, I asked a friend of mine a few days ago what he thought about it all and his response was that he didn't know much about it but it just looked like a lot of "hippies and jobless people that were critcizing the people that actually went to work everyday." This reaction suprised me a lot especially considering that the movement is addressing issues that have concerned most people for several years now. However, after discussing it with him further his reaction was totally a reaction to what little he had seen in the media about the movement and he had almost no idea what the movement was actually about at all. It seems to me that the media should more accurately depict what is going on instead of this more one sided approach.

  5. Jessica Bradley (Memphis Law)November 7, 2011 at 12:10 AM

    I like your comparison to tort theory, but who can we hold accountable for the harm done to the American people? Who is the "defendant"? The government? Corporations? Which corporations? It seems that the biggest issue with the movement is that it lacks a defined target.

    I completely agree with your conclusion that the media has unnecessarily villainized the Occupy protesters. Protest and free speech are basic rights that should be available to everyone, regardless of what they look like. It has been enlightening watching my generation take a stand for values that have been all but lost from our culture. Shame on sensationalist reporters who belittle a movement based on the appearance or age of the individuals involved.

  6. MelissaT-MemphisLawNovember 16, 2011 at 3:03 PM

    I am not at all surprised that the media, controlled by big business, villanizes the protestors instead of focusing on their arguments. Its a classic example of an Ad Hominem fallacy. An Ad Hominem fallacy is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument. Typically, this fallacy involves two steps. First, an attack against the character of person making the claim, her circumstances, or her actions is made (or the character, circumstances, or actions of the person reporting the claim). Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making (or presenting). This type of "argument" has the following form:

    Occupy Wallstreet Protestors claim that the wealth distribution in the United States is highly polarized.

    The media makes an attack against the protestors characters, not their arguments.

    Therefore the general public thinks that the protestor's claims is false.

    I hope that most of us can see through this simple ploy and continue to focus on the problem.

  7. Andrew H - Memphis LawNovember 20, 2011 at 7:58 PM

    While I can agree with the underlying theme of this post (that the OWS protestors have a voice and there arguments should be considered), sometimes they do not help themselves.

    We should never, as a country or individuals, accept the status quo just because it is the status quo. Questioning the way things are is part of our government and our ability to grow individually and as a country.

    However, some OWS have taken it to an extreme calling for discharging of student loans and other similar debts. While I doubt the entire group shares this view, the media will pick up on the extreme views of any movement in order to discredit the movement.

    Another problem I have is I have yet to hear a lot of "why" from OWS. For example, one of the movement's main focuses in repealing the "person" status given to corporations under the 14th Amendment. They may very well have a valid point. Yet, I have not personally seen any where or in any media why this should be done. I get that they do not like corporations, but that's not sufficient to overturn Supreme Court precedent. I'm not looking for a complex legal answer, but I want more than "change it because corporations are evil."

    With all of that said, I still look forward to seeing what OWS can accomplish. Perhaps they disappear into the footnote of a history book, or perhaps they accomplish their goals. Personally, I need some more substance and I think the media may need some too.

  8. Robert_(Memphis Law)November 20, 2011 at 8:11 PM

    Although I agree the protestors brought attention to an important issue, I cannot agree that the media undermined the basic premise of the OWS movement. OWS did that to themselves. At first, most Americans agreed and sympathized with the protestors according to all of the polling and the media reports. In the 24 hr media, they simply are outwearing there welcome and the reports of rape, drug use, etc. in the OWS movement drain attention away from the issue of income inequality. Furthermore, anger can only take a movement so far and the OWS has not produced any legitimate demands that the majority of Americans can agree with. Instead, the violence and anger is turning people off from the OWS message as many polls indicate that OWS support is waining. Until OWS gets disciplined, their support will continue to fade.

  9. As others have said, I agree that the OWS movement has an important underlying message that should be brought to light. However, the lack of organization of the entire movement has completely undermined that important message. Unfortunately for many of those who truly believe and support the OWS movement, one (or a few) bad apples have spoiled the whole bunch. By not having much in the way of organization, those "bad apples" have been allowed to come to the forefront expressing irrelevant ideas to the theme of the movement, participating in inappropriate behavior, and making a bad name for everyone involved. There is a proper way to go about achieving the goals the OWS supporters are looking to acquire. However, not focusing those ideas into a solid platform has led to a loss of muster.

    I don't think it appropriate to blame the media in this instance. They have simply grown tired, as many have, of the way this entire movement has played out across the country.

  10. Whenever the wonderful and A-mazing (just my opinion here) Jon Stewart pokes fun at what is happening in our world, we laugh, but we also know there is something that needs to be examined.

    Stewart poking fun at Oakland’s ill treatment of protesters who appeared to be far less than threatening (“the Gap commercial extra? the boring professor? ”), is funny, but only because it is (sadly) true. ( )

    The media’s characterization of OWS protesters as dirty, lazy, hippies is a cheap attempt to discredit the legitimate message of the protesters.

  11. Having been a philosophy major this attempt at characterizing the protestors as "dirty, lazy hippies with no purpose" brings to mind the postmodernist concept of "othering."
    Characterizing things one doesn't understand for the purpose of subjugating them or discounting their legitimacy is a dangerous thing, especially when the characterization takes hold in the eyes of the public. Focault spoke of othering as power acting through knowledge to achieve a political goal of domination. Simone de Beauvoir wrote of women as being the "other" in her book, The Second Sex. Henry Louis Gates spoke of African Americans being treated as "other." In all these examples, people are characterized as treated as different, as less-than, by people wanting to maintain control over them. It's time we stopped the characterizations, and stopped allowing the media to characterize. These people are not just out there protesting (or sitting at the front of the bus- or demanding equal pay for equal work- or sitting at a lunch counter until they are served- or sitting on a street corner until someone
    listens) for their health.
    Or are they?

  12. Jessica S - Memphis LawNovember 23, 2011 at 11:23 AM

    I think the media portrayal of Occupy Wall Street has been unfortunate and sadly it truly affects how people see the movement and I've seen a lot of people disregarding OWS as a whole because of what they've seen on the news. Luckily, there are quite a few people who are digging past the mainstream media to try to figure out what is actually going on with OWS.

    I agree with Jessica B in how interesting it has been to see people of our generation taking a real stand for something they believe in. I'm proud of the OWS participators for taking an interest and really bringing important issues to light to in a very big way. I understand the arguments against OWS and do think that it could be organized more clearly. They could answer all of our questions: 'why are you doing this?', 'what are the real problems?', 'how should I get involved?', 'what does OWS hope to accomplish?', etc in a more direct way. However, I think the lack of clarity has done something really awesome for the movement that although it might have been an unintentional effect, it has created curiosity. With any conflict that arises, there will be those who strictly listen to what is being told to them on the news and what their friends or people they respect are saying. WIth OWS, I think there are a lot of people who fall into this classification and who are content to get the surface information and no more; however, I think there is an equal, if not more, number of people researching the issues more on their own. The ambiguity of OWS has gotten people to realize that things aren't adding up and they are doing research and figuring out what issues they have. I think this is to be applauded and is an incredible achievement of the OWS movement.

  13. NatalieB_MemphisLawNovember 23, 2011 at 5:34 PM

    I think the comparison to res ipsa loquitur is very interesting here, and it is something I have not thought of. The elements are met here, but I agree with some others who commented that the major problem here is finding someone to hold accountable. Looking backward, this may be close to impossible, but looking forward, it is something that legislation can change.

    I agree that the media is undermining the basis of the movement by arbitrarily defining the members. In many cases, even negative media coverage spreads a message and makes people investigate a topic, which I believe has happened a lot in the case of OWS. If no media opposition existed to OWS, the corporate greed and corruption that has caused the economic downfall would not be known to nearly as many people. Though criticism to the movement is less than ideal to its proponents, it spreads the idea nonetheless.

  14. FalenC (Memphis Law)November 27, 2011 at 10:12 PM

    It should not be suprising that the media has put such a negative light on the movement. The media does this with everything. However, it is a good thing that it is getting media coverage. As a previous poster mentioned, by getting media coverage, it will at least spark something within some individuals to investigate the meaning behind the movement.

  15. Anyone who thinks the media has been blindly negative of the OWS movement has obviously not watched MSNBC or CNN recently. The strange thing is the message (at least what I think it is) from OWS is a popular one to jump on board with - multinational corporations suck. Unfortunately, the movement has not been able to reign in and focus their message to convey this sentiment. A lack of concrete political solutions and demands has really hurt this movement. I like drawing parallels between OWS and the TEA party movement. The TEA party was at its best when it focused specifically on taxes. When other issues started coming into the TEA party platform the movement lost a lot of its legitimacy because while taxes are unpopular and lot of the tangential issues that tried to jump on the TEA party platform where not. Average Americans are tired of exorbitant corporate wealth. But the OWS has in fact attracted a lot of hanger-ons whose message is college tuition or antisemitism or drug legalization or unemployment benefits, etc. I think it is important for OWS to narrow their issue and actively condemn side issues. A solid voice will help the media perception of the movement and aid OWS's cause.

  16. Kirkland (Memphis Law)November 28, 2011 at 7:03 PM

    I think applying a "tort perspective" on the OWS movement is a very interesting angle and is one that should be highlighted far more often by the media. I feel as though in all of my news watching, I have never heard "the 1%" dismiss or condone their own actions, and I think that Americans should force them to (I guess this is what OWS is attempting). Very Tale of Two Cities...

  17. Salwa (Memphis Law)November 29, 2011 at 2:53 AM

    Although OWS protestors are being criticized by the media for being “messy, indolent…freeloading individuals,” and for not being in complete agreement on the message and goals of the movement, there is a message that is clearly understood; social and economic inequality, and that should be the main focus by the media.