I can hardly turn on the television, open a newspaper or browse a website without seeing something about the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. Almost every network regularly features breaking news of the daily march from Zuccotti Park to Wall Street, interviews with yet another 67-year-old retiree/first-time protester or the announcement of the latest city to host its own OWS-style protest.
How fortunate for media executives that the OWS protest came along when it did. Otherwise, what would they have done to fill the time?
Based on the disproportionate coverage the protest receives, you would be excused for thinking that the majority of U.S. citizens are involved in the movement.
However, the inconvenient truth is that in New York City there are only about 300 regular OWS protesters out of a population of almost 8.2 million.
This equates to 0.003% of the city’s population, which, even in network media math, is less than 1%.
The group may be small but the media attention is large. So who are the Occupy Wall Street participants and what are they protesting? In their own words (according to their website): “We are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”
What do they mean when they say they are “the 99%”? In a word, they are trying to differentiate themselves from the “1%.” And just who are the 1 percent? According to the Michael Moore-style documentary The One Percent, they are “the top one percent of Americans in terms of wealth, who controlled 38 percent of the nation’s wealth” in 2001.
So, in solidarity with the majority of Americans, the protesters have been living in Zuccotti Park for almost a month without basic wash facilities.
How is that showing support? Even most of America’s homeless can access showers and toilets if they desire.
They may say they are the 99% and are patterning their actions after the Arab Spring, but at this point I bet New York residents would prefer they be the 99.44% and spend more time using Irish Spring.
Do you agree? Raise your hand if you’re sure.
Not only are they showing their allegiance to the 99% in a malodorous way that doesn’t reflect reality, but the OWS protesters have attracted some interesting supporters since the movement began.
Just last week, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream announced its support of the protesters, saying: “[We] wish to express our deepest admiration to all of you who have initiated the non-violent Occupy Wall Street Movement and to those around the country who have joined in solidarity. The issues raised are of fundamental importance to all of us.”
This news will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream; the company has long been known to take socially liberal and progressive stands. However, what most people don’t know is that in 2000 Ben and Jerry’s sold out to the multinational corporation Unilever — which, among other things, sells soap.
Unilever is a British and Dutch conglomerate that had $60.97 billion in revenue for FY 2010.
What? A large corporation is sponsoring OWS? That’s ironic even by Alanis Morissette’s loose definition. And if that wasn’t enough, Unilever is also listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Yet Unilever’s endorsement is small compared to the endorsement that the movement received last weekend. In dedicating the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, President Obama virtually equated OWS with “the 1960s social movement” of Dr. King.
Really? The struggle for income equality is synonymous with the struggle for racial equality? Is that what Dr. King fought against and ultimately gave his life for? I don’t think so.
The longer the Occupy Wall Street movement lasts, the more I am convinced that it is becoming anti-Sesame Street. The two latest endorsements only serve to strengthen that impression.
I think it’s safe to say, based on recent announcements, that this protest is brought to you by the letter “O” and sponsored in part by viewers like Unilever.
Now go do your part — and buy some Unilever soap.
Burwell Stark is a columnist and freelance writer. A former teacher, he also has worked in the areas of legislative research, budget analysis and communications. He lives outside Wake Forest, NC with his wife and daughter.