This is not quite how it has been reported, of course. According to the New York Times and other friendly media, Occupy Wall Street in its brief existence has made a valuable contribution to the nation’s political debate. Conventional wisdom among the journalistic left holds that the protestors somehow helped the country focus on income inequality. (The progressive American Prospect even tried to prove the claim by pointing to the proliferation of the phrase “income inequality” in news stories in recent months, as though this demonstrated anything other than the political biases of reporters.) But to the extent that this claim wasn’t simply trite, it was absurd. American taxpayers hardly needed lessons from underemployed college graduates to see the injustice of delivering taxpayer-funded bailouts to big banks. Nor did they require economic advice from radicals urging the abolition of capital to see that the country’s economy had seen better days. Small wonder that 45 percent of Americans now say they oppose the movement and what it stands for.
Even less credible than its alleged political contribution to the national debate was Occupy Wall Street’s claim to represent the “99 percent” of all Americans. Anyone who had seen pictures of the mostly white middle-class twenty-somethings camping out in public parks would know that the protestors were not a particularly diverse bunch, but now there is empirical evidence to bear this out. A recent survey of Occupy Wall Street’s members by the School of Public Affairs at New York’s Baruch College discovered the obvious: the protestors are overwhelmingly young (62 percent), well-educated (81 percent) and male (67 percent). Even less shockingly, only half of them are employed. Add in the fact that the protestors enjoyed the backing of Big Labor behemoths like the UAW, the SEIU, the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters, and their claim to represent the “real” America collapses like a tent city.
The big question now is whether, having been evicted, Occupy Wall Street can sustain itself without actually occupying Wall Street. The protestors clearly think so, pointing to their migration to social media to spread their message, such as it is. But this is more likely a sign of the protest’s end than its new beginning. The transition from placards to pixels is hardly indicative of a broad movement. Still, the Internet may well be the prefect place for a disgruntled fringe to air its complaints. If only the protestors had figured that out from the beginning, they might have saved the real “99 percent” some of the money for police and sanitation services required to clean up the mess they leave behind.
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