In regards to the #OccupyWallStreet protest, several people I know have asked the question "What are they protesting?" or "What do they want?"
It's no wonder they're asking this question. The media, if they've covered the event at all, has largely portrayed the protests as scattered, small to non-existent, hippie street freak sit-ins with no goals or objectives.
Yet if I look at recent conversations I've had with people from across the political spectrum, the protests seem to be having a more far-reaching impact than this narrative.
First, let's look at some of the media coverage.
Tina Susman from the LA Times wrote:
"How about some specific demands, a long-term strategy, maybe even … office space?"
Nate Jones in the Metro wrote:
"We know the protesters currently hanging out in downtown Manhattan are against Wall Street -- that's right in the name. But what are they for?"
Gina Bellafonte, in perhaps the most disdainful article in the NY Times called the movement "a noble but fractured and airy movement of rightly frustrated young people."
But at least they've written about the movement. The protest has been going on for 3 weeks and the Associated Press only has 2 articles about it. One focuses on investigating the NYPD for pepper spraying and the other says little more than "the protest continues".
The coverage in the mainstream media is largely non-existent or is spreading this narrative about hippie protesters with no apparent goals. Glenn Greenwald has an excellent piece that discusses this media coverage in more detail.
A movement stirs
Yet something else is happening.
Daily my friends on Facebook are posting links to the protests or information about the protests.
Ann Kruetzkamp, a friend of mine from NY, posted an excellent series of pictures of the event (both this past weekend's protest at the Brooklyn Bridge and the ongoing protest in Zucotti Park) which tell a different story than the media.
Another, posted this meme which has been making the rounds. The protest also spawned a 100-comment discussion thread amongst my friends on the topic of more equitable taxation. The subject even came up with my family at a recent dinner.
It seems like people are having conversations again about Wall Street and their role in the financial crisis. Conversations which never really took place in the way they should have after the bank meltdown.
Conversations which may have been held in private but not en masse because our "liberal" media relegates the stories to the back pages.
If the Tea Party sneezes, the media seems to jump on the story about "taxes" or Tea Party influence or the ever-present Republican vs. Democrat story with the new Tea Party twist.
Yet we never really had a conversation about how Wall Street avoided any consequences as a result of the financial meltdown, about how the same people are in charge, or about how Wall Street has returned much as it was before the crisis.
Or even about the influence of money on politics or the increasing inequality of wealth or about jobs.
Where is the "liberal" media?
Or is this perhaps what the protest has made absurdly clear? That there is no "liberal media".
There's only corporate media owned by the likes of GE, Disney, Gannett, ClearChannel, NewsCorp, Time-Warner, and Hearst.
And while apparently it's OK to provide ad nauseum coverage of Tea Party protests, it's not OK to cover a Wall Street protest in anything but an unfavorable light lest 'ye offend the "job creators".
Yet the conversations are taking place anyways. They're taking place online, at work, and en masse.
It feels like a breath of fresh air.
If #OccupyWallStreet only accomplishes changing the conversation from the officially blessed narrative du jour, it's been successful.
If we realize from this event that we're going to have to evangelize and tell these stories ourselves to our friends and family, it's done something truly significant.