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It’s illustrative to look at how the media has covered the origin and growth of the tea party movement with the OccupyWallStreet protests. Even a handful of self-identified tea party activists, with tea bags stapled to their tricorn hats and misspelled signs, were covered breathlessly as the birth of this new populist movement, angry with the direction of the country, and rising influence.
That, of course, was all completely untrue. The tea party movement was an astroturfed movement from the beginning, funded and organized by conservative organizations under jingoistic and quasi-populist names like “Americans for Prosperity” and "FreedomWorks".
Compare that to the OccupyWallStreet protesters. Truly grassroots, the media—when they do pay attention—deride them for not having a clear, unified goal (as if the tea party could be more precise than “take our country back”), for being disorganized (which is what happens when Dick Armey isn’t ordering up the signs) and for their inability to effect change (because it’s completely reasonable to expect 10 days of protests to change the status quo of 30 years of Reaganomics on Wall St). Moreover, the truly populist concerns are largely ignored by the media, who are almost monolithically more interested in what’s happening to the privileged few inside the Washington Beltway than the 99% of people who live outside it.
One of the few media outlets willing to look at the protest and discuss it in a relatively intellectually honest way is my new favorite weekend news show, Up with Chris Hayes. Nancy Giles, Allison Kilkenny and J.A. Myerson point out that OccupyWallStreet suffers from the media's own unfair expectations: any true grassroots movement will be disorganized and unlikely to effect immediate change.
But it is absolutely inarguable that we are seeing the fomentation of political activism by young people who have been betrayed by the older generation's greed, short-sightedness and complacency. And whether or not the protesters can actually cause change in Wall Street (which is doubtful, to be honest), that fire of political activism is a good thing and should continue to be stoked.