Three progressive minds attempt to capture the zeitgeist of the #OccupyWallStreet protests, which have moved with tremendous speed from the margins to the mainstream.
For evidence of this look no further than the protest coverage that made the front and editorial pages of today's New York Times. For the first two weeks of these protests the Times' editors for the most part had joined with other establishment media in a communal snub of the "Occupy" activism and its relevance.
There's a reason for the rapid, organic spread of the Wall Street actions, write Glenn Greenwald, Matt Stoller and Micah Sifry, three passionate thinkers on the evolution of movements in the age of open networks.
In his Wednesday commentary for Salon, Greenwald blasted the media and establishment Democrats for their smug dismissal of the protests, diagnosing their scorn as a form of self hatred that strikes those who "feign populist opposition to Wall Street for political gain."
On Thursday Stoller wrote that the movement had taken on religious dimensions, which makes this protest a different animal than other politicized gatherings. "No one knows what to expect," he writes, adding:
"A significant aspect of this progressive disdain is grounded in the belief that the only valid form of political activism is support for Democratic Party candidates, and a corresponding desire to undermine anything that distracts from that goal. Indeed, the loyalists of both parties have an interest in marginalizing anything that might serve as a vehicle for activism outside of fealty to one of the two parties...
"[T]the people willing to engage in protests like these at the start may lack (or reject the need for) media strategies, organizational hierarchies, and messaging theories. But they're among the very few people trying to channel widespread anger into activism rather than resignation, and thus deserve support and encouragement -- and help."
Sifry chimed in on Saturday with a Tech President article describing the networked power of the spreading protests. "This thing is growing in Internet time and no wonder, for it is built on networked culture," he writes. (I discuss the importance of preserving these networks in an earlier article for Huffington Post). Sifry casts the Occupy Wall Street protests in a different light as well. To him they're connected to the new political dissent that's sweeping the world:
"What these people are doing is building, for lack of a better word, a church of dissent. It's not a march, though marches are spinning off of the campground. It's not even a protest, really. It is a group of people, gathered together, to create a public space seeking meaning in their culture. They are asserting, together, to each other and to themselves, 'we matter'."
"[W]e're no longer in a what veteran activist Myles Horton would have called an organizational phase of political activity, where meetings have walls around them, messages have managers, advocacy is centrally paid for and done by professional lobbyists, marches have beginnings and endings, and the story line goes neatly gives from petition to legislation to reform...
"I don't pretend to know where the 'Occupy' movement is going to go, though its main purpose appears to be to show first of all that it is here to stay, and to force a different perspective into a national discourse that up until now has marginalized and ignored grassroots anti-corporate social justice advocacy."
I was awakened at 3:30 a.m. to the sound of heavy rain on the streets and immediately thought of those huddled under blue tarps in Zuccotti Square, three miles away, and of others who may have spent the night in cells following Saturday's mass arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge.
By inserting themselves in the midst of the problem, holding their ground against the elements both natural and man made, and applying their network strength against the establishment greed that has sunk our democracy to an historical low, the "Occupy" protesters have struck upon something that connects the concerns of many.
As more people learn of their sacrifice it seems only natural that the support will grow.
(Photos: Timothy Karr)