I made my third and fourth visits to OccupyDenver last week, including Saturday’s conservative counter-demonstration. While my visit last Thursday was on an unseasonably warm afternoon, Saturday was bitterly cold after a night of heavy snow fall. The weather was so miserable that the organizers of the conservative demonstration cancelled it.
Still a rump group of conservatives gathered on the capital steps to listen to informal addresses. There were about thirty conservatives, twenty state troopers, and a smattering of press and OccupyDenver activists. Apparently a Democratic Hickenlooper administration focused on costs believes it needs twenty state troopers to guard the capital from thirty conservatives.
It was a respectful gathering that listened to traditional themes of personal responsibility, free market economics, and private charity. The organizers also invited several OccupyDenver activists to speak and cheered a variety of common themes – love of country and criticism of crony capitalism generated the most enthusiasm. And there was respectful disagreement as well.
On the conservative side I was particularly impressed with a young conservative radio personality, Jimmy Segenberger. Segenberger offered a critique of student loan debt that both agreed with the OccupyWallStreet movement that a college tuition bubble existed, but differed in seeing federal subsidized student loans as the problem. Segenberger expressed a belief that the constant increase in federally subsidized student loan availability was driving an increasing demand for college that drove costs skyward. Segenberger focused on the importance of not forgiving loans, personal responsibility, and using his own example of finishing college early in three years as a solution to college debt. It was eloquent, it was rational, and it may have some legitimacy.
It is just in my four visits to OccupyDenver I have never heard a genuine activist advocate forgiving student loans. Perhaps other Occupy camps are advocating that, but I have not heard OccupyDenver advocating that position. What I have heard over and over is that the government’s focus on corporate interests is leaving graduates unemployed with heavy debt.
And that really is the rub – if you listen to the OccupyDenver advocates, not the mainstream press and not the mentally ill, high, and other oddities the press obsesses upon you get a coherent message. It is a message that I often do not share, but it is a very different message than the stereotypes consistently portrayed about OccupyDenver.
Much of the criticism of the movement is that it is dirty, anti-police, violent, and socialist. I spent most of yesterday afternoon reviewing the Denver Post’s and the local television stations’ website coverage of the movement. Almost every headline and opening of a story is about violence, about filth, about anti-police behavior, about people who are incoherent. And almost always buried at the bottom of the article is a statement from the OccupyDenver activists that the people interviewed or arrested were not associated with OccupyDenver.
None of the serious activists I have spoken to in four separate trips were high or violent. They claimed they were employed with homes. If you catch them after a night on the sidewalk before they have gone home for clean clothes and a shower, they are disheveled. Some are indeed socialist, but one female activist that I spoke to at length on last Thursday was quite conservative bordering on libertarian. The only conclusion I can reach is the press likes a good story about violence, drugs, homelessness, and unemployment at the expense of a complete picture including any real coverage of the movement’s basic themes.
My first exposure to this press bias was during a media scrum around Michael Moore’s visit (the subject of my October 30th post). For over an hour I stood in a crowd of television and print reporters waiting for Moore to arrive. At no point did any of the mainstream press make any attempt to interview the activists about their views. But I did listen to two of them (one from the Denver Post and one from the Fox affiliate) openly ridiculing the movement in the now traditional stereotype.
On Thursday I also was able to spend about fifteen minutes speaking with two Denver policemen. They confirmed to me that since the Mayor ordered the removal of the kitchen, medical clinic, and donation table that crowd had shrunk to mostly genuine activists. The most senior one told me that the activists were not violent, but like the Nazi/skinhead protests of the 1990s in Denver the Occupy movement has drawn violent anarchists.
A critical stereotyping of the OccupyDenver movement is that it is anti-capitalist and has no agenda. In my four visits I have heard a very clear message each trip from the serious activists. And it is neither unfocused or reflexively anti-capitalist. It is strongly against crony capitalism.
The message is relatively simple. First, corporate money and lobbying are distorting politics. Polliticians represent corporate interests resulting in bank bailouts, while leaving average Americans to foreclosure and bankruptcy. Second, the Federal Reserve is operating independent of the people’s government again acting on behalf of corporate and other special interests. It is a message that is not dissimilar to an early Tea Party message.
Why are they camped out on the sidewalk in front of Civic Center Park? Rightly or wrongly they believe that the political system is so corrupt that participating in it will result in the system granting them token relief, then absorbing them into the fundamentally corrupt system. The correct answer to last week’s poll question was Karl Denninger, an early Tea Party activist. His basic point was the Occupy movement’s refusal to express a specific political agenda allowed it to remain an independent force for change. That the Tea Party had in large measure been absorbed into the Republican party, had lost control of the message, and been unable to drive real change. By remaining camped out in front of the symbols of government OccupyDenver seeks to keep the pressure on for real change.
And at some point the the Governor and the Mayor are going to have to realize that while the conservative counter-protesters believe in different remedies, they cannot simply ignore what both sides agree upon. That the government is operating for special interests. That it is ineffective policy for the Governor to hand out corporate welfare to companies such as Arrow Electronics, while failing to even meet with the movement or attend one of their General Assemblies. They are after all his constituents. He is supposed to work for them, not just the constituents he prefers.
Beyond a disgust with crony capitalism I disagree with much of the Tea Party’s and much of OccupyDenver’s views. But, I do believe the Governor and the mainstream press are tone deaf. They act like the Pharisees encountering John the Baptist – focused on his odd clothes and diet while missing the importance of his message.
The Governor is for some unfathomable reason proving the point that he works for someone other than all of the people of Colorado. And as someone that voted for him, I hope he will begin disproving that proposition before the next election.