Get Beyond the Bias


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.


  1. I appreciate your balanced, rational look at OD. I spoke with a 50-ish Occupy Chicago protester a few weeks back. He was a sensible fellow but incensed at the crony-ism that allowed thieves to avoid accoutabilty because they were “too big to fail” while benefitting from taxpayer support(a point of view shared by many, including me). While I may not agree with all the Occupy protesters say/do, I am encouraged by the movement as examplary of democracy functioning as the founders intended: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

    • Thxs – the best critique I’ve heard on Santa Clara/Citizens United was not from press or legal commentary, but one of the protesters. And when I pointed out to go back to citizen only campaign finance would require a constructional amendment, I didn’t get yelled at or socialism but follow up intelligent questions. I’m not sure why civil disobedience in Cairo is admirable but in Denver is abhorrent. The press and some politicians here use Mubarak language to complain about the protesters.

  2. If we could see an end to crony capitalism and the current enormous wealth of the 1% at the expense of the rest of us, nobody would Have to “Forgive” student loans. However, as long as the only jobs available are McJobs at minimum wage or very close to it people who went into debt to get a college education can’t Afford to pay it back.
    I agree that Student Loans are a source of the problem but not because loans drive up desire to go to college. They Do, however, drive up Tuition, as colleges decide that if the money is available, they want it. The individual is the Ball in the middle of a ping pong game among corporate entities.
    In the long term, I thing we should return to and increase the Grant program and stop giving out loans. This will stop the ever-escalating tuition costs that Require that one get a Loan in order to get the education to be competitive in the job market.
    In the Short term we Must stop the stranglehold that the 1% has on jobs and wages; where They can unionize (Trade Associations) but the employees have to face the monolith alone. We need to get money into the hands of the consumers so they can stimulate the economy by Buying things (The Law of Supply and Demand Still Works even if you try to con everybody into believing it doesn’t), and then we need to increase wages to the point where people can Pay Back those loans.
    People don’t want Charity, but Conservatives seem determined to Force people into Poverty and then Deride people that they can’t be “Personally Responsible”.
    It makes one wonder what they want; an economy that works or to feel Superior to those who haven’t Made it yet and have no Relatives to pave their way.

  3. One of the more eloquent occupydenver activists explained to me her view that conservatives see a political crisis but not a financial crisis. I was again struck how far the stereotyping of the activists is off base. Her analysis seemed to go right to the heart of the disagreement.

    One of the other activists expressed the view that the two protest groups should be one. I think you would have to bridge the divide to do that, but if you somehow could through compromise there would be no limit to the change that such a united movement could drive.

  4. This was a great writeup. I’m an Occupier from DE & Philly and rarely even care about disagreeing with basic/personal issues with people anymore. “You think gays are going to hell? Well, thats misguided and sad but the fact that you even believe in hell- ya know what, it doesn’t matter. Back to finding solutions about how we as individuals and occupiers can overcome corporatism and plutocracy together so we may continue disagreeing in peace and prosperity instead of war and squalor.”

    I digress, good read. Thanks for coming out and finding out more about how significant the blackout and skewing of real news is through commercial and popular media outlets. Occupy Denver is doing some wonderful things. I had the absolute pleasure of meeting 2 different groups of travelers when I was in NYC and Philly. I was able to lend advice on safety and security and got some great tips on outreach. We each left more knowledgeable and as friends. This movement is doing a tremendous amount of good for communities, the environment, politics, education, and the homeless/wrongfully evicted. I’m happy you had a good experience and people were able to have real discussions for a progressive and proper future living at least more harmoniously despite whatever disagreements we may always have.

    • It was a great and respectful experience at both demonstrations. My 16 yr old son came w/ me – he’s a journalism student. Great introduction to both sides and citizen action.

  5. I’m sure that you, gerally conservative, and I, generally liberal, could find many things about which we disagree. But about the basic thrust of your article we do agree. I will add that, as a Vietnam Vet who has yet to hear either a good reason for being sent there or an apology for the mistake I believe it to have been, I am certain that whatever the reasons I was sent, none included defending corporate or government cronyism,or what has become a serious of honest in-depth reporting on the very real issues we must face to survive. The current media system is a caricature of what it should be, and relies on distortion and misdirection.
    Thanks for your insights.

    • Thxs for your service and for the comment. I’m still amazed to be called cons – a lot of my readers think I’m too liberal on many pts.


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