Photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images.
As the Occupy Wall Street protests grow and spread across the country, media coverage has begun to take them more seriously, the New York Times points out.
One reason is their sheer size and persistence—it’s a rare street demonstration that is still gaining steam after almost three weeks. Another is the entry of media-savvy organized labor groups, with Reuters reporting that major unions representing state and city workers, nurses, communication workers and transit workers were set to take part in a march through Manhattan’s Financial District on Wednesday afternoon. Students, too, are participating en masse, with walkouts planned at some 75 universities across the country. And, of course, several of the usual-suspect celebrities have joined the cause.
A more interesting development, and perhaps an overlooked reason why news outlets have begun to treat the protesters as something more than “aggrieved youth,” is the growing involvement of some of the country’s best-known public intellectuals, who have begun to articulate what they see as the main goal of a movement whose aims so far have been vague: stronger financial reform.
An early backer from academia was Princeton professor Cornel West, who applauded the protesters for fighting “the greed of Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats who squeeze the democratic juices out of this country.” He was out on the streets of Boston Wednesday with the marchers, according to the Boston Herald.
While West has a reputation as an activist, the movement has more recently begun to draw in professors of a less demonstrative bent as well. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University gave the New York protests a lift on Sunday with a speech that has been making the rounds via Youtube. Because the protesters were prohibited from using a megaphone, he paused in between lines for the crowd that had gathered around him to repeat his words more loudly. He told the protesters they were doing the right thing by standing up to Wall Street:
You are right to be indignant. The fact is the system is not working right. It is not right that we have so many people without jobs when we have so many needs that we have to fulfill. It’s not right that we are throwing people out of their houses when we have so many homeless people.
Our financial markets have an important role to play. They’re supposed to allocate capital, manage risks. But they misallocated capital, and they created risk. We are bearing the cost of their misdeeds. There’s a system where we’ve socialized losses and privatized gains. That’s not capitalism; that’s not a market economy. That’s a distorted economy, and if we continue with that, we won’t succeed in growing, and we won't succeed in creating a just society.
Stiglitz and West have been joined by Lawrence Lessig, the renowned Harvard law professor, who took to Twitter on Tuesday to urge his followers to join the protests, then wrote in support of them on the Huffington Post on Wednesday, comparing them to the Arab Spring:
The arrest of hundreds of tired and unwashed kids, denied the freedom of a bullhorn, and the right to protest on public streets, may well be the first real green-shoots of this, the American spring. And if nurtured right, it could well begin real change.