The Occupy Effect
by Katrina vanden Heuvel
January 26, 2012
I don't know how Occupy Wall Street will impact the 2012
election, but one thing seems pretty clear: it's changed the
A few short months ago, the corporate media and inside-the-
Beltway chatter was all debt and deficits, all the time.
Occupy changed that. It reset the media narrative so it's
more aligned with the true crises of our times - income
inequality, downward mobility, and economic fairness. It's
also renewed attention to corporate accountability and the
corrosive role of corporate money in politics.
Just look at the media's use of the words "inequality" and
"greed" post-Occupy. As Peter Dreier notes, a Lexis/Nexis
search shows that US newspapers published 409 stories with
the word "inequality" in October 2010. Through September
2011, the number of stories about "inequality" remained
roughly the same. But in October 2011, when OWS erupted
across the country and overseas, the frequency skyrocketed
to 1,269 stories.
You can see a similar pattern with stories on "greed."
Between October 2010 and September 2011, "greed" stories
fluctuated between 452 and 728. But in October of that year
newspapers stories on greed jumped to 2,285.
And the "Occupy Effect" continues. As of mid-January there
were 455 mentions of "inequality" in US newspaper articles,
and 549 mentions of "greed." So just halfway through the
month, the figures had already reached the total monthly
As New York Times columnist Charles Blow puts it, "On this
point, we must applaud the efforts of the Occupy Wall Street
movement. It took income inequality and corporate
responsibility out of the shadows and into the streets."
Here are just some of the articles that reflect the impact
In November, Time magazine ran a cover story, "What Ever
Happened To Upward Mobility?" Just this month, the New York
Times ran a "dialogue" on "Mobility and Inequality in
Today's America," as well as a front page story "Harder for
Americans to Rise From Lower Rungs." The Washington Post ran
this terrific and humorous piece by Nation contributor
Barbara Ehrenreich exploring the disconnect between the
uber-wealthy and the rest of us. Even Town & Country - the
quintessential magazine of the 1% - ran "The Millionaires of
Occupy Wall Street" this month which worked hard to portray
its crowd as sympathetic to Occupy.
Here's more: Reuters recently announced a new "Income,
Inequality & Access" beat in DC, and posted a great article
on poverty-level wages in New York City. Tapping into
people's frustration with the hyper-conglomeratized banking
industry, the New York Times ran a 2,500-word profile of a
130-year old microbank in upstate New York that lends to
people in the town with the greatest need, saving residents
from losing their homes, and taking modest profits.
(Imagine, a bank that puts the people it serves on equal
footing with the profits it makes - revolutionary!)
When Occupy Wall Street contributed to the fierce backlash
against proposed debit card fees, and the subsequent
migration to community banks and credit unions, the media
covered the protests at Bank of America and its Big Bank
brethren. Now Occupy is being covered as part of the
mobilization to get money out of politics, and along with
the work of other groups, Occupy helped create the political
climate which halted a weak settlement between the Obama
Administration, state attorneys general, and the Big Banks
which would have prevented a full and fair investigation
into mortgage foreclosure fraud.
Public attention to these issues shows no signs of waning -
in fact, just the opposite is true, it's on the rise and
Mitt Romney can't stop it - no matter what he has to say to
protesters, or how much he wants this conversation to be
confined to "quiet rooms." (Read: back room deals between
powerbrokers to preserve and protect the status quo.) Sarah
Treuhaft, associate director at PolicyLink, says grassroots
equity advocates who have been working on these issues for
years are now much more confident to speak up about
inequality. That makes sense, since according to the Pew
Research Center, conflict between the rich and poor is now
"the greatest source of tension in American society," with
two-thirds of Americans describing that conflict as
"strong." The New York Times credits Occupy with making
Americans "more aware of the deep inequities in the economy
and of the government's responsibility to act." President
Obama certainly tapped into that trend, making economic
inequality and fairness the centerpiece of his State of the
Union address this week.
[Katrina vanden Heuvel has been The Nation's editor since
1995 and its publisher since 2005.
She is the co-editor of Taking Back America - And Taking
Down the Radical Right (Nation Books, 2004) and editor of
The Dictionary of Republicanisms (NationBooks, 2005)
She is also co-editor (with Stephen F. Cohen) of Voices of
Glasnost: Interviews with Gorbachev's Reformers (Norton,
1989) and editor of The Nation: 1865-1990, and the
collection A Just Response: The Nation on Terrorism,
Democracy and September 11, 2001.
A weekly columnist for WashingtonPost.com, she is a frequent
commentator on American and international politics on MSNBC,
CNN, ABC and PBS and public radio. Her articles have
appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the
New York Times and the Boston Globe.]
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