The importance of the Occupy movement

Until very recently, the idea of “class warfare” was taboo. Even just acknowledging the obvious — that America has social classes, and that these classes are influential in the course of individual lives — was difficult. We weren’t supposed to talk about it. Actually, because it was a taboo (an actual, operating taboo), we weren’t supposed to think about it.

Of course some people did think about it… academics, social scientists, economists. But these were not exciting people — not truly important people — so there was precious little public discussion.  Simply declaring that a particular line of thought was “class warfare” was often enough to shut off public discussion.

But the ‘Occupy’ movement has given us a reset.

It’s become possible to talk about class differences again. Even in polite society. Even (once in a while) on TV. Using the short memes “the 1%” and “the 99%”. Occasionally now there’s an eye-catching chart or graph.

Wow. Will ya lookit  that? The 1% has been off on its own trajectory for THIRTY F*CKING YEARS!  Since 1981!

And yet this important megatrend never gained any traction in the media until the Occupy movement started getting pepper-sprayed and arrested.

Surprising? Not at all.

We might hope to have a scrappy, intelligent, hardworking press, determined to inform us of what we need to know, and what’s probably true and what’s probably not. We might yearn for that, and, in truth, it can be found by those determined to find it. But mostly, our press has defined its job as telling us what someone said, and then what someone else said. That kind of work is much, much easier than trying to discern what’s very important and probably true.

So if important people weren’t “saying” things (and they weren’t), if important people were actually very opposed to saying some particular thing (and they were opposed, and are), if it’s understood to be bad form to mention the thing which should not be mentioned, then how could our press possibly cover it? Within their self-defined professional roles, they couldn’t.

Cover what??? The thing that nobody important is talking about? What would that even mean? It was invisible to our press, or it was for 30 years.

Police arrest a protester on New York’s Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1, 2011, during a march by Occupy Wall Street.

Now the 30-year graph above may have been startling, but not everyone knows how to read a graph, or cares to.  So other approaches have been taken, and we should be very thankful to those who have done so.