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Occupy Iowa City

BY WILL MATTESSICH | OCTOBER 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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It started with crowds surrounding a golden bull. On Sept. 17, protesters marched into parks and roadways near Wall Street, the seat of power in America's financial sector, to fill the area in a movement called "Occupy Wall Street." One such area was Bowling Green Park, home of the famous golden "Charging Bull" statue that has come to symbolize the stock market and the banking industry.

Subsequent mistreatment by the police, a compelling narrative, and a message that is easy to identify with has caused the movement to gain traction nationally. UI students should try to get involved in Iowa City. Unofficial organizational websites have been created that enable people who are interested in organizing in their area to "occupy" locally. One such site is Occupy Iowa City, which held its first assembly last night. This decentralized movement represents student interests better than any candidate.

That mainstream media figures are unable to identify the protesters' message shows how disconnected they are from reality.

Glenn Greenwald's analysis of the media's attitudes toward the movement has been especially (and characteristically) perceptive. In a recent column, Greenwald writes about the New York Times' financial columnist, Andrew Sorkin, and Sorkin's take on the events in Zuccotti Park. Greenwald noted that Sorkin failed to visit the protest until his friend, "the chief executive of a major bank," called him to ask if the bankers should be worried for their safety. Sorkin then wrote a condescending piece about the protests, concluding they "weren't a brutal group — at least not yet." Sorkin's column is just one among many attempting to frame the movement as a collection of lazy, unstable youngsters whose angst stems from their sense of entitlement.

It is clear that the Occupy Together movement is much more than that. Their message is clear: They are protesting a culture that privileges a small percentage of wealthy Americans at the expense of the vast majority.

As President Obama begins to mobilize his behemoth campaign apparatus, many Iowa City residents who voted for Obama in 2008 will be receiving faux-personalized emails signed by the candidate asking them to donate and volunteer. Many of them may be on the fence for a while about whether to do so. Many of them may decide that while Organizing for America may be an effective and ground-breaking campaign organization, it has turned into a group composed mostly of members who are fighting toward very different goals than their candidate.

Obama swept into office on a wave of what seemed to be a national revival of progressive populism. The charismatic young senator from Illinois painted himself as the candidate that would fight for the exploited and subdue the oppressor. The subsequent few years have been full of corporatism, higher costs of education, and a disdain for civil liberties that do little to distinguish Obama from his predecessor and have done nothing to empower the majority of Americans.

The problems our generation faces won't be wholly solved by Barack Obama or any other mainstream politician. The greatest threat to our democracy now and into the future is corporate influence and income inequality. Most of the today's media does a poor job of exposing policies supporting a plutocratic status quo for what they are, but robust public demonstrations enable citizens to voice their concerns and hold their government accountable.

Movements like Occupy Iowa City are the best way for students to effect change on the institutions that are shaping their future.


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