The Power of a Lonely Few

Guest Post by: Lauren Peter, Aspiring PR Professional

Todd Gitlin.  He’s a lot of things – professor, sociologist, communications scholar, writer – but most importantly at least for this post, he is the author of Occupy Nation, a book that illustrates the triumphs, struggles, perils and achievements of the widely mysterious Occupy Wall Street movement.  Widely mysterious – I’ll come back to that a little bit later.

Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 7.29.02 PMGitlin’s narrative of a movement that gave voice to the 99 percent and ridiculed the one percent is most likely understood by the general public in opposite terms. 99 percent misunderstood it, one percent gave it life. I’ve got to admit, that even after reading the book, I’d classify myself as the 99 percent who don’t understand it completely.  I often found myself so lost in Gitlin’s prose that I would get to the end of a paragraph and be confused as to what I had even just ingested.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the book was beautifully and complicatedly written, I think an ode to the movement itself.

The beauty of a movement like Occupy is that from the outside, at least in the beginning, it took shape as any other movement should.  I think Gitlin does a great job in describing this point when he writes, “even when the movement was seen as darkly, through a media lens that highlighted the melodramatic, the garish, and conflictual, outsiders had a pretty clear idea of what was at stake” (p.33).  “Outsiders had a pretty clear idea of what was at stake”…or at least they thought they did.

Now, back to the widely mysterious aspect.  This relates back to my earlier point of only one percent truly understood it, but with the help of mainstream media, the 99 percent was thrust deep into it, sometimes unwillingly – required to see photos of a woman being pepper sprayed for nonviolent protest because this is what the media chose as newsworthy.   Gitlin, in part two when describing the spirit of the movement, brings in examples that prove this point – “on one hand, it thrives on the esprit of the few: ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers’ – and sisters.  On the other, it embodies the passions, often buried ones, of most of its fellow citizens” (p. 143).  I find this point very interesting as the same can be said for Wall Street: it thrives on the one percent and the other 99 percent in some place in their being wish to be that one percent – to capture the wealth, power and the ever-elusive American Dream.

Overall, I think Occupy Nation gave this movement the justice that it deserves.  I may not necessarily agree with a lot of it, but Gitlin does a commendable job in painting a picture of something so easily misunderstood.  Lastly, I really liked what Gitlin said in his presentation regarding ripple effects: the one percent and the 99 percent became household phrases.  The movement itself and Gitlin’s honest documentation brought income inequality to the forefront of the issues in America and I think that in itself says a lot about the power of a lonely few.

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