The Weight of Thought

Occupy Wall Street has faced criticism from the outset. Since September 17, the protesters have been condemned for a number of things, among them disorganization, a lack of specific demands, and the absence of a unified message and goal. Whether or not you agree with these criticisms, they raise worthwhile questions: what comprises an effective social protest movement, and how does it accomplish anything?

There has, however, been another objection to Occupy Wall Street, one less thoughtful and more catty: the demonstrators have been attacked for being young. “Occupy Wall Street protesters are behaving like a bunch of spoiled brats,” ran a New York Daily News headline.Boston Globe op-ed columnist Joanna Weiss described the participants as “furious young protesters, some of them wearing masks and climbing flagpoles” and went on to clarify that such behavior constituted “a circus—some participants seem to have taken a chute straight from Burning Man.”

Meanwhile, in the first piece to appear in the New York Times on the subject, writer Ginia Bellafante buried her scorn underneath ostensible concern for the demonstrators:

“The group’s lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably is unsettling in the face of the challenges so many of its generation face—finding work, repaying student loans, figuring out ways to finish college when money has run out. But what were the chances that its members were going to receive the attention they so richly deserve carrying signs like ‘Even if the World Were to End Tomorrow I’d Still Plant a Tree Today’?”