Andrew Ross Sorkin mixes a message

One anti-Semitic protestor means what, exactly?

Andrew Ross Sorkin thinks Occupy Wall Street fizzled. Fair enough—he writes opinions, and in this one he has a lot of company. But he’s cherry-picked his evidence and one particular piece of it is rotten. It’s here:

Given the way the organization — if it can be called that — was purposely open to taking all comers, the assembly lost its sense of purpose as various intramural squabbles emerged about the group’s end game.

I vividly remember watching one protester with a sign that read “Google = Jewish Billionaires.” Another protester ran over and ripped up the poster. The messages had become decidedly too mixed.

As it happens, I saw a man with the same sign yesterday in Zuccotti Park (can there be more than one?). In fact, I heard him before I saw him. He was carrying his sign on the street side of a police barricade, just outside Zuccotti Park. On the other side of the barricade, the Occupy Wall Street side, an Occupy supporter was shouting at the man that he should leave—I think there was even a bit of a scuffle—and the anti-Semite was claiming the right of free speech. He finally moved west on the sidewalk.

This anti-Semite, or possibly, I suppose, another one with the same sign, was photographed and reported on in Zuccotti Park last fall. (Here’s Michelle Goldberg’s report on this in Tablet.) Presumably that was when Sorkin witnessed the scene he vividly remembers.

It’s entirely fair for Sorkin to cite that incident. But another way of characterizing the matter, one more true to the nature of a decidedly irregular movement that is not, however, irregular in the way Sorkin suggests, would be:

Last year, Occupy often refused to police itself. It let drummers drum all night and annoy the neighbors. For a while, it couldn’t figure out how to handle an anti-Semitic picketer. Some protesters picketed him. One ripped up his poster.

(For many details here, I cheerfully disclose that I just published a book, Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street.)

Occupy Wall Street contains multitudes. Some are vile. Some make more sense than others. All social movements mix their messages. So does Sorkin.

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Todd Gitlin , who teaches journalism at Columbia, is the author of a new book, Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street. Tags: , ,