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Michael Hiltzik: Occupy Wall Street -- Threat or Menace?

October 11, 2011 |  4:26 pm

 Today's developments in the saga of Occupy Wall Street and its spinoffs come from Boston and New York. In Beantown, more than 100 Occupy Boston protesters were arrested in the early morning when their protest march threatened to tie up rush-hour traffic. That sparked a war of words between protesters who claimed that police "brutally attacked" them, and Mayor Thomas Menino, who said he agreed with their message assailing "foreclosures" and "corporate greed" but warned "you can't tie up a city."

In New York, protest marchers gathered in front of homes owned by billionaire David Koch, mogul Rupert Murdoch and other plutocrats to deliver their message.

The protests' spread still has many in the media scratching their heads about how to define the phenomenon, with some commentators reaching back to the Kronstadt mutiny of 1921 against the Bolshevik regime in Soviet Russia for a precursor.

As my Wednesday column observes, the movement is at an organizational inflection point, with genuine potential to serve as a catalyst for popular discontent over the inequities of economic recovery in the wake of the 2008 crash. The column begins as follows.

How do you know when a protest movement is starting to scare the pants off the establishment?

One clue is when the protesters are casually dismissed as hippies or rabble, or their principles redefined as class envy or as (that all-purpose insult) “un-American.”

Nothing shows that as powerfully as the reaction to the Occupy Wall Street protests that have spread from the financial district in lower Manhattan to cities nationwide, including Los Angeles. Conservative politicians have condemned the Occupy Wall Street protesters as “mobs” supporting the “pitting of Americans against Americans” (Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.) and proponents of “class warfare” (GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain, who also hung on them the “anti-American” label).

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats are expressing support, if gingerly thus far, for the anger against the financial industry underlying the new protests: “People are frustrated, and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works” (President Obama) or “I support the message to the establishment…that change has to happen” (House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi).

 Read the whole column.