Those pundits and politicians who still insist that the Occupy protesters don’t have a coherent message need to bone up on their Marshall McLuhan: The medium is the message. And the protest is the medium. What's so hard to understand about that?
Everything about these protests is rich in symbolism and meaning. The participatory democracy of the general assemblies offers a striking counter to a tone-deaf and dysfunctional national political system widely (and rightly) perceived to be bought and paid for by wealthy individuals and corporations. The voluntary division of labor and communal distribution of food and supplies presents a distinct alternative to a corporate-controlled market economy that fosters dangerous levels of unemployment, foreclosures, and income inequality. And of course, the symbolic occupation of Wall Street and other financial districts is nothing if not a direct challenge to the basic economic assumptions behind financialization, globalization, deregulation, and other contributors to our current economic morass.
But perhaps no aspect of these protests better illustrates McLuhan's thesis than “the People’s mic,” which as silly as it may sound, and as mundane as its content may sometimes be, is a medium that inherently expresses a powerful message of solidarity and defiance, in and of itself.
In his classic work, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, McLuhan famously describes content as "the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind," an apt metaphor for the way the guardians of our corporate media have attempted to distract attention away from the true message of the Occupy protests by focusing relentlessly on their content.
The protest is the message. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of Americans are staging permanent occupations of parks and squares throughout the nation, as an expression of their profound discontent with current economic policies. And politicians who ignore or belittle that message do so at their own risk.