Are corporations really occupying #OccupyWallStreet?
There are two stories about the corporate hijacking of #OccupyWallStreet on Reuters.com. One piece talks about how U.S. ice cream maker Ben & Jerry is making a laughing stock of the protestors by issuing a statement in support of the protest:
The directors of the board of ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s released a statement saying they were supporting the protest.
But this corporate alignment doesn’t seem to have had the desired effect. Instead of drumming up support for the protestors it has made them something of a laughing stock. Papers, blogs and TV reports are running competitions for the best flavour ice-cream Ben & Jerry’s could create to honour the protests (ocu-pie is gaining some traction). But all of this is distracting from promoting the protestors’ aims and message.
By the way, here is the link to Ben & Jerry’s official statement. I agree with Kathleen that having corporate support would doom the protest if the corporation were, say, Bank of America, for instance, but Ben & Jerry’s is no Bank of America.
All that Ben & Jerry’s board is saying is this: “We, the Ben & Jerry’s Board of Directors, compelled by our personal convictions and our Company’s mission and values, wish to express our deepest admiration to all of you who have initiated the non-violent Occupy Wall Street Movement.” Besides, Ben & Jerry’s is not donating money to help fund the protests (at least not yet). So how exactly does a company that’s lobbied for a Constitutional amendment that would limit corporate spending in elections hijack a protest that would fight for that mission as well?
Yes, Ben & Jerry’s sold out to Unilever, a Dutch-British corporation with headquarters in Rotterdam, Netherlands. But Ben & Jerry’s was founded with a distinct social mission, which they’ve held on to despite the buy-out. And, despite being part of a global conglomerate now, Ben & Jerry’s is a company that’s long been associated with tie-die loving, beard rebelling, free loving Vermont hippies. The difference in their support is that the company isn’t out to rape people of their money.
Meanwhile, this piece claims the protests are shallow because how can the protestors be against corporations when so many of them love and use products by Apple, a huge U.S. corporation?
While the new movement is undoubtedly counter-cultural, corporate leaders and politicians have learned how to co-opt such incoherent anti-establishment sentiments. Apple, for example, has done brilliantly by combining high tech, high prices and a veneer of counter-culture. Occupy participants use more than their share of Apple products.
Indeed, the grief over the death of Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs, gives a more accurate cultural reading than Occupy. The college dropout who wandered to Asia looking for enlightenment became a hero for many of the 99 percent. They may feel oppressed by the state of the economy, but they sense they have more to lose than to gain from any substantial change in the system that has provided iPhones and iPads. So what does OWS signify? The shallowness of our discontent.
Yes, Apple’s products are relatively expensive, but their products are meant to make the customer’s life better, not worse. Moreover, like Ben & Jerry’s, Apple stands for something good — “Think Different” is their slogan and the recently deceased Apple CEO Steve Jobs made products with the intention to help people and to simplify their life. You can’t say that all the fine writing on bank statements has ever made anyone’s life easier or better.
For the most part, Occupy Wall Street protestors are protesting against corrupt companies, mainly financial service ones, whose “products” — credit default swaps, mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations — made a few people’s lives richer at the expense of damaging many people’s lives entirely.
To say that “corporate” support of the Occupy Wall Street Protests is actually harming the protests or “co-opt[s] such incoherent anti-establishment sentiments” conflates the issue. The protestors are protesting corporations that knowingly, willingly and deliberately harm people.
The only potential harm from Ben & Jerry’s is that if you constantly eat way too much of their ice cream, it will probably make you gain weight. But the company isn’t out to make people obese. Meanwhile, Apple’s products are used to inform and educate people. So I don’t see how being associated with either of those two companies, particularly one that promotes education, knowledge and thought, can weaken a protest or some other mission for that matter that supports education, equality, general goodness and well-being.
Illustration by Roman Genn.