On Monday, Sept. 26, NPR.org wondered if the still-growing Occupy Wall Street movement was newsworthy. When readers questioned why there was so little coverage from the news organization at that point, NPR News Executive Editor Dick Meyer replied, “The recent protests on Wall Street did not involve large numbers of people, prominent people, a great disruption, or an especially clear objective.”
What a difference two weeks makes. Not only has the movement swelled in New York City — and expanded to Boston and Washington D.C. — but Hollywood has become involved in the social and political uprising. On Monday, Kanye West and Russell Simmons visited Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, the unofficial headquarters of Occupy Wall Street, to show their support. And West and Simmons are just two of the latest stars to make an appearance at the site: Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, and Roseanne Barr have taken part in the protests, while celebrities like Jon Stewart, Alec Baldwin, Jane Fonda, and Yoko Ono have voiced their support via Twitter or other outlets. (Other artists like Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum, Talib Kweli, and members of the punk band Anti-Flag have even played music for the masses as well.)
But for a group that seemingly turned on Geraldo Rivera Monday, how do the Occupy Wall Street protesters feel about the involvement of these “prominent people”? There’s no denying that celebrities’ attachment to the cause directly leads to more headlines, but have their voices lent credence to — or detracted from — the cause? (Interestingly enough, organizers behind New York’s Occupy Wall Street say they aren’t even courting the big-names — Hollywood, volunteer Anca Suiu tells EW, has simply “shown up” unannounced to the demonstrations.) During Occupy Wall Street’s Millionaire’s March Tuesday, 20-year-old Anthony Graffangnino, who has been involved in Occupy Wall Street over the past few days, told EW that the crowd is in favor of their A-list support, which has been able to amp up their message. “It’s really great to see influential people coming down to these protest because I think it gives a little bit more validity to it when you have people who have respected voices and respected opinions siding with a group of people who have been marginalized by the media,” Graffangnino said. “Everybody’s voice should be respected equally, but when you have a celebrity, their voice carries much further. So if they can spread the message in an articulate way, that’s great.”
Indeed, celebrities have been welcomed with open arms by the protesters. Graffangnino, for one, spoke about a positive encounter with hip-hop artist Immortal Technique (“It was great, he was there speaking with some people right where we had slept the night before,” he said), and 25-year-old substitute teacher Matt Lester told EW there was only one big-name who was openly rejected by demonstrators: Fox News correspondent Rivera, who was surrounded by chants of “Fox News lies!” while trying to file a report on Occupy Wall Street. “Even though it seemed like he was trying to speak on behalf of the protest, he wasn’t doing a good job at all,” said Lester, who witnessed protesters’ taunts firsthand. “Good for them. They were making a point and that’s what we need to do.”
Still, there is a undeniable disconnect between the protesters and their big-name backers. After all, celebrities represent exactly what Occupy Wall Street is fighting against: The wealthiest 1 percent in the U.S. As one Queens, N.Y., resident named Raphael, who didn’t give his last name, told EW, “They give it credibility, but they’re part of the problem, too.” And then there’s the definite possibility that Hollywood is using the cause to further promote themselves. Said Josh Lucy, who came all the way from Miami to join the demonstrators, “I think it’s awesome so long as they’re not trying to make a media appearance or co-opt what we’re doing,”
For the most part, though, Occupy Wall Street is happy to allow Hollywood to occupy their demonstrations, regardless of the size of their bank accounts. Said Lester, “They may have been the 99 percent at one point [in their lives], and hopefully they haven’t lost sight of that.” So take note, Hollywood: Your invitation to Occupy Wall Street remains open. “I love it,” 24-year-old Ben Levin told EW. “They can bring a larger and more diversified audience to the cause. I respect any celebrity that’s going to come out and stand up for a cause that’s justified and right. I hope they keep coming down and joining us.”
What are your thoughts on celebrities joining the Occupy Wall Street, or any political movement? Share in the comments section below.