CNN Guest Compares OWS to Boston Tea Party

CNN guest and "community organizer" Sally Kohn compared the Occupy Wall Street movement to the Boston Tea Party on Wednesday's American Morning. When asked about "fair criticisms" of the movement as one possessing criminal elements, Kohn responded that the Boston Tea Party was viewed as a criminal element in its day, but was vindicated by history.

"So, first, you know, when early Americans were throwing boxes of tea from private corporations into the Boston Harbor, they were initially labeled as criminal elements, too," sounded Kohn.

"So, history does tend to look more favorably on protests and see the protesters as justified and as patriots rather than as problems," she added, meaning that history would probably vindicate the Wall Street protesters.

Kohn was the second liberal guest American Morning hosted to talk about Occupy Wall Street, the first being one of the protesters. No conservative guests or opponents of the protests were interviewed on American Morning. Kohn, a community organizer, is the founder of the progressive Movement Vision Lab and is working to "make the world safe for radical ideas."

In the previous hour, co-host Carol Costello gave a very soft interview to protester Dan Cantor, who oddly compared the protesters with fans of the "Twilight" movies.

Cantor defended the protest encampments in Zuccotti Park, saying that "people wait in line in New York, they camp out for a week to buy the tickets to the new 'Twilight' movie, so it's not like we're not used to encampments here."

A transcript of the segment, which aired on November 16 at 8:02 a.m. EST, is as follows:

[8:02]

CAROL COSTELLO: So the big question this morning, if you take the "occupy" out of "Occupy Wall Street," is it still a movement?

SALLY KOHN, strategist and political commentator: It is, because I think it's an important distinction between the "occupy" tactic and the movement of the 99 percent. In fact, you know, in that case, I think we're just seeing the first percent of the movement of the 99 percent to have true economic opportunity and broadly shared prosperity in this country. It's just the beginning.

COSTELLO: What form will the protests take now?

KOHN: Well, that's a great question. And unfortunately, my crystal ball was taken from me at Zuccotti last night. So, I can't be sure. But I think we're going to start to see three trends emerging. So, first of all, you're going to see the occupation tactic fall away. I mean, look, it's really cold outside. They're a pain to maintain, and they do bring all kind of problems from folks who are not necessarily supportive of the movement but are looking for help and who have other troubles that should need to address.

COSTELLO: And by that you mean it attracts perhaps homeless people –

KOHN: It attracts people who have drug issues

(Crosstalk)

KOHN: And certainly. And you know, look, nobody wants to see people getting hurt. That's obviously counterproductive to the message of what the protesters are trying to achieve. So they're going to start experimenting with new tactics. I think it's going to be messy at first. We're going to see a lot of misses and a few hits. But we're going to see them start to find other ways to engage the broad majority of Americans who support what they're doing but weren't necessarily going to go sleep under a plastic tarp.

COSTELLO: Uh-huh.

KOHN: So, that's the first. And, then, second, we'll start to see some leaders emerge.

COSTELLO: And who might those leaders be?

KOHN: Well, again, you know, I lost that crystal ball and I don't think we know and I don't think, frankly, they know. You have to know – remember that social movements, and this is one, they take a long time. They take a long time to develop.

You know, and early on, it's not clear who, you know, what the issues are necessarily going to be what the movements or the tactic. But leaders will, in fact, emerge. This is not a leaderless movement, it is a leader-ful movement. There are thousands of potential leaders, and I think it's going to be a mix of opportunity and serendipity that some of those people will emerge to be spokespeople to bring their stories to the larger public conversation.

COSTELLO: And I guess the third thing that might happen is they will finally embrace politicians, something the movement has been loathed to do.

KOHN: Well, I actually think the third thing that's going to happen is going to be a faction, a sort of a breaking off of the more, for lack of a better word, militant groups. The ones who are still, for instance, trying to hold the ground at Zuccotti Park and who still want, and who have been more confrontational with police, et cetera, versus people who see that this is a broader movement.

You know, the vast majority of Americans support it. It includes people not just in New York City, but people in Idaho, and Iowa and Indiana. And find ways to move from the occupation tactic to a much broader movement that, indeed, does things like look at the political system. How are we going to change that, how are we going to undo the campaign finance laws that have allowed corporations to buy our politics? That's where they're going to move.

COSTELLO: OK. So, let's talk about the message. And I think there have been many messages, and the big criticism of this group is like they're all over the place. Has one message emerged, despite the fact that so many people are talking about so many different things?

KOHN: Yeah, there's no question. And it's true. You know, two months ago, we – in this country we were talking about debt. We were talking about how to slash Medicaid and Medicare in order to give more tax breaks to the rich. And now, we're talking about creating jobs. We're talking about runaway inequality and we're talking about the fact that Americans are working harder and harder for less and less money. So, they've changed the conversation. That wasn't easy and that's a sign of their success.

You know, going forward, I think that there is a question about the political system as you raised – how do you actually get the corrupting influence of Wall Street out of our politics and give our politics back to the people. So, you'll start to see more specific honing around issues, but in general, the – look, inequality is wrong and un-American. They've got that message out loud and clear.

COSTELLO: So, you don't believe the movement has been hurt at all by some fair criticisms that have been out there, you know, that, you know, confronting police when you didn't really have to and some of that element moving in, that criminal element moving in, that made the protesters look really bad and you have to admit that some on the right have painted the occupy protesters as not very nice people, as crazy people, as like addled people who should just go away.

KOHN: Yeah. And two reactions. So, first, you know, when early Americans were throwing boxes of tea from private corporations into the Boston Harbor, they were initially labeled as criminal elements, too. So, history does tend to look more favorably on protests and see the protesters as justified and as patriots rather than as problems, number one. But number two, it's also a little bit more complicated. Yes, there are some people inside, a few yahoos at the protests who just want to make trouble, who want to confront the police, et cetera.

Some of the violence that we've seen has to deal with police provocation and in places in Oakland, it's had to do with the fact that, look, the occupy movement was layered on top of a very deep and very justified problematic relationship between communities of color and the police in Oakland who have a history of overuse of force. So, it's a little more complicated.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014