For "Occupy Wall Street," Radiohead just a sideshow

HOLLYWOOD - JANUARY 24: Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead performs at a benefit concert on behalf of the Oxfam Haiti Relief Fund on January 24, 2010 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Thom Yorke;Jonny Greenwood
John Shearer
John Shearer

The city of New York has been abuzz with rumors that the band Radiohead will perform at the "Occupy Wall Street" protests in lower Manhattan this afternoon. As of this writing, Radiohead's management has denied that the band will perform, while Occupy Wall Street representatives are insisting that Radiohead will show up at 4 p.m. Eastern. The latter have suggested that Radiohead's management is seeking to keep the crowd from becoming overwhelming.

No matter what happens, however, the truth is the concert (or lack thereof) is a sideshow - much like the other incident to have garnered significant mainstream media attention for the protests, the pepper spraying of seemingly well-behaved protesters by New York police. While both have brought more attention to the protests, they haven't much helped them grow into something more substantial.

That may change next week, which brings the most significant development - by far - in the "occupation" that has been going on for nearly two weeks. It's then that New York City's major labor unions - including two sections of the Service Employees International Union, as well as teacher and transit unions - say they will join up with the protests.

That matters because it will make Occupy Wall Street that much harder for the mainstream media to dismiss. The protests have largely been characterized thus far as unfocused and self-indulgent - a critique grounded in a fair amount of truth, as's interviews with participants illustrated. (Asked what the goals of the demonstrations were, one woman responded, ""The media wants to box us in; don't let them trap us.")

But the protests, conceived by anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters, also show that there is energy on the left for a real movement to oppose what participants see as a plutocratic system that rewards the super-rich while leaving most Americans behind. When the Tea Party emerged, the mainstream media breathlessly covered it; as Occupy Wall Street backers have bitterly pointed out, however, the media has largely dismissed their movement.

The involvement of the unions may well change that, far more than a day's worth of headlines about Radiohead ever could. The unions have organizational experience and media savvy that the protesters lack, and their presence is likely to create a perception that the protests could be coalescing into something significant and perhaps even historic. We'll have to wait until next week to see what happens, of course. But with all due respect to Radiohead, that's the performance that most bears watching.

Exclusive video from the protests below: