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From blog post to protest sign on Occupy Wall Street

A sign with a quote by Conor Friedersdorf was read out loud at Occupy Wall Street.

Kai Ryssdal: The news of Goldman's troubled earnings dovetails nicely with Occupy Wall Street today. Specifically, with these 45 words that popped up on a protest sign the other day. Bear with me, 'cause it's a mouthful:

"It's wrong," the sign said, "to create a mortgage-backed security filled with loans you know are going to fail so that you can sell it to a client who isn't aware that you sabotaged it by intentionally picking the misleadingly rated loans most likely to be defaulted upon."

It's clunky, not at all protest-like. It's an pretty obscure reference to an infamous Goldman Sachs mortgage-backed security called ABACUS. And it was part of a blog post that Conor Friedersdorf wrote on the Atlantic magazine's website.

Conor, good to have you with us.

Conor Friedersdorf: Great to be here.

Ryssdal: Tell me how this happened: You wrote this post in which, it's actually part of a sentence, appeared on The Atlantic, and then somebody at Occupy Wall Street basically saw it and put it on a sign, right?

Friedersdorf: Yeah. The interesting thing is, I wrote a post that actually critiqued Occupy Wall Street in a way, and said, I wish that they would attack actual Wall Street, the place that helped bring the financial system down, instead of symbolic Wall Street. And I laid out a paragraph that I thought, here's something that actual Wall Street did. And it was just a sentence in my post, and an Atlantic reader took it and put it on a big poster board and took it out into the streets.

Ryssdal: And there is a certain beauty, because the thing hits basically the same day as Goldman Sachs comes out with earnings, and this post was all about Goldman Sachs and its ABACUS deal, which was, as you said in this sentence, a thing where they basically rigged the game in some of these mortgage-backed securities.

Friedersdorf: It's funny, because most people in the streets probably didn't realize that it was the ABACUS deal that it was referring to, but I think it tapped into their sense that there are actual things that the investment banks did that were sort of shady practices that were unethical, and they're very complicated and it's hard to understand exactly what they are. But that sign tapped in the sense of, 'OK, if that's what it is, yes that's the kind of thing we're angry about.'

Ryssdal: Yeah, and that's what really hit me when I read this and I saw the sign and then I read the post you put up about the sign this morning, was that there has been so much criticism of Occupy Wall Street for not really having a message, right? They're against a whole bunch of stuff but not really for anything. And then these 45 words seemed to crystallize intensely what it is that's going on out there.

Friedersdorf: It definitely crystallized it for some people, certainly the couple that took the words and put them on a sign, and some of the people who were chanting it. You know, I think some people are out there for completely different reasons, and this sign probably doesn't appeal to them. But at the same time, there are people out there who really are just angry at what the investment banks did, I think it tapped into the people that were angry about those things.

Ryssdal: There's one other thing I wanted to touch base with you about this, and that is the sheer Internet-ness of this entire thing. You wrote a blog post, somebody saw it, they made a sign of what you wrote. You saw a picture of the sign on the web and you wrote about it again. It's very, very whoa.

Friedersdorf: Yes, I wrote these words from this remote location and someone picked them up and put them on a sign, and a photographer had taken them and put them on his Twitter feed, and someone at BoingBoing saw those. And so there really is a lot of connectedness just going on, a lot of Internet age going on. It's certainly a story that couldn't have happened before the Internet age, and that's one way in which these protests are just different and new and open up different possibilities.

Ryssdal: Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic magazine. Conor, thanks a lot.

Friedersdorf: Thank you.

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