Curious about the current issues of the Occupy movement? Check out this article in The Stranger to learn about the repercussions of the May Day protests in Seattle.
The website, occupypatriarchy.org, brings a unique perspective to the category of “Within the Movement.” With little research surrounding the specific gender breakdown of Occupy, this blog provides information about how and why women need to participate. In particular, one post provides the following quote that describes how even though the Occupy movement is new and young, long standing issues such as gender inequality can be addressed by using its structure:
“While the Occupy movement has been developing, the war on women has become a nightmare of hateful, ignorant, daily attacks on women’s human rights. It is urgent that this be stopped and presents an opportunity for the Occupy movement as a whole to stand up for women’s lives and say that this war must stop.”
From this application of the ideals of the movement, one can see how wide ranges of people and causes (with respect to geography, education, economic standing, medical history, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc.) have the potential to speak out for change by using the OWS movement as a platform. More specifically, in the case of occupypatriarchy.org, many feminists and feminist supporters wish to show how Occupy’s many human rights complaints forge a bond between the occupiers and women’s rights activists.
Below you will find a list of issues deemed by the writers of the blog as issues routinely prioritized by feminists that are, or according to the article should, be important to the OWS movement:
The general focus of this list is equality for women both nationally and globally; however, its undercurrent furthermore suggests that because these circumstances exist, the more general issue of human rights is still a serious problem within the United States. What this lists describes is a series of circumstances in which many people feel as though human rights have been limited or have been nonexistent. The income inequality concern that sparked the OWS movement in New York is also an example of a very specific complaint that has its roots in human rights. By supporting the endeavors of both groups to raise awareness for the core issues the chances of effecting change are much higher.
(A more in-depth look at the feminist issues presented in this article can be found here)
Much has been made of the OWS movement’s apparent lack of leadership and concrete goals, its direct-participation organization and the idea of occupation as a radical act, and its utilization of technology. Based on my own historical research and the research of my colleagues, it appears that in truth, the only unique feature of OWS as a protest movement/mass demonstration is the technology, and this is only because such technology (and the resultant social organization/attitudes) did not exist in the past and so comparisons in that regard are apples-to-oranges. So in response to the question of “What is Occupy Wall Street?” my answer – from a historical perspective – is that it’s, well, nothing special.
Kara, in her post “What is Occupy Wall Street?“, discusses how OWS’s organizational principles are in line with long-established principles of true anarchism: loose organization, consensus-based egalitarian leadership, addressing economic grievances, and raising awareness. In addition, anarchism “seeks to transition the old system into one that fits their needs,” as opposed to a thorough overthrow of the existing system.
Erin has observed that the Great Depression saw similar economic-injustice/class-based protests. Protests on that subject go back to the 1800s with Coxey’s Army marching on Washington, D.C.–then, as now, the protestors were widely perceived as a disorganized mob.
So in this regard, the only radical thing about OWS is the literally radical (root-based) organizational mentality.
OWS’s use of the word “occupy” is another radical, original action that the movement is credited with – yet this blog post, by somebody self-identified as unaffiliated with the movement, highlights how OWS has only been employing a superficial sense of the word. To be situated in, to engage, to take possession of. The movement as a whole has not been engaging with the highly problematic history of the word as a key referent to white colonialism and oppression. Sophie Lewis suggests that, since the word is now so entrenched, people should consider actually radicalizing the concepts espoused–in other words, actually pursuing equality for all, rather than reinforcing various forms of oppression such as cissexism and the erasure of people of color. The Albuquerque movement, happily, is one example of an active attempt at true radicalization: it has chosen to call itself “(un)Occupy” to more accurately reflect the goal of decolonizing the 1%. If such cases of true radicalization (e.g. discussion of social privilege) become more widespread and even part of the popular discourse, then OWS could be said to have more of a unique aspect to it.
(Adrienne K. of Native Appropriations also applauds the Denver movement, and her whole post is worth reading in addition to Lewis’s writing.)
With regards to technology and OWS – my comparison of the Kent State shootings and the November, 2011 pepper spraying at UC Davis revealed that, while the internet is more “immediate and personal” than other media, images from the Kent State shootings spread just as rapidly after accounting for the built-in delay of media development. Therefore, it seems unfair to say that OWS is a wholly new form of protest due to the inclusion of instant-communication technology; rather, it is simply a protest of its time, of a society infused with current technology, just as previous protests were products of their technological means. Coxey’s Army did not have television or radio coverage to help speed the dissemination of its message like the social justice and anti-war/nuclear protests of the 1950s-60s; were the mid-20th century protests new forms of protests because they had ham or CB radio available for popular use (cf. twitter) or television to help get their message out to the public faster?
One could argue that there have always been “slacktivists” – people who say they support the cause, but don’t actually get themselves out there to do anything. Is writing letters to the editor, for example, a form of pre-internet slacktivism? Attending the big, publicized protest but not any other events? Wearing a shirt with the anti-nuclear symbol (now known as the peace sign) and leaving it at that? I am skeptical of claims that “Facebook activism” is somehow worse than previous ways of failing to commit to a cause.
An article by Marc Lacey titled “Countless Grievances, One Thread: We’re Angry,” simplifies the reasons behind the gathering of so many for a movement that, for the most part, has not brought about a policy change. According to the Handbook of Motivation and Cognition Vol. 2, positive feelings (i.e. not anger) are a better motivator than negative feelings.
“Peace activists, indigenous rights activists, immigrant activists — they’re all here.” A quote from one an occupier interviewed by Lacey. Those three activists have one “thread” in common, according to Lacey, and it’s anger. “What brings me out here? Outrage — outrage with what’s going on in this country,” said Lucy Horwitz, 79, who participated in Occupy Los Angeles. “Right now, the first issue on my mind is that corporations can buy congressmen.” Bold statements and quick soundbites can get people riled up and moving. “Buy [people]” is basically what the woman was saying and buying people is generally not okay anymore. The thing with that is it is temporary; anger diffuses quickly and interest can be lost just as quickly if there isn’t anything going on to make things better. People who take the incentives are usually very passionate about their cause but nowadays, there is so much to be involved in, it could be easy to get overwhelmed and take a backseat. How do you get people to stay motivated?
The movement has taken several approaches to this and their most successful is the tumblr. They get people to continuously follow what they have to say and arrange meeting places and incentives for coming. Those who show up have a good time and if they get threats to be arrested, it’s even better! Getting arrested means they did something big enough to catch the eyes of authorities. The attention could be a huge motivator for some and also having a purpose or cause to believe in.
In this, my final post, I will attempt to define what Occupy Wall Street really is. Let me start by saying that I will analyze this through the lens of finances, which is what my posts were about.
Occupy Wall Street in one word, is a response.
It is a response to the conditions that the majority of Americans face in our society. These are people who have decided that they will no longer stand by when there are billionaires who can finance deep-sea explorations, when they can’t purchase a car.
Unemployment has gone up since the Clinton years, the stock market still hasn’t fully recovered from its dip in 2008-9. Local businesses have been forced to close down, these are all things that displease members of OWS.
Have they been successful? My answer would be no.
Does this mean anything? My research couldn’t tell you.
What my research has shown is this. OWS is run by a group of people who know what they are doing. They organize the money that people send them, and they have appropriated a Finance Committee. Despite the dislike for the Finance Committee, and there is a lot of dislike, the Finance Committee does exactly what it sets out to do. It makes sure that nobody spends money frivolously.
Now members of OWS dislike the fact that the Finance Committee has more say than the General Assembly when it comes to funding, but look at the money troubles that OWS is facing right now. If the Finance Committee had been more lax with spending, they would be in a worse situation.
OWS, in part through the finance committee, has become a hub for people who are not happy with their current financial situation. They provide metro tickets, food, and small amounts of medical care for people who have been injured through the course of protesting.
An organization without leadership simply cannot exist.
Through my research, I have determined that while there is no one leader of OWS, there are many, the Finance Committee included.
Lastly, I would also like to say that OWS is a voice. It’s a voice for people who want their frustrations to be heard by the government. They are tired of endless bureaucracy, and they want change right now.
OWS wasn’t something that was cooked up overnight, judging from how the finances work, it was methodically planned.
Occupiers have grown tired of waiting for change to happen, and they want to bring it. Only time will tell if this social revolution will actually amount to anything.
The easiest way for me to define OWS is really difficult to define. It seems that every part of the definition I think up comes with about a thousand stipulations: do we look at OWS as part of a global protest or do we limit it to groups that claim the title “occupy,” do we measure its successes by policy changes or by the movement’s spread across borders? There are a few things everyone seems to agree on:
It didn’t start with Zuccotti Park. OWS is part of a larger global protest or protest movement that represents the frustrations of the underprivileged many in regards to the privileged and powerful few – bankers, dictator-like leaders, whoever. Think of my Shepard Fairey post Part 3
The global movement and OWS use new media and social media tools to spread the movement.Another post on our blog compares its global spread to that of the anti-globalization movements in the 90′s. The 2011 movement of anti-capitalism (a feature of OWS according to this post and many OWS protesters) has an ally in the internet and social media that wasn’t so prevalent in the 90s.
In fact, Time‘s Person of the Year article claimed that these movements have partly redefined the terms “globalized” and “viral.” They say that globalized no longer simply means economy, it can also mean this globalized movement and globalized feeling; and viral is no loner cute videos of pets or people doing embarrassing things, it can be a protest or a plan or a news story. Richin’s hyperphotography shows that OWS and the global movement have the internet’s cubist linking ability to thank for some of its successes. (Richin) See practically all of the Shepard Fairey posts, but most notably Part 2.
Part of this “viral” protest makes OWS into a kind of social meme. Celebrities follow it. Through their endorsement, their fans may join the cause or at least learn about it through “weak ties” as discussed in “Unreciprocated Ties.” “Occupy” is an advertising scheme too – this Tide advertisement copies the “99%” meme.
And, many of us have seen the pepper spraying cop, who has an entire tumblr dedicated to him. In a post about this, and other images from the OWS movement, J Hallward talks about a comparison between the pepper-spraying event at UC Davis and the Kent State Massacre images. Though, obviously, the Kent State Massacre was a much more serious incident, the blog post does bring up another point about OWS.
It isn’t a new occurrence. Yes, OWS, the Arab Spring, Tunisia, and Moscow are recent events. These types of protests, however, are not. The Times notes the phenomenon of protest history.
Ever since modern republican democracy was invented, astonishing protests and uprisings have spiked and spread once every half-century or so… It happens almost like clockwork, yet each time people are freshly shocked and bamboozled. (Abouizeid 89)
The article mentions the American, French and Haitian revolutions of 1848, various revolutions in 1910, and of course, the 60s. And they had art too:
So, what is Occupy Wall Street anyways?
It is a part of a movement that shows the frustration of the “common man” against the people who supposedly have the power, like so many that came before it. But, due to the proliferation of internet usage and social media, the movement has gone global in new way. Its images, ideas, and messages have gone viral.
My previous post narrated the basic history of the 1969-71 Occupation of Alcatraz. This was the takeover of the then-abandoned former prison by a group of American Indians, mostly California-area college students, in response to unjust treatment of the First Nations by the federal government. The occupiers wanted their grievances heard, and demanded the deed to the island in order to establish an university, cultural center, and museum. The government refused to listen to their demands, the initially sympathetic press grew disdainful, and as the basic organization of the occupiers degraded the government found reason to invade and remove everybody from the island.
The occupiers’ concrete goals were not achieved, but public awareness of their objections was raised and the government policy of ending First Nations sovereignty was gradually halted. While the basic arc reads as very similar to that of the Occupy Wall Street movement thus far, as my colleagues have observed there are some significant differences. OWS has not articulated goals that are as specific; OWS is a larger, more amorphous group; llaurenfrank: “for OWS there doesn’t seem to be anything specific that the government can do in order to end the protest.”
While it is true that OWS’s goals have remained comparatively broad, a recent Washington Post article indicates that their basic goal of correcting economic inequality remains the same. Brittany Duck, a participant in the D.C. May Day protests, said that “[T]here’s still a lot to do. Politicians say the economy is turning around, but for many people out here, the blue-collar workers, it hasn’t.” savannahredwards1 asks, “are [OWS] actually trying to get a specific goal accomplished like the Alcatraz ‘occupiers’ or are they just trying to change the way we think?” The Post article, as well as the articles included in this round-up of coverage of the May Day protests, illuminates that a large number of OWS participants are not satisfied with having “made a lasting contribution to the national debate about income inequality.”go
The larger scale of OWS is indeed different from the Alcatraz occupation, but one could argue that there is some similarity to be seen in the diversity of the Alcatraz occupation–over 20 tribes were represented, which is part of what led to the development of factions (Winton). Their individual goals differed, but the overall goal of government respect and recognition was the same. This can be compared to regional differences among OWS groups, where the individual goals differ while the overarching goal (correcting economic inequality) remains the same.
With regards to how the government can respond to the OWS protests: it’s possible to argue that there is, in fact, something specific that the government can do to respond to the demand(s) of OWS. If the root problem is income inequality, then bills could be introduced raising the minimum wage to align more realistically with the current cost of living. This would turn the minimum wage into what is known as a living wage; Pennsylvania State University has a website that calculates the living wage for localities across the USA and shows the disparities, illustrating how the difference can contribute to poverty and economic inequality.
That is just one example of a concrete solution; debates over progressive tax rates, another potential concrete solution, are currently ongoing but do not seem likely to go anywhere.
So how does this link back to the Alcatraz occupation? Again, there’s the impact on the national discourse without (immediate) concrete gain. It’s possible that in the long run, due to OWS, we will see real attempts to address income/economic inequality, like the Alcatraz occupation helped end some discriminatory policies.
nb: it should be pointed out that, as has been observed repeatedly by my colleagues on this blog, the majority of ows participants are socially privileged in a way that the alcatraz occupiers were not. it could be argued that this is why their trajectory has bottomed out earlier than alcatraz’s; the perception of this privilege caused people/the media to dismiss them more quickly. however, what will be the real long term effects remains to be seen.
Occupy Wall Street is an advertisement. You may be confused at that statement and even laugh, but through analysis of what the movement started as and what it has become, the characteristics of a commercial correlate to those of the movement.
Specifically, I will compare the qualities of OWS to qualities of a successful Super Bowl commercial. According to Alex Konrad, a reporter for CNN Money, the three aspects of a brilliant Super Bowl Commercial are story, brand, and equity (Konrad 1). These three qualities of OWS can be analyzed through looking at the logistics of the operation, such as how it began, the image it has created for itself, and the lasting implications that have been produced.
The story behind OWS is a primary driving force. The only way a story can appeal to its audience is to be strong and meaningful. According to a study found in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, “…ads with a strong story not only have a better shelf life in our memories, but also have it easier maintaining momentum in later ad campaigns” (Konrad 1). The matter in which the story is presented cannot be overlooked. The presentation needs to be simple, yet informative and thorough. If it’s too complicated the audience will get lost in the message that’s trying to be conveyed.
The true story of OWS lies within its origins. What started out from claims of economic inequality and frustration, expressed through peaceful and non-confrontational protest, has expanded into a wide array of motives with multiple methodologies being used. An example is the most recent OWS event, May Day. On May 1st, 2012, 50 occupiers were arrests; some protesters even threw police barricades into the middle of Broadway in an attempt to interfere with car traffic, while others sent letters containing white powder, presumed to actually be corn starch, to large financial institutions. Tactics for the day included protesting outside of Bank America for its predatory lending strategy that led numerous consumers to foreclose, blocking tunnels and bridges in New York City, and picketing outside of NYU in regards to their expansion plans in Greenwich Village (Barr 1-2).
A common interpretation of OWS is its intention to defend democracy, although some occupiers may argue with democracy is no longer present within the U.S. Nevertheless, OWS is still an evolving global movement that is consistently changing. One of my colleagues, emiliealoisia, states in her post Why Get Involved? Motivations for Supporting OWS Differ Across the Globe, “Since the movement lacks a clearly defined ideology, reasons for joining may differ between individual protestors. This is especially true when we consider the movement’s spread to other countries. Internationally, OWS has been used in a variety of ways, most of which are different from its original use in Manhattan’s Zucotti Park.” Because motives, ideals, and methodology have changed throughout the movement, they have become diluted through the cycling of old and new members. As a result, there is no solidified message.
The next key component of a successful Super Bowl Commercial is brand. Brand is the identity that is created for the message that the audience can recognize in any setting. Essentially, brand is the linkage between the story and what the organization stands for. Without this representation, there is no effect on the audience being reached out to.
Motifs and iconic symbols within an advertisement, and in OWS’s case a movement, should be synonymous with its ideals and are important to creating the brand. A large aspect of OWS’s brand is its structure. The main objective was to create a loosely horizontal structure in hopes of eluding the concept of a hierarchy. The movement has suffered as a result of this lack of solidified leadership. For instance, The New York Times heavily critiqued OWS by pointing out how the movement was not cohesive and was based on theory rather than practice. OWS responded with the idea of their own newspaper; yet occupier opinions on the topics to be addressed and tactics to be utilized varied greatly. One side wished not to “engage the system,” while the other wanted “all-encompassing demands” (Reeve 1). Because of the huge group divide in instances such as this, OWS has had issues developing a large consensus and thus, as The New York Times implied, a cohesive message.
But, OWS has made a pitch at organization and loose leadership principles. This is evident through their implementation of a General Assembly, a symbol of OWS because of its importance. It is a nightly congregation of individuals from various backgrounds who all bring various perspectives to the union. There are no leaders, but instead facilitators who run the meetings and switch responsibilities within and between meetings to ensure fairness and a sort of “anti-hierarchy.” The statement made by OWS’s implementation of the GA is vital to its brand.
Possibly the most important aspect of a successful advertisement, being that it is the culminating effort of story and brand, is a movement’s equity. Equit measures the impact a message has on an audience and more importantly, an organization’s staying power. Successful equity results in the audience’s appreciation for years to come, while lack of equity, in other words a one-hit wonder, result in a menial impact in viewers’ minds.
OWS’s equity can be measured by its economic, social, and political implications. But, what are they? According to my colleague, gvalerio2 in her post Can You Spell Success Without OWS?, no political or economic policy has been leveraged as a result of OWS, now 8 months into the movement. However, praise (as well as criticism) gave been given towards the movement. There has been praise handed out in support of OWS, mainly from Democrats, such as House Democrat Leader Representative, Nancy Pelosi, who states, “”I support the message to the establishment, whether it’s Wall Street or the political establishment and the rest, that change has to happen” (Desvarieux 1).
Socially, OWS has succeeded and failed in different areas. As I mentioned before, OWS started out as a movement and strong edifice for those who were dissatisfied with America’s direction. Unfortunately it has turned into a collection of individuals, rather than a cohesive movement. This is a result of having a reach so extensive that it has reached and influenced so many people that one congealed message may never be attained. OWS became a fad for some individuals, who in turn supported the movement half-heartedly. It has even become a pop culture parody in some cases, such as in the following Star Wars reference:
A fact about OWS is that it has raised awareness. It has become a global movement that has reached many cultures and countries extensively. I’ve even had the opportunity to conduct research in another Honors course on the socio-economic and political implications of the Occupy movement outside of OWS, through analysis of movements in the UK, Nigeria, and other cities in the U.S. All movements share a common knowledge of the basic beliefs of the movement, mediums of distribution (social networking), and (peaceful or not) some implementation of mass protest.
Comparing Occupy Wall Street to a Super Bowl commercial is not meant to be demeaning. OWS has been used as a tool to raise awareness to a cause, just as a commercial is used to raise awareness for a product. Both aim to gain a following. The story behind OWS is there, although continuously evolving. The brand has made its statement through logistical structure, yet remains diluted in overall principle. Now, has OWS established lasting equity for years to come? Yes. The movement may fizzle out in the coming months or years, but the impact of global awareness cannot be undermined.
Mark Bray, Ph.D. History student at Rutgers, said in regards to May Day, “There was a sense of novelty to Occupy in October…Today is more celebratory, and nostalgic” (Barr 2). Occupiers wanted their beliefs to be heard. The world has listened.