OWS: Passive Protest or Direct Action?

There are many different opinions regarding OWS, but one thing all can agree upon is that it a form of a protest. Typically, a protest is an appeal to a system for change.

This appeal can be done through gatherings, displaying signs, or distributing information to inform others why you are protesting. Protests can also be violent or passive.  However, the common denominator is still the appeal for a change and hoping that the higher power will notice and listen to you. Direct action is taking protesting a step further. Direct action is acting as if the standing structure has no power. Simply, it is no longer an appeal, but a defiance. Action also involves not only defying current laws, but also acting out the changes you wish to see. As an example, the Civil Rights Movement holds excellent examples of each. Protests would have been groups together holding signs asking for equal treatment, but direct action were the acts such as Rosa Parks sitting in the front of the bus. OWS, in my opinion, has aspects of both. There are defiant protests within the movements, such as the hoards of people holding signs asking for change, but I also feel that there is a degree of direct action. The OWSers directly violated several laws, granted they were mostly parks laws about camping and laws restricting park access and occupancy, but they were laws. However, some such as Noah Millman, feel that since the laws had nothing to do with the actual protest, OWS cannot qualify as direct action.

I feel though that the more important aspect is how and why the laws were being broken.The OWS camps were not just about sign gathers; each OWS site became a functioning community with its own structure and rules. These small communes were part of the greater vision of OWS. So if the key components to direct action are breaking laws to obtain the system you wish to see, I feel that OWS accomplished this because they were thriving in a system separate from the American government and Wall Street.



11 responses to “OWS: Passive Protest or Direct Action?

  1. It is a pretty long stretch to contend that any direct action was taken. You listed examples of IN-direct action. Let’s be honest here. Violating a few petty park regulations and vagrancy laws isn’t exactly a catalyst for economic change.

  2. I disagree, the protestors were doing their best to actually occupy wall street and occupations/sit-ins are examples of direct actions. Since their major opposition was the stock market and the government’s regulations, there were limited options to actually interfere with these systems besides breaking laws to demonstrate their vision of America’s future. They also did extend their protest to Washington copying the same format as New York, and still basically partaking in a sit-in, lived free of the stock-market and government. Another off-shoot of the movement is an even clearer form of direct action. Occupy Homes (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/06/occupy-wall-street-occupy-foreclosed-homes), which evolved from OWS, was/is OWS protesters occupying homes that are foreclosed, which is directly impeding the current system.

  3. I think a huge difference between OWS and notable protests of the past (that eventually succeeded in creating change) is the level of behind-the-scenes work and action in the latter. When I think of the great protests of the 20th century–India, S. Africa, and segregated America to name a few– there was a high level of direct action by organized participants at a near constant level for months or even years between large-scale protests. The protests themselves were merely headline grabbing vocalizations designed to raise awareness among the general population. It was the work before and after the protests themselves that actually facilitated change. Correct me if I’m wrong, but OWS did/does not have such a framework to begin facilitating change.

    This is a little off topic, but an interesting thought nonetheless. I do not see any real change coming from OWS because another grass-roots organization diametrically opposed to them will work just as tirelessly to keep them from achieving their goals: the Tea Party. Ironically enough, OWS and the Tea Party are angry at the current system for the exact same reasons. The main difference between them is their proposed solutions. Ultimately, OWS wants more government control, while the Tea Party wants more de-centralized government control and more individual economic freedom. The Tea Party arose out of anger at the leftist agenda of the 111th Congress and their efforts resulted in a massive right wing shift in the 2010 elections. OWS was the almost inevitable response by the left. When one political extreme pushes, the other will always push back. Do you think that OWS will have a similar influence on the 2012 elections that the Tea Party did in 2010?

  4. coffeeshoprhino

    Have you thought about the difference between a protest and a demonstration? Some OWS protesters refer to what they are doing as demonstrating change (in other words, not everyone can agree that it is a protest).

  5. @Haykakan:
    My understanding has been that there has been extensive behind-the-scene work for OWS, and all of the offshoots of the main movement. The problem is that the individuals remain anonymous because of the movement’s firm believe of solidarity. I also would not be as quick as to write the OWS movement off as a failure. It is actually still going very strong, just in different locations and directions. For example, Occupy Atlanta just published their declaration a couple weeks ago (http://www.occupytogether.org/2012/03/29/the-declaration-of-occupy-atlanta/). Also if you refer to my last post, Occupy Homes has actually had some success in their goals.

    As to the political impact, I’m sure OWS will leave its mark on the coming elections. I do a agree with you that OWS filled the role of the inevitable response from the left in regards to the Tea-Party, but I’m not sure if it will have as much as an effect that the Tea-Party had because of OWS’s media representation. I feel like the media favored the Tea-Party movement over OWS, and even if all channels did not support the Tea-Party, it still had the full support of networks like FoxNews. That is just my opinion though.

  6. @coffeeshoprhino
    From what I have learned in Conflict Analysis and Resolution classes, a demonstration is a type of protest. In my experience, “protest” is an umbrella term for different forms of action, including demonstrations, direct action, rallies, petitions, acts of civil disobedience, and many more forms still. These also have various sub-set to them. Protest may also be violent, non-violent, passive, or active. So what I meant when i said that “everyone can agree that is is a protest,” I meant protest is the general term. Since protest is so broad, I meant it is just which form of protesting OWS is that gets debated upon.

    • @kjonach
      Thanks for the info. I would be interested in knowing how much action is being taken, but I guess from an outsider’s standpoint it’s relatively immeasurable.

      I agree with you that OWS will probably not have as big of an impact on this year’s elections, but for different reasons. I think your assessment of media bias (with the exception of Fox News) is pretty much backwards. While Fox News is obviously pro-Tea Party and anti-OWS (as reflected by their reporting), pretty much every other major network painted OWS in a favorable light while portraying the Tea Party as a bunch of low class, southern hicks. I think the main reason that the Tea Party had more impact in ’10 than OWS will have in ’12 is that the former is much larger and better organized. I’m no fan of what the Tea Party has become, but it is what it is.

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  8. I agree Kara i feel like direct action is the new form of protest. It isn’t saying that you want the people in charge to change what they are doing, but rather change the people that are in charge. I think it is becoming more clear that it is not how loud you say something or how many people are saying it, but showing examples of why the system in place isn’t working and how to change it. I feel like this movement is not just about saying change it, but also what to change it to. They are getting specific which i think is needed. Very good point about the direct action i have never thought about it like that before.

  9. Also if it is a protest or a demonstration is really getting lost in semantics. Protesting is not black or white, it means something different to everyone. Some people view posting pictures in front of everyone a protest, others say there has to be yelling and locking yourself to things and what not, were as others think being silent says more then yelling ever could. Protesting isn’t a specific thing, it is more of whatever the person who is trying to get their point across makes it.

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