Deconstructing the “Occupy” Movement

As we roll into the holiday season, the “Occupy” movement is now a few months old. It started as “Occupy Wall Street,” or on Twitter has become #OWS, a physical demonstration, en masse, of people who are tired of their economic conditions, jaded by the massive shift in wealth the U.S. has undergone in the last ~15 years,  and generally want to bypass the political process to make their feelings against corporate greed and Wall Street excesses known. In their eyes, the political process failed — banks invested poorly, were on the brink, received a cash infusion through TARP from the government, and now that they are more than solvent, aren’t lending (or hiring) in the manner that they would like to see.

This is the context. So much of it has been written already, so I won’t rehash. Instead, I’ll try to share my thoughts as to how this could evolve. After protests on Wall Street and around NYC caught media attention, there was Oakland, California. Then Vancouver. Maybe something happened in Denver, but I’m not sure. I think I saw headlines about Seattle. And late last night, there’s video from the University of California at Davis of students, banded together sitting on the ground, peacefully, being peppered spray by a police officer.

With all this mind, here are some brief observations I’d like to share (and of course, would be curious to hear your opinions on these bullet points below):

  • The “Occupy” movement, irrespective of location, seems to be driven by the general sentiment that the effects of America’s growing income inequality are touching more and more parts of peoples’ lives.
  • However, in each location, “local” issues seem to be the driving force, not necessarily focused on Wall Street. For anyone who’s spent lots of time in downtown Oakland (like me), it’s kind of a lawless place to begin with. Protesters set up encampments outside Oakland’s City Hall. In Davis and around other public universities in California, tuition increases and budget cuts that will squeeze the student experience even more.
  • Clashes between police and protesters seem to be triggered around the “occupation” of physical spaces, where encampments are set up. After a certain point, the encampment may pose risks to the property owner, or, in the case of Oakland, a $1m+ bill to taxpayers, whereby force (in the form of pepper spray and/or arrests) are used to physically remove people.

My predictions for the “Occupy” movement, moving forward, are as follows:

  1. The “Occupy” movement will continue to pop up in random places, like it did in Davis, CA last night.
  2. Outside of NYC, these random pops will emerge because they were triggered by a hyper-local issue.
  3. Protestors everywhere will simply co-opt the “Occupy” brand name even if their complaints aren’t related to Wall Street.
  4. Each new random “Occupy” pop (and there will be more) are sort of like mutations of the original. It is an open question as to whether the mutation serves to strengthen or weaken the movement.

And finally, #5, I believe we will see more and more protests, possibly 1 big one before 2011 ends, and definitely a slew of them in 2012. I believe they will look different in every location. I believe that the main images mass audiences will see are YouTube videos, but that most won’t get the information of what’s driving each local movement. I suspect it will not be able to politically organize because of how locally-driven the issues are, and that they won’t form into a Tea Party-esque movement that mobilizes around elections and legislation.

Unfortunately, I see increasing brute force or even violence, as property owners, politicians, and police are in the uncomfortable position of preserving the peace and ensuring safety for the majority. This tension between the right to protest versus protecting property and the peace will eventually lead to more clashes that will be televised. This is the just the beginning.