Occupy Wall Street and Online Presence

What is the Occupy Wall Street Movement?

Even if you basically ignore politics and financial news, you’ve probably heard of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It has been described in a variety of different ways by many different news sources and media outlets.

A small encampment of mostly young activists with mostly inscrutable objectives that were mostly ignored by the media.  —The Week

A nationwide series of demonstrations drawing support from unions and mainstream liberal groups.  —The Week

A diffuse group of activists who say they stand against corporate greed, social inequality and the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process.  —The New York Times

An ongoing series of demonstrations in New York City based in Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street financial district protesting social and economic inequality, corporate greed, corporate power and influence over government (particularly from the financial services sector), and of lobbyists.  —Wikipedia

From looking at these definitions above, we can see that the movement has a lot of different, often general, objectives, and started as a small protest and has grown significantly as it continues.

While some think the mission of this movement should be intuitive and implied, I hoped to find a clear mission statement from an official site or organization behind this Occupy Wall Street movement. However, in looking around I realized finding a concrete statement of purpose is more challenging than it should be. First off, this movement is decentralized with a variety of participants from different organizations who are represent several (or no) affiliations. This introduction by the New York Times is a clear example of the variety of goals that are represented by the protesters: 

One protester, in an interview that Fox News has not aired, said he and others were calling for “more economic justice, social justice — Jesus stuff — as far as feeding the poor, health care for the sick.” Another protester, a former Marine who was elected by Occupy Wall Street participants to speak for them, told NPR that he wanted to overthrow the government and reconstruct it. 

Because this movement is so decentralized, you also see this chaotic disorganization on a variety of “official” web sites. When looking at occupywallst.org, I thought I was looking at the official site until I saw the first lines of their information page: “OccupyWallSt.org is the unofficial de facto online resource for the ongoing protests happening on Wall Street.” The site does mention Adbusters whose mission statement is as follows:

We are a global network of culture jammers and creatives working to change the way information flows, the way corporations wield power, and the way meaning is produced in our society.

This mission statement is general and broad, and encompasses a variety of projects and general goals but does not clarify the purpose of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

OccupyWallSt.org also mentions the group Anonymous, whose blog and news sites hold lots of detailed information regarding up to date events and documentation, but lacks a clear, general mission statement or information about what exactly this community is trying to achieve. As their name indicates, there are no individuals leading the organization, further adding to the general confusion of specific goals and point people for the movement.

Satya Pattnayak writes for the New York Times, “demonstrators will have to develop an organization and leaders in order to have a lasting impact on politics and policy.” Stephen Zunes echoes this sentiment in his editorial for the New York Times, saying “protests alone — however impressive in their numbers or disruptive in effect — do not make a movement.” Citizens involved with the movement are following the Arab Spring model for protesting, which has proven to be effective in furthering their visibility and nationwide recognition. While the protests are a good start, it is important for the community to think carefully about how to proceed, especially with their online image, if they want their movement to be successful long-term.

http://1.images.theweek.com/img/dir_0067/33703_cartoon_main/tripping-up-the-protesters.jpg

This movement started with a small number of protestors, and has grown into a national affair. I personally think that having a general demand or mission when starting a project can be a fine way to get many people with a broad range of interests and objectives on board. However, once your movement is off the ground and running, it’s important to focus and define some sort of leadership and point people (even if the organization is loose). 

As I mentioned before, there are many online sites that protesters can use to share information or receive updates about the movement (such as the aforementioned occupywallst.org, the General Assembly, the 99 blog, and the Occupy Together site), and I think in general this protest makes good use of online tools to effectively rally their troops. I think to be effective moving down the road, there needs to be a single site that stands apart from the others as the official source for news, missions, goals, and updates for this movement. This single web site should identify some sort of loose leadership (somebody is eventually going to need to take charge and be responsible for making decisions for swift action) as well as a flexible but prominent mission statement.

http://1.images.theweek.com/img/dir_0067/33778_cartoon_main/protesters-keep-it-real.jpg

There is clearly some confusion as to who the protestors are, and many news outlets don’t seem to be taking the movement seriously since the general perception is that the participants are left-wing hippie-types. The 99 sites does an excellent job profiling who the people are that care about this movement. This type of profiling of individuals should definitely be featured on the official OWS site, but a few changes should be considered. While pictures with words are personal and beautiful, the pictures are sometimes blurry, the words too small. Every profile should be accompanied by text, making the stories readable, and also translatable. It would be helpful to complete some in-depth, official profiles as well to feature on the site. These could be obtained by interviewing protestors in the park, and also at other locations across the country.

http://1.images.theweek.com/img/dir_0067/33918_cartoon_main/breaking-down-the-99-percent.jpg

The word of the initial protest was greatly spread via Twitter and other social networking sites. This article we read discusses the difficulty that OWS has with trending on Twitter. On the official site, there should be information about the hash tag you should be using, and it should change every few days. People should be encouraged to tweet at specific, strategic times using the new hash tag. This would continuously spark interest and visibility for the movement on Twitter.

Also, it seems to me that much of the information one can find online is fueled by forums and individuals. While helpful and important for active participants, it makes it difficult for people outside of the inner circle to find information about how they can participate remotely, or to understand what the latest news is. There should be a page that suggests daily actions that visitors to the site can take to make a change in their own small way, that also perhaps explains why this action is important. Along the same vein, I think that this movement should take this opportunity in the limelight to encourage each and every person across the country to inform themselves on issues of national interest and to vote. While the focus of this movement is definitely targeting Wall Street, banks and other corporations with major financial influence, many of the rules that govern these institutions come out of the policies that our government determines. This article gives some statistics regarding the number of protesters who voted in the most recent elections, and how many plan to in the future. Our government may not be ideal, but by ignoring the opportunity to cast your vote, you’re actively participating in furthering a flawed system. 

The success of this community depends on their ability to focus, define leadership, and create a strong online presence which would include a clear mission statement, profiles of individual participants, clearly defined and changing hash tags, highlighting ways you can participate remotely and encouraging people to educate themselves and vote, as outlined above. Without this clarity, this movement will return to being “a small encampment of mostly young activists with mostly inscrutable objectives that [are] mostly ignored by the media.”

http://1.images.theweek.com/img/dir_0067/33848_cartoon_main/politicos-take-the-99-percent.jpg