My visit to Occupy Boston

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Yesterday, I paid a visit firsthand to Occupy Boston, the local branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I’ve been writing and talking about economics and politics for a while and about the Occupy movement, so I figured it was time to do some primary, field research and go there myself. So what did I find?

Occupy Boston

First, the Occupy movement is certainly diverse. Take a look at this short, incomplete laundry list of issues:

  • Corporate taxation
  • CORI/Background Check Discrimination
  • Workers’ Rights
  • Violence
  • Murders
  • Gun Laws
  • Foreclosures
  • Political Corruption
  • White Supremacy
  • Disparities in Education
  • Budget Cuts
  • Racism
  • Bank Bailouts
  • Voter Fraud
  • Affordable Housing
  • Corporate Crime
  • Fraud
  • State/Individual Sovereignty
  • Foreign Wars
  • Religious Intolerance
  • 9/11 Conspiracy Coverup

The criticism that the Occupy movement doesn’t stand for anything is patently false. The reality is, based on conversations I had and the piles of brochures and other things I was given by volunteers is that the Occupy movement stands for far too much, so much so that it doesn’t know what it is.

Occupy Boston

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the movement completely lacks focus. With a laundry list of issues that long, there has to be some common ground. For example, people cited Arab Spring in conversation, but they neglected to realize that Arab Spring movements had a very clear set of targets: Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Qaddafi, etc. In each case, the target was the incumbent sovereign government that created conditions of structural inequality or injustice.

Occupy Boston

The second takeaway from Occupy? They’ve done a good job of identifying the problems (as you can see from the partial list above) that are totally valid and worth addressing. But because they have no common focus, no common ground, they also have no set of solutions to advocate for. Again, going back to Arab Spring, the common ground was clear: get rid of the guy in charge. I talked to two volunteers (who requested that I not reprint any identifying information) who, when asked how they’d solve the problems that Occupy is addressing, shrugged and said that they weren’t sure, but something had to be done.

A third volunteer said that we had to end corrupt government, end the power of corporations, and redistribute the wealth accrued by our corporate/government complex. When I gently suggested that that was the effective goal of communism, the gentleman I was talking to loudly protested, “I’m no goddamn communist. I’m a ****ing American!” I gave up at that point trying to explain that communism was an economic system, not a political one, and that communism can work on some scales and in some contexts. (Israeli kibbutzim are one such example of successful communism)

Occupy Boston

This is the third takeaway from the Occupy movement, one they’ve self-identified as an issue for their members. In order to more effectively articulate what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed, they need to get better educated about economics and politics. Of the five people I talked to, none had even a basic grasp of the difference between Keynesian and Austrian economics, which are the two effective viewpoints being promoted by various political sects today. For those not keeping score, the Democrats tend to lean more Keynesian, and the Republicans (especially Ron Paul’s ideological base) lean towards Austrian.

The bottom line for the Occupy movement is that it’s got a lot of energy. The people in it have their hearts in the right place as the political, economic, and social issues at the heart of the movement are very real. That said, it needs to get better educated and better marketed in order for it to resonate deeply with the average person and give them something to aim their discontent at.

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13 responses to “My visit to Occupy Boston”

  1. I’ve been wishing some marketing professionals would get interested in helping the Occupy movement. I know many of you are at least somewhat sympathetic.

  2. Interesting post Chris. Here in the UK the Occupy London movement is starting to get some negative press mostly due to the friction they’ve created with St Paul’s Cathedral. However, more damaging to them is the accusation (and popular perception) that they don’t really stand for anything.

    Your laundry list makes this point very clearly. If you have one dedicated army and 30 fortresses to take over would you try to storm them all at once or topple one at a time?

    I also think anti-capitalist is a very unfortunate term for the Occupy movement to have adopted: Social, Democratic Capitalism is the most progressive political/economic engine yet devised by mankind. In general terms it works better than any other alternative. The problem is not Capitalism per se, rather it is the greed and unfair allocation of wealth towards those at the top.

    Many capitalists are extremely enlightened and generous – think Carnegie or Gates (also genuine creators of wealth, not merely raking the cream off off other people’s labour) – the problem which needs to be solved is the desire of some to hang onto too much wealth, more than they could use in 100 lifetimes. Redistribution is certainly a big part of this, anti-capitalism is not.

    I hope the undoubted passion and energy the Occupy movement has gets channelled into a useful direction – a lot of good could be done here – but first they need to maybe pick three or four realistic goals, unite behind them and go after them.

  3. It turns out that you’re right, and the lack of focus is what the MSM is promoting as, “They don’t stand for anything.” The bigger problem and issue which may become an entire subscription is the lack of education, wherein no real progress toward any one specific goal can be accomplished. The lack of effective leadership dooms this movement as a result.

  4. The overarching premise of the OWS movement is “the one thing we all have in common is that we are the 99% who will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.” While the message is certainly plutocratic, the aim, I believe, is to stir debate around issues that fall under that topic. To that end, even though cluttered with assorted opinion, they’re still on message. 

    By its very nature there’s going to be divergent views. Put a group of passionate people together and some will be articulate about political, social and economic imperatives, and some will crap in a nearby sink.

    Yes, it’s a very broad universe of complaints and that’s frustrating to detractors. Critics can’t pick one issue (or leader) to demonize or make fun of to any real effect, therefore the movement continues in its sloppy, confounding and messy way. 

    The movement is currently being managed, not led, by participants in each of the cities it’s taken root. Each have a slightly different view point generally reflective of the community it’s in. Some are sharing song and sweets with local police and some are clashing violently, perhaps in an attempt to challenge the intent of peaceful disobedience. 

    Leadership is always taken, which is why you see some movements potentially getting co-opt by opportunists trying to use it to their advantage. Eventually, because of weather, or the strength of a leader who steps in, the movement will shrink, yet gather more actionable focus, which will meet the traditional needs of those who don’t know what to do with it right now. 

    But, not yet. Which is the point that many miss. Right now the action is to get a populace that is placated over, “Puppies vs Babies” or embroiled over which contestant got booted off which reality show, to instead spend a little more time actively debating some of the issues you uncovered. They are attempting to influence the conversation. By that measure they’re gradually succeeding.

  5. I’ve been to the local Occupy movement here as well, and my take isn’t as positive as yours. I’ve always been a big believer that one person CAN change the world if they set their mind to it. Sadly, camping out in a public space isn’t really “doing” something.

    There are certainly problems in the world that need to be addressed – I just wish they would spend some time thinking of solutions and then working to implement them. I don’t even care if the solutions they think of WORK – just try to do something positive instead of what they are doing which is complain.  

    Just my opinion, of course, and I recognize that it’s not a popular one in many circles.

  6. Danilo Vargas Avatar
    Danilo Vargas

    Very insightful analysis of what needs to improve with the Occupy Movement. I think one significant accomplishment is that they are making us realize that we as Americans need to stop bemoaning the sad state of our politics and actually go out, take a vocal stand, and actually do something about it. That was the hard part, now like good marketers’ the movement needs to fine tune their message and focus that action.

  7. Seems like one big Festivus party to me (with an extended airing of grievances).

  8. IDrpowell Avatar

    Your analysis is spot on. I think many of the issues you outlined (e.g., no clear solutions, poor understanding of economics, etc.) are why I’ve had a hard time feeling connected to OWS. I see the truth of much that they’re angry about, but it feels like a two dimensional anger that’s out of context and disconnected from reality (to your point about the gentleman that didn’t make the distinction of communism as a economic system).

    Part of me wonders if we would have reached our current situation if we (as a larger society) had taken an interest in economics before things went to hell and made the effort to educate ourselves. Alexis de Tocqueville had a point when he said in a democracy that we get the government we deserve.

  9. It is an interesting post to read. Thanks for sharing this post.

  10. Terri MacMillan Avatar
    Terri MacMillan

    Chris, I am a long time MOC listener, and I’ve bought “Marketing White Belt”: I know you can be caustic and don’t suffer fools gladly. So it was with trepidation that I read the title of this post. 
    I think you were very even-handed and fair, and even gentle, and I really appreciate it. 

  11. I’ve heard the same issues being mentioned about the movement Chris, which is the biggest problem as the energy is too dispersed to affect change, which does need to occur.

  12. This is an interesting post to read.Today various political group are have effective viewpoints.I just wish they would spend some time thinking of solutions and then working to implement them. I really appreciate it.

  13. This is an interesting post to read.Today various political group are have effective viewpoints.I just wish they would spend some time thinking of solutions and then working to implement them. I really appreciate it.

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