... slow machine ...

The Missing Message of Occupy Wall Street


[Occupy Wall Street "General Assembly", 2011-11-19]

I went to the Occupy Wall Street "General Assembly" meeting last night, where there was a long discussion of the relationship between the Tahrir and OWS movements. This morning, reading about the crackdown in Egypt, I was struck by two different protesters' quotes in the the coverage from two different agencies. Different sources, but nearly identical: "We have one demand, the military council must go."

By contrast, even after all this time and drama, the message of the OWS movement cannot be summarized in any remotely similar way. It's impossible for me to explain to my my mother, and even some of my friends, for example, what the message is, what the proposed solutions are, etc. Even on the NYC OWS General Assembly website, the communiques are a mismash of complaints and a laundry list of ideals. But no solutions, no demands (or even requests) that reach beyond the needs of the movement itself, no vision of what change would look like.

I feel strongly the movement will collapse under its own weight without a clear message; I'm sure others within the movement do, too. I don't see how it can extend beyond the core believers without at least a somewhat unified message. Yet the GA appears to be bogged down in procedure and moment-to-moment reaction: everyone is concerned about continuing to sail the ship, and how to sail it, and what they need to sail it. But no one has explained, or even decided, where they want to sail to.

When Jesse Jackson first visited Zuccotti Park, an interviewer asked him how he felt that the group had made no demands. Without hesitation, he responded that he had faith the message would come in time, and added that he felt "Economic security for all" is a profound idea at the center of the movement. This veteran activist and communicator was able to succinctly, and immediately, explain the movement. Why won't the movement itself do so?

tahrir 
square, egypt, november 2011
[Tahrir Square protest, 2011-11-20; source]

The activists in Egypt won a revolution by defining a clear message, using it to expand support beyond the core, and keeping everyone mission-focused, regardless of consequences. OWS, at the moment, is missing several of these proven factors for success.

As we've seen in the Arab Spring and in other non-violent efforts, the violent counter-reaction from the authorities can help catalyze mainstream sympathy for the core group. But those newcomers will need something besides rage and antipathy towards the status quo to sustain their interest: they need a clear message to rally around. Without one, the "support" is really just an aimless anger that will not lead to any wider victory, because "victory" remains undefined, and therefore unachievable.

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