I’m guessing that everyone who reads this blog has heard a fair bit about the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests. I’m not going to add too much commentary about the protests themselves, but fortunately, a bunch of other sociologists and bloggers have. So, I’m going to do a bit of a link roundup and end with a related thought on the politics of climate change.
First up, Jenn Lena has two excellent photo-heavy posts from her trip to the protests. The first is here and focuses on some of the impressive organizational infrastructure of the semi-anarchic movement. The second is here and highlights the print publications put out by the protesters to help educate newcomers and outsiders. I particularly love the “Occupied Wall Street Journal.” This is what happens when the nation’s English and journalism majors can’t get jobs! Here’s one revealing answer from an FAQ in the OWSJ:
Q: What would a ‘win’ look like? Again, that depends on whom you ask. As Sept. 17 approached, the NYC General Assembly really saw its goal, again, not so much as to pass some piece of legislation or start a revolution as to build a new kind of movement. It wanted to foment similar assemblies around the city and around the world, which would be a new basis for political organizing in this country, against the overwhelming influence of corporate money.
Social movements scholar David Meyer has a nice post on the controversy over whether or not protesters were misled by the police into thinking a particular bridge was on a protest route, the event which led up to the mass arrests which in turn increased media attention on the event. His conclusion?
Watch a few videos and you’ll probably conclude, as I did, that police warned demonstrators and that many demonstrators thought they were following a safe demonstration route and received no warning of impending arrests.
OrgTheory’s Brayden King compares the current Occupy Wall Street movement to the 1960s Berkeley Free Speech Movement. Brayden argues that, somewhat like the FSM, Occupy Wall Street has a heavy participatory process orientation which makes it hard to unify quickly around a specific policy agenda to hand to the suddenly interested media. Brayden ends by asking, “Ultimately, the Occupation movement is going to need that kind of unity around a clear, discrete reform. The question is whether they will become united while the media still cares.” I would add another, perhaps related question: Will more unified, less radical reform agents (folks like Elizabeth Warren) be able to take advantage of this situation to (at least) enact existing proposals for financial reform (such as Dodd-Frank, the Tobin Tax, etc.)? See also Kristof’s Op-Ed in the NYT which tries to do just that.
Mike Konczal of RortyBomb has had a wonderful series of posts, based on firsthand observation as well as some thoughtful reflection and macroeconomic data. Here, Mike asked fifteen protesters to define “freedom.” Their answers are interesting, ranging from “freedom from necessity” to more political process definitions to a more pragmatic answer about student loan debt restricting freedom.
Another post draws on macroeconomic to argue that The Young Are #OccupyingWallStreet Because They Have the Most to Lose. Konczal focuses on declining youth employment, the increase in youths living with their parents into their 20s and 30s, and the strong relationship between increased unemployment and lower entry-level wages.
Finally, Konczal cites some recent social movement research by Ziad Munson on The Making of Pro-Life Activists, specifically, that action can produce beliefs just as much as beliefs can produce actions:
The link between beliefs and action must be turned on its head: real action often precedes meaningful beliefs about an issue. … Beliefs about abortion are often underdeveloped, incoherent, and inconsistent until individuals become actively engaged with the movement. The “process of conviction” (Maxwell 2002) is the result of mobilization, not a necessary prerequisite for it (pg. 20).
I haven’t read Munson, but the book and the main finding cited sound fascinating. In particular, the finding relates to a very different context that I’ve been interested in for a couple years: climate change. There is a wide body of survey-based research on climate change that has some frustrating findings on the increasing political polarization of public opinion about the extent, severity and sources of climate change. Interestingly, more educated Democrats but less educated Republicans are likely to be concerned about climate change (see Hamilton 2011). There is also a growing historical literature on the funding of anti-climate change research and propaganda by the same folks who defended big tobacco (see Oreskes and Conway’s Merchants of Doubt). These findings led me to wonder, how do people form their opinions about climate change? How is climate change similar to or different from other scientific controversies which call for political and popular action? And, more specifically, how should we most effectively fight climate skepticism? Munson’s research would suggest that the key is to get people to act independent of their existing belief or certainty. But it’s somewhat hard to imagine what that action looks like for a problem as massive and yet quotidian as climate change. Campaigns for energy efficiency on campus? Protests in favor of alternative energy? None of it has quite the allure of an occupation of Wall Street.
Please leave comments with any other excellent stories or blog posts about Occupy Wall Street! And I’d love to hear what social movement experts think of Munson and the overall claim that actions drive beliefs, and the connection (or non-connection) to climate change.
EDIT: Ezra Klein has an interview with leading economic anthropologist and protest co-organizer David Graeber here. Here are Graeber’s concluding words:
GB: Right, and Wall Street is just a beautiful illustration of that. Here we have these guys who were just greedy crooks, who crashed the global economy and did terrible things to the lives of people all over the world. None of them have paid at all. There was a debate about whether their bonuses should be lowered. On the other hand, if people point out to vigorously that this has happened, they do get arrested. And that helps to point out the essential double standard of the system.