Research by and for Occupy Activists Challenges Received Wisdom about the Movement, Urges Alliance with Poor Peoples Movements

Months after the NYPD eviction from Zuccotti Park, NY Occupy activists conducted over 120 political projects allying hundreds of organizations – even as media coverage of the movement declined.

NY Movement Most Often Sought to Expand Public Communication, But Low and Middle Income Allies More Often Fought For Basic Rights and Subsistence

A new study released today (http://bit.ly/1futsoY) by and for Occupy activists finds the movement built alliances among newly politically active people and hundreds of diverse organizations in the New York area alone in the first half of 2012. The findings challenge common media narratives that Occupy simply ‘faded away’ after the Nov. 2011 raids at ZuccottiPark and that the movement primarily involved affluent whites.

“The movement was more far reaching than previously documented or as suggested by declining levels of press coverage in 2012,” said James Owens, the study author. The study found Occupy organizing in NYC enabled a pluralistic network of alliances connecting over 200 non-profits, emerging grassroots groups, religious organizations, and incorporated businesses with over 120 Occupy groups. Occupy united allies across social divisions based in identity, professional and non-professional status, and racial and economic background. “The NYC Occupy movement connected people taking political action for the first time to a highly diverse network bridging divides reinforced by ruling elites,” said Owens.

The purposes advanced by NYC Occupy projects also contradict common characterizations that the movement was mostly engaged in prefigurative politics, that is, creating alternative systems of government and distribution. The study found 5 times as many projects sought to reform existing systems than to create alternate systems and less than 2% of projects sought to create or revive deliberative assemblies such as the New York City General Assembly.

The most common purpose pursued by Occupy projects in the sample was to create new means for public political communication. About 43% of projects sought to expand public political communication, with most advancing face-to-face rather than print or online interaction. Occupy activists may have given higher priority to public political communication than issue campaigns or even mass protests, the next most common purposes pursued by 36% of projects.

According to the study, competition over movement purposes may have developed along lines of established social privilege/exclusion. According to the report, “Projects seeking to create spaces of communication and wage issue campaigns for healthcare and financial reform tended to emerge from alliances of wealthier, whiter, professional identified partners.” In contrast, partners from communities of color and low-income struggled for human rights, subsistence issues, and against foreclosures. Mass protests, the study reports, may have emerged from alliances of white, mixed, and non-white low and middle income communities but with little participation from upper-income or professional partners.

The study recommends Occupy activists should rally behind poor people’s struggles against the common opponents of the poor and the relatively affluent: banks, corporations, corrupt officials, oppressive police systems, and the 1%. “If recognized through poverty and mass incarceration, the injustice of the ruling order demands more than a fight for improved financial regulation,” said Owens.

The study itself fulfills a long term goal of The NYC Occupy Project List, a publication (and ancestor of OccupyNetwork) that gathered and shared information to help people participate in and shape the actions of the movement in 2012. The NYC Occupy Project List produced the data used in this study and enjoyed the support and authorization of the OWS TechOps and InfoHub working groups.

For more information contact: projects@occupywallstreet.net

Past issues of The NYC Occupy Project List are available here:
Issue 1, Issue 2Issue 3

 

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