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Phil Cooke, Ph.D. Headshot

Occupy Wall Street: Is It a Good Strategy?

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Whatever you think about the Occupy Wall Street movement, it's instructive to take a look at their strategy. Today, anyone who needs to engage the larger culture to share an important message needs to think seriously about issues like perception, platforms, competition, timing, passion, and more. At our company, Cooke Pictures, our first job is to help our clients get noticed in a crowded, cluttered marketplace of ideas. Then, it's to get that target audience to embrace or act on those ideas. From that perspective, here's a few strategy-related thoughts about Occupy Wall Street:

1. Having no clear leader undercuts their message.
Grassroots movements can be powerful, but in a media-driven culture someone needs to speak for the tribe. Preferably someone articulate and admirable, who can express the goals and mission of the movement. (Think Nelson Mandela.) That leader also needs to take responsibility and absorb the hits if things go wrong. People want to know where the buck stops.

2. Protest is not enough. A few years ago the Tea Party marched on Washington with a clear list of demands: stop raising taxes, reduce the size of government, cut spending. Across the movement people voiced the same vision. But OWS? Everyone you ask has a different demand, and as a result, the crazies get as much press coverage as those with serious concerns. Protest is a good start, but that alone simply annoys the general public.

3. Solutions matter.
If all you do is complain, you'll get tagged as "the people who are against everything." Many Christians are guilty of that in their over-eager boycotts of Hollywood, the gay community, or companies who say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Complain long enough without providing an alternative solution and people begin to tune you out.

4. Don't leave a trail of crap (literally.)
After the Tea Party marched on Washington, network news organizations showed arial photographs after the march. The main mall was as clean as a dining room table. But when OWS at Zuccotti Park was finally cleared recently, there was human excrement left in piles, garbage everywhere, and hypodermic needles that had to be cleaned up. Plus, the scattered robberies, assaults, and rapes that happened in some of the camps didn't help the public's perception.

5. The worst calamity is when the other side co-opts your cause.
While OWS has a legitimate critique of the growing income gap in America, their lack of an articulate solution gives free-enterprise advocates the chance to make a more persuasive argument on behalf of their cause. For instance, they've shown real statistics that while the top 1% earns about 20% of the income today, they also pay 37% of federal income tax. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that wealth inequality is roughly unchanged from as long as 80 years ago. Those facts are adding up in the mind of the public. Your inability to state a convincing argument leaves the other side open to make it their own.

Keep in mind that it's not just a matter of whether the initial public agrees or disagrees with a protest movement. Many American's initially fought against the civil rights movement in the 60's, but Martin Luther King's clear vision, and articulate strategy of nonviolence, made the public realize the rightness and inevitability of the cause.

Last week, USA Today reported their Gallup poll that revealed 6 out of 10 Americans have become indifferent to Occupy Wall Street. It also pointed out that the number of Americans who outright disagree with the movement is rising as well. Occupy Wall Street is losing ground, and losing it quickly.

Whatever your political philosophy, a movement will fail if it can't clearly articulate its ideals. Particularly in today's media-driven culture, strategy matters.