After having made a profound impact throughout the United States as well as across the globe, the Occupy movement confronted evictions at all of the major 'occupy' locations. Within days Occupy movements were disrupted by police action in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The occupiers were evicted on the basis of laws that equate overnight camping in city parks as a violation of curfew laws and a threat to public safety and health.
The existing laws and their enforcement through the policing instruments of the state, in addition to the Occupy movement's commitment to "non violence" meant that evictions at most major Occupy locations occurred without any serious violent confrontation. While confirming the movement's sincere commitment to non-violence, the evictions and the manner in which they were conducted also highlighted that this movement had little or no representation within the political system. So while the city governments, in what are actually mostly liberal cities, were able to evict the occupiers, the occupiers could only argue, without success, that evictions constituted a violation of their free speech rights.
That this movement enjoyed little or no political representation despite its widespread appeal is no surprise given its recent genesis. Moreover, despite being evicted the Occupy movement has continued to evolve using tactics like thematic daytime marches and events, as well as by "aligning with local community groups, churches, and unions." However, 2012 being an election year provides a very unique opportunity to this movement and in some ways necessitates the development of tactics that will allow this movement to both evolve as well as effect the changes necessary to overcome its lack of representation in the American political system. This need to evolve is also underscored by the necessity to revive this movement's general favorability which started to plummet around November of last year.
Occupy Tactics for 2012
2012 being an election year provides an opportunity to the Occupy movement to translate its general appeal into electoral success and in turn to representation within the American political system. What is more, the Occupy movement can pursue this by utilizing some of the tactics and techniques they have so creatively conceived and applied since their inception.
Issue-based Politics vs. Party-based Politics
The Occupy movement is somewhat ambiguous about forming its own political party. A plurality (48 percent) of those we polled opposed (strongly/somewhat) the idea that the Occupy movement "should become an organized political party," while 34 percent supported (strongly/ somewhat) this idea. Moreover, as this movement has been generally hesitant in supporting and or endorsing any of the existing parties, (70 percent of 1,619 respondents surveyed by Hector Codero-Guzman, PhD, identified as political independents), the sure path for this movement is to pursue an issue-based rather than a party-based engagement with the American political system.
Issues Identification and Dissemination
The results of our 453 interviews in seven occupy locations highlighted the following political issues on which the movement appears to have majority consensus:
- Preference for progressive tax structure (77 percent of our respondents expressed a preference for a tax structure in which people who make more should be taxed at a higher rate)
- Preference for public sector and public-private partnerships to deliver social services (44 percent of our respondents were of the opinion that "social services are best delivered by" the public sector and 38 percent through public-private partnerships. Only 4 percent selected the private sector as the best means to deliver social services)
- Strong opposition to the present "U.S. policy in Afghanistan" (73 percent of our respondents said that they were strongly [57 percent] or some somewhat [16 percent] opposed to the "present U.S. policy in Afghanistan)
- Strongly Pro-choice (76 percent of our respondents were strongly [60 percent] or somewhat [16 percent] in favor of "public support for organizations that provide abortion services)
- Strong support for Universal Healthcare (61 percent of our respondents strongly [31 percent] or somewhat [30 percent] supported the "Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act." Many of the 21 percent who strongly or somewhat opposed it also suggested that they did so because it did not go far enough in ensuring universal healthcare)
- Strong opposition to drilling in U.S. waters (70 percent of those we polled were strongly [56 percent] or somewhat [14 percent] opposed to "allowing drilling in U.S. waters")
- Strong opposition to outsourcing of production and services (73 percent of our respondents strongly [49 percent] or somewhat [24 percent] opposed the outsourcing of production and services)
- Largely in favor of free trade (60 percent of our respondents strongly [31 percent] or somewhat [29 percent] supported "free trade between U.S. and other nations)
- Majority in favor of unionized labor (59 percent of our respondents were strongly [37 percent] or somewhat [22 percent] in favor of the idea that "companies with unionized labor should get government contracts before companies without unionized labor")
The movement needs to find a way to identify these as well as other issues through gauging the opinion of its members on ongoing basis. This should be done through voting to allow everyone to provide their input. Once identified, the movement's position on the different issues should be disseminated for the benefit of the general public and political candidates.
Town Halls, General Assemblies and Candidate Endorsement
Identification of key issues on which the majority of the movement seems to have agreement should be followed by organization of town hall meetings. These town halls should be fashioned after the General Assemblies held throughout the Occupy locations, as this format is highly effective at allowing for inclusive and interactive participation.
These town halls should serve as a venue:
- To further refine the Occupy movement's position on key issues.
- For political candidates to come in to present their own views and to offer their support for the issues identified by the Occupy movement.
- For the Occupy movement to endorse particular candidates for their support on key issues.
These endorsements should be temporary and reviewed and renewed on an ongoing basis using a rating system, even after a certain candidate has been elected to office. Overtime such a rating system will protect against politically opportunistic candidates who make campaign promises they do not keep. Given the decentralized nature of the Occupy movement, it can identify issues and endorse candidates at city and state level. In case a particular issue surfaces at various locations, it can be pursued at regional and even the national level.
In conclusion, while they have been wary of being co-opted by the existing political system, the Occupy movement has to realize that not being part of a system does not -- as evidenced by their evictions -- protect them from being subjected to its rules, regulations and enforcing mechanisms. Translating their general appeal into representation within the American political system should therefore be viewed as necessary for their survival, rather than as a concession or compromise.
Occupy Wall Street -- Public Opinion Project (OWS-POP) is an independent initiative dedicated to generating and publicly sharing data on the Occupy Wall Street protests and protesters.
To date we have conducted 453 interviews at seven Occupy locations:
- 220 interviews at Occupy New York in Zuccotti Park (Oct. 15-16, 22-23 and Nov. 5)
- 95 interviews at Occupy Boston in Dewey Square (Oct. 23)
- 38 interviews at Occupy Washington D.C. in McPherson Square (Oct. 30)
- 32 interviews Occupy Providence, Rhode Island (Nov. 13)
- 11 interviews at Occupy Oakland (Nov. 10)
- 37 interviews at Occupy San Francisco (Nov. 11-13)
- 20 interviews at Occupy Portland (Nov. 12)
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For Results: OWS-POP website: https://sites.google.com/site/owspublicopinionproject/home