One of my friends recently chided the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protestors on his facebook page, noting that if they hated Wall Street and effective government, they could always move to Somalia. It was the kind of stark decision that presumably had not crossed any protestors mind.
However, it did reveal that these kinds of protests are tricky because it is difficult for people to grasp exactly what they want and how they intend to get there. Even the media by and large seems confused about how to tackle this movement.
Of course there is something slightly comical about thousands of people blocking streets to chant slogans in unison. Furthermore, people are entitled to wonder exactly what marching in the street would accomplish.
It doesn’t help that they don’t appear to have a unified message, but those are the perils of any organized movement. Even Jesus didn’t have everyone singing from the same hymn sheet (That’s my blasphemy quota for the week filled).
However I find such events intriguing, and not necessarily because of the content of their messages. I always thought that protesting-like rioting- is really an expression of community bonding (not that I approve of rioting).
The kind of bonding and that you see during those protests is not the kind of thing the average protestor is likely to experience often elsewhere. People coming together to fight against something is as old as hills, and having a common enemy has often been one of the core pillars of any strong community for better or worse.
And the size of the crowd isn’t necessarily a reflection on how popular the issue is among the people there-I’m fairly sure that most people aren’t there because of their burning passion for the issues at hand. For many, it is merely a form of bonding with their peers and a way to feel more in touch with their community.
The Wall Street protests also show the power of an effective slogan, and marketers everywhere would do well to sit up and take note. The protestors have dubbed themselves ‘the 99 percent’ (to separate them from the wealthiest 1% Americans) and it’s a catchy and effective slogan with enough clarity and no small amount of statistical evidence on its side.
Summing up your position in five words risks simplifying your position, but it also has a powerful effect, and there is enough truth in the message of the slogan to make it stick.
But there are also wider issues here-in these times when everyone thinks the youth are politically disengaged and are paid-up members of the apathy party, it is a strong signal that this isn’t particularly true.
The protestors seem to be mainly youthful, and their views are by and large coherent and directly address one of the most pressing and relevant problems in the world today- the recession and the financial shenanigans that caused it.
And I think the protests are also relevant in the context of a concept I discussed a few weeks ago-the asymmetric nature of lobbying between the wealthy and the rest.
In that article, I argued that this asymmetry can partly provide justification for increasing taxes on the wealthy because they find it much easier to influence those who make laws and hence have an unfair advantage.
The protests are a form of mass lobbying for those who would otherwise not have an effective way to lobby their representatives or government and could be said to bring some more symmetry to the lobbying process.