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Why #Occupy will fail

Anytime individuals get together to reclaim social justice and fairness or to empower themselves in the light of gross inequalities, I’m heartened and encouraged.

I’ve been following the #Occupy movement with tremendous interest. The inequalities in society are increasing. The small % control the majority.

The movement is now 6 weeks old, and with that small amount of maturity, comes new models of organization and structure. News coverage of the #occupy has critiqued its lack of central leadership. That’s actually a positive, I think. Let ideas emerge, experiment with new models of democracy, and take advantage of self-organization and the passion of connected individuals.

However, the #occupy movement will fail unless it changes how it structures and scales its message to draw in the next wave of participants. Failure is a relative term, of course. #Occupy members could say “we’re successful because we’ve raised the profile of the injustices of the banking system and inequality of society”. And, of course, they have. They might even be responsible for getting Bank of America to drop it’s $5 monthly debit fee.

But, if the intent of #occupy is to reduce inequality – particularly at a systemic level – what it mosts needs is scale. By scale, I mean a critical mass of people. And that’s not happening. There are a few bright spots (Zuccotti park), but the movement has started to specialize too soon. At this point, I would expect to see numerous Zuccotti’s. It’s becoming a clique, an “in-club” with special language and symbols. I saw a few #occupy members on Colbert Report yesterday. They may not be representative, but I was left with a sense of “wow, I don’t speak their language…I have ZERO interest in being a part of what they are talking about”.

I’m concerned about economic inequality. #occupy has collected an eclectic mix of fragmented messages and specialized languages. As such, it is concerned with, well, everything: female-bodied persons, autonomous action and identity, empowered people, rights of all sorts, economics, racism, social injustice, and so on. Each draws from its parent discipline (often in academia) with special language and special processes of communicating. Unless #occupy is able to communicate 1) in a manner, 2) about topics, and 3) in a language that resonates with broader society their ideological fragmentation will be a liability.

I see this from a learning perspective: Learning is about coherence-forming…we connect concepts into some type of structure and coherent whole that enables action and guidance in our thinking. When language isn’t clear or when concepts can’t be cognitively apprehended because of too much specialization of language and protocol, coherence is simply not possible.

#Occupy can be leaderless and diverse and still succeed. It can be distributed and networked and still succeed. However, if its message doesn’t resonate with a significant portion of society, due to lack of coherence or limited capability of individuals to form personal coherence around numerous voices, it will fail. Over the last few days, for me at least, the message has stopped to resonate.


  1. George, u rock and I love ur viewpoint, but that message is not going away, so if it stopped ‘resonating’ for you, for now, look out for the next impulse to nudge your resonator – we need this for more than education, but for education, too – this really can be a revolution in thinking and all it takes is all of us to take part – scaling just means all of us!

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink
  2. Occupy has already succeeded. The debate has shifted to focus on “the one percent’ – which is now a new lexicon in the discussion. Occupy never had ‘demands’ and wasn’t about ‘causing change’ – it was about opening people’s eyes.

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink
  3. gsiemens wrote:

    @Stephen – if awareness is the focus of Occupy, then you’re right, it has succeeded. And not just within US/Canada, but across Europe and a few other parts of the world.

    But, if I was in the 1%, I’d simply wait for this to blow over if awareness was the intent. Once (if) people get comfortable (i.e. find employment) again, the inequalities will continue. For me, awareness has to lead to change.

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink
  4. Rebecca wrote:

    I wonder if the problem isn’t that the movement is cliqueing but rather, the press is only willing to report the cliques, largely with the goal of disenfranchising the movement – but perhaps that is just the me being cynical.

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  5. gsiemens wrote:

    @Rebecca – that’s entirely possible. I haven’t been involved in many of the occupy groups – I’ve been at the Edmonton location, but that’s hardly a hub. And, given Edmonton’s weather, I imagine that location will close down for winter. I was in Philadelphia a few weeks ago. Their occupy movement seemed pretty active. When idiot police officers (i.e. Oakland) attack people, it obviously serves to increase the interest in the movement. I don’t follow the movement only through the press however. Yes, I see mainstream coverage…but I also follow occupy through social media which has less filters and its far harder to disenfranchise the movement when the coverage is networked.

    It doesn’t take much of a look around (economy, environment, social problems, etc) to feel a sense of hopelessness. Occupy is one approach to empowering individuals. Which is why I find my current lack of resonance with the tower of babel messaging (thanks Jennifer Dalby) doubly disappointing. I want something of substance that I can engage with to enact change.

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  6. > if I was in the 1%, I’d simply wait for this to blow over if awareness was the intent. Once (if) people get comfortable (i.e. find employment) again, the inequalities will continue.

    And of course that is their strategy. And in fact, there is very little aside from significant economic pressure that will cause the 1% to do anything other than wait it out.

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink
  7. Rosa A. Ojeda Ayala wrote:

    My country has been #Occupied since 1898 by the United States of America, and we’re still considered a “territory”. I wished the movement would be #Des-Occupy Puerto Rico!!

    You say “#Occupy can be leaderless and diverse and still succeed. It can be distributed and networked and still succeed.” I have to agree with you, George, but only if, as Stephen says, their intentions are merely to open the eyes of people. Modern history is full of examples of anarchist approaches to social and political issues, and how these have led to failure. I agree with you,I also need something of substance that I can engage with to enact change. #Occupy is a good start… a great start!!… But it must get organized, get focused, and lead to change.

    Wednesday, November 2, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Permalink
  8. Lasse Høgenhof wrote:

    According to getting organized and focused, I for once think it is important to approach object instead of subject.

    Hereby I mean finding collaborative and reliable channels and a common language for communication. That could maybe create a helpful and powerful common nominator for the different messages streaming out of the quite scattered fragments of various movements.

    - & then purhaps a good question to ourselves: Where do we want to direct these messages & which activities would we like to follow – so this will not just be an important story, but an important change!

    Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink
  9. gsiemens wrote:

    Hi Rosa – interesting points about “de-occupying” Puerto Rico :) .

    I agree that it’s a great start. I don’t think, however, that #occupy has to get overly organized. I think it has to get its message to a broad group of people. I’m fine with the distributed nature of the movement. I’m fine with their desire to be leaderless and to emphasize democracy. While the movement can be distributed/fragmented/loosely organized, the message cannot.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink