Lessons in Seeking Change – A Look Back at the Occupy Movement

I don’t usually tackle economic or political subjects, but WordPress has presented an interesting topic this week, so I’m giving this one-woman’s-take-on-events a try. Did you know that the Occupy Wall Street protests celebrated their anniversary on September 17th?

Remember the Occupy Movement?

At first, I got it. People were outraged that apparently Wall Street insiders got rich by being careless of their clients, careless of the long-term implications of their dealings, careless of any particular moral imperatives. We go to our financial advisors much as we go to attorneys or accountants when we need them. There’s a lot of trust involved, and undoubtedly some trusts were violated. There’s a growing wealth gap – the rich got richer, and… well, you know.

I’m absolutely not against peaceful protests or demonstrations. I’m a child of the 196os, and I both understand and appreciate the difference well-orchestrated voices can make. The difficulty I have with the Occupy movement is that it has failed to find its common voice. It has been unable to communicate cohesive demands or goals, at least to me. It doesn’t even always seem to know who/what the target of its anger is.

It’s not enough to be angry that wealthy people are powerful people. In a free-market economy, in fact in most cultures, that’s the case. It occurs to me that one problem confronting Occupy is that there is no single “bad guy” in what happened to the economy. Some people got greedy, and many others turned a blind eye to what they were doing.

In the US, some of the villains were Republicans, and some were Democrats. Some were stock brokers; some were bankers. And some were union or other pension fund managers and regulators elected or appointed to make sure that trades, loans, and mortgages (and the publicly traded firms which offer them) were properly developed and managed.

And the investing public didn’t always take responsibility or do its due diligence either. Investors and their advisors ignored those simple maxims: “Let the buyer beware” and “If it seems to good to be true, it is.”  After all, didn’t they have to buy in for “Wall Street” to succeed?

When things started to fall apart, even those who hadn’t invested in iffy transactions got hurt, because the stock market took our traditional investments, IRAs, 401ks, and pension plans, down a few notches, too. Companies suffered; more jobs were lost. We all became unhappy, regulators stirred from their reveries, and some people were moved to demonstration… hence Occupy Wall Street.

The idea caught on like wildfire – people suffering from the wealth gap across the US and around the world jumped on the idea, and individual encampments popped up everywhere. But they appeared, at least to those outside the movement, disconnected and diverse.  No clear leadership stepped up and grabbed our attention, and the message was diluted.

In the sixties, non-violent demonstrations helped break down color barriers in the US, and also saw an end to our involvement in the armed conflict in Vietnam. Everyone still remembers the well-organized March on Washington, and Martin Luther King’s dream. There were persuasive leaders, unity, and achievable goals in those protests (and others), that Occupy seems to lack.

On its anniversary, absent a cohesive voice and concrete proposals, Occupy has fizzled, but not died. The encampments, which had taken over public parks and become eyesores, expenses, and annoyances to the people they were trying to influence, have mostly been disbanded by local authorities. Regulators seem to be snoozing again, after slapping a few hands. The American people and media have moved on to the upcoming elections, where they feel they can have some power over our economic future.

And what have we learned?

Well, I suppose that outrage and righteous indignation alone aren’t enough to create lasting change. Nor are protests. Nor even being right. To make change, unifying, clear solutions must be presented – objectives that people can get behind. Being inclusive, as Occupy strives to be, is lovely – but the message of any organization hoping have an impact needs to be refined and focused.  A clear voice has to rise, and the goals must be offered in a way everyone can understand and grasp. I believe that’s what builds true momentum behind a cause.

The wealth gap concerns us all, whether we realize it or not. The economy affects us all. I certainly get that. It’s not that I necessarily disagree with the Occupy movement. It’s just that I never understood their plan.

And for me, there has to be a plan.


This post was written in response to the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind the Gap-The Occupy Wall Street Movement. To read more about the challenge and other bloggers’ responses, click here.

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19 Responses to Lessons in Seeking Change – A Look Back at the Occupy Movement

  1. eof737 says:

    Movements do work and can be effective but they need sustaining effort and a groundswell of supporters. If nothing else, the OCW folk got the message out and others globally carried it. Is America becoming more apathetic? … I wonder. 😉


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  4. Wonderful comment! I agree that there was no clear direction or real message with the Occupy movement. Until now, I was never really sure what they were getting at. Yours if the first explanation that has given me clarity on what was really supposed to be going on. And, you’re right there is no point putting forth the effort if there is no leadership and defined direction. Very well put! Thanks!


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  6. lamadu says:

    I’m not sure that they could come up with a list of demands even if they did have strong leadership. There are too many ‘broken’ systems in place. They no more know how to fix the problems than the government does. It seems to all boil down to various social issues that have been in the works for several generations, and there’s no quick cure for that.Our current society will have to move slowly into another direction before there can be positive changes. At this point in time, it’s akin to biting the hand that feeds you.


    • Thanks for the thoughtful response. It’s not easy to find solutions for complex problems, but they have to start somewhere. If integration (not a universally popular idea in the US of the ’60s) hadn’t been legislated, it would have taken much longer to get some people to accept it. It will be the same with any changes to our financial services industry, I suspect.
      Thanks so much for your visit to my blog – I appreciate it!


      • lamadu says:

        While I agree that laws help to push some issues through, if society is strongly against the trend it seems to only push the issue underground. For instance, prohibition seemed to only put the power into the hands of the mafia, etc. I wonder if the issue here is that there is no easy way to enact laws that will address corruption in the financial sector without also restricting free trade.


        • lamadu says:

          We seem to have become very complacent as a whole (our society). Certainly the political machine continues to chomp on certain issues but for the most part we’ve become used to allowing the government to have it’s way. I’ve often wondered why no one blew the whistle about the things you mentioned (sub-prime mortgages, etc.) but it seems everyone was more concerned about making as much money as they could, as fast as they could. I suppose no one thought the housing market would fall because we’re so used to everything going up, up, up. We’re in a constant gamble with the future and expect things to continue as is. The bad thing is – the laws of nature do not allow for continual “up”. Everything falls in due time. :/ Maybe part of the mentality that “man is king”?


  7. travtrails says:

    I wonder how far movements take us….I saw the stragglers at Union Square, New York and they appeared the non working types and hangers on….it was more of a photoshoot for visitors.


  8. travtrails says:

    There was a take on movement in Hong Kong too. I do not know how far it helped close the Gap.I saw the stragglers in Union Square, New York…a disparate lot, and again a big question that how far movements take us.


  9. coastalcrone says:

    You have done a good job taking on a political issue!


  10. Simon Elmes says:

    Nice post, I couldn’t agree more. Here in the UK during the camp outside St Pauls it was clear enough people had a problem with the ‘machine’ that is our financial world but nobody seemed to have a better plan, or even a plan of any sort to offer. Eventually any public support there was for the movement was lost as there was nothing new being bought to the table and it all went away, forgotten until this weeks challenge


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