Many of us are watching with rapt attention as events in Oakland, Atlanta, and many other cities unfold. The police actions in NYC at the outset of the movement, and now the use of tear gas by police (and the serious injury inflicted on a Marine veteran) all play into the movement dynamics in very interesting ways. Readers will want to visit our sister blog, Sociological Images, for a very interesting story by Gwen Sharp, who presents a provocative graph charting what seems to be a dialectical relation between police repression and media coverage, in keeping with social movement theory. And yesterday, many national newspapers were reporting that many cities (New York, Oakland) were beginning to back off, perhaps sensing the tactical disadvantages that repression involves.
by Edward Walker, University of California-Los Angeles
The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstrations have caused, to say the least, quite a stir in the weeks since the first events in the New York financial district on September 17. Organized with explicit reference to the Arab Spring uprisings, activists responded to a February call by the Canadian magazine Adbusters for a “Tahrir square moment” targeted against Wall Street financial firms, which they called “the greatest corruptor of our democracy.” Although the first events included only a small number of activists and looked like to many like a bust, fortuitous events facilitated broader mobilization: mass arrests of over 700 demonstrators who thought they were following the officially sanctioned march route over the Brooklyn Bridge, a YouTube video of an officer pepper-spraying a seemingly defenseless group of activists, and the early support of the Airline Pilots Association (followed by significant additional union support in the following weeks). The campaign’s reach has become astoundingly broad; as of October 15, the movement claims to have a presence in over 100 U.S. cities and over 1,500 global cities. Even if these figures can be discounted to some extent as self-serving overestimates, the ability of the campaign to capture public attention has been remarkable. For instance, Nate Silver notes that the movement received a cumulative 3,000 print stories over the first three weeks of its existence, and my own October 16 search of NewsLibrary shows that an additional 4,500 stories have been published in the week since Silver’s October 7 accounting. Media coverage of the movement seems to be following an accelerating production function, to use Oliver and colleagues’ (1985) terms. By this metric, OWS is on pace to receive more cumulative early coverage than the first Tax Day Tea Party events in April 2009, despite OWS’s minimal initial coverage and associated questions about the its legitimacy early on. Further, the movement is gaining major traction in public opinion, as 54% now hold a favorable view of these demonstrations (this compares to the 27% favorable view held about the Tea Party movement). Read More