Occupy Boston Potential Future Tactics Analysis
By Josh Sager
NOTE: This is a preliminary list that will be added to given time and responses.
With the eviction from the Dewey Square site, the occupiers of Boston must consider how to continue the movement through the winter and beyond. This document is not official in any way, neither is it an attempt to coopt the decision-making process of the movement; it is merely an analysis of our possible actions in regard to cost and effect. All of the below protest tactics are possible but they do have pros and cons; as there is little empirical data on the effects of protest tactic utilized by the occupations, all pros and cons are qualitative rather than quantitative.
There is no way to analyze every possible protest tactic, as there are virtually unlimited methods of protest available to the occupations; however, anybody who wants to add a tactic or discuss the below tactic can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (I will only talk about non-violent tactics and civil disobedience.)
“Occupy Our Homes”
Description: Several occupations across the country have adopted a strategy of occupying foreclosed building in protest of the actions of the bankers and the waste of allowing buildings to remain empty where there are homeless. In several cases, citizens facing foreclosure have been given support in the form of a small occupation on their lands; in most of these cases, the banks have neglected to force eviction while the occupation is on site.
Positive: In the case of occupying foreclosed homes, helping average citizens retain their homes is an effective and positive protest method. As the protestors are not squatting on public land, there is little chance that their detractors will accuse them of blocking public use of that land. As the mortgage problems are so widespread, the tactic of helping people who are evicted would likely garner large levels of support from the public; it is non-aggressive and it is seen as a public service rather than a nuisance.
Negative: If this practice were to become widespread, the banks would likely fight aggressively against these occupations; arrests would eventually begin to increase due to top down pressure on authorities. This tactic disproportionately helps those in middle class areas because their properties would be more able to accommodate a significant occupation, while those living in lower class areas would simply not have the physical space (house versus apartment).
Re-occupying an area in the city
Description: It is possible to pick a new location in the city for the occupation to build a new “occupy” camp; this action has been done at other occupation such as Occupy San Francisco.
Positive: The new location could assist the homeless who were evicted from Dewey when it was raided. The physical presence of the occupation acts as a symbol for those who follow the movement as it is one of the signature tactics of the 99% Movement.
Negative: As the judiciary has ruled that there is no right to occupy, the police would rapidly crack down on this site and it would be shut down very quickly. This option wastes resources and would not accommodate the transition to the second stage of the 99% movement. As was demonstrated with the Dewey Square occupation, there are numerous problems with occupations that would likely detract from the message of the group; this tactic has also diminished in its effectiveness and likely would not survive the winter.
Shutdowns of political/banking offices through occupation
Description: Staging small scale, temporary, occupations at political offices, lobbying offices, and banks in order to impede business as usual.
Positive: This tactic can be used to target specific groups and obstruct their actions without impeding the public. If the area occupied is considered public space, such as a political office, the owners have little standing to evict the occupiers until the end of business hours. These areas are indoors and would be able to accommodate long term, daytime protests. As the areas occupied are small, there are low requirements for the number of occupiers to cause an obstruction.
Negative: If the area occupied is private property, such as a bank or lobbying office, those occupying them would be arrested and charged with criminal trespassing and potentially disturbing the peace. In many cases, the occupation of an area will not obstruct the operations going on there enough to have an impact. The areas occupied in these actions are often small or otherwise less visible than a public thoroughfare, thus the visibility of these actions is entirely dependent upon the media.
City-Wide protest marches
Description: The political protest march is one of the staple tactics utilized by political/social protests for decades. Marches through the city streets, coupled with signs and slogans, is used to make people pay attention to an issue that the marchers care about; these are used to mobilize support and act as a physical show of support for an idea.
Positive: Marches are very noticeable and can be used to raise awareness of a political/social movement. In most cases, marches are legal and protected speech, thus the likelihood of arrest at a peaceful march is less likely than many other tactics (occupations, sit-ins, etc.). Marches have been proven to be effective over years of protests in the USA and the world.
Negative: Marches obstruct traffic and can often irritate people who could otherwise be swayed to support the cause. Marches are common and thus garner less interest than other, more innovative and new tactics. Unless there is are significant numbers of protesters, a march is easily overlooked and thus ineffective in conveying its message.
Targeted marches to a significant location
Description: Targeted marches are identical to city-wide marches, but have specific routes and locations visited so as to target the effect of the march upon the focus of the protest. Banks, political offices, selected businesses, or other focus points of 99% protest are march locations in order to show these groups the level of opposition to their actions in a tangible form; often this is used to obstruct traffic to a target or to compel it to change its actions in the face of massive discontent.
Positive: Targeted marches focus the effects of a march on a specific target, increasing the impact on several specific locations, while decreasing collateral obstruction of the public.
Negative: Targeted marches operate at specific locations rather than large swathes of the city, thus the visibility is focused on a much smaller area (More focus, less spread).
Description: Specialized marches are marches that have a unique theme or defining characteristic; candle lit marches, costume marches, and dance marches are three examples of ways that marches can be altered to garner more visibility.
Positive: Marches with unique themes are much more notable to the public than a generic march. Anything that is unique tends to draw attention in the public eye more so than something that people have seen before.
Negative: See either City-Wide marches or Targeted Marches.
Bank Transfer days
Description: Large, coordinated, removals of money from the top 5 banks into smaller credit unions is a potential protest tactic; this was done earlier in 2011 and was one factor that led to the retreat of the banks in the $5/month checking account charge.
Positive: Transferring money from the big 5 banks and into credit unions both makes a point to the bankers and could have potential to disrupt bank activities. When a significant number of people leave the big banks, they will have a decreased, although still significant, control over the wealth of the USA. Transfers to smaller banks help them, while harming the large banks that caused the recent economic crisis, making it an effective and highly targeted protest tactic.
Negative: Due to the very nature of this protest, there is a very high level of attrition. Since people cannot remove their money from banks multiple times, more people must constantly be drawn in for this type of protest to have any repeatability. Due to the concentration of wealth at the top, the banks will still function while the rich citizens and corporations keep their money in the system.
Description: There are numerous types of flash mob, but they are almost a gathering of people at a predetermined location/time who act in concert for a short amount of time and then disperse. Flash mobs are extremely flexible and can act in a way similar to a march but condensed into a small area and time period; people quickly gather, act out a routine, and disperse.
Positive: A well planned and timed flash mob can be very eye catching and thus an effective method of conveying a point. There is an extremely high level of flexibility in a flash mob’s utility due to the varied types of actions and protests that can operate through such mobs. There is a small chance of being arrested at a flash mob because police rarely mobilize in time to deal with the crowd.
Negative: By their very nature, flash mobs are short term and localized, thus they cover a small number of people when compared to more lengthy and spread out protests. Flash mobs require perfect timing and planning to be effective.
Description: A micro-occupation would involve a small scale, symbolic occupation. By creating hundreds of brightly colored, small scale (1 Foot * 1 foot) tents stamped with the 99% symbol, we could hand out a new type of political sign. People who support us would hang these tents outside of their houses or apartments in a show of support for the movement. Using these tents in leu of actual tents allows for the idea of an “occupation” to persist while removing the camping during the winter time and the risk of arrest.
Positive: This protest tactic is cheap, and simply requires money for materials and that occupiers/supporters have locations to hang the mini-tents. As these tents are essentially lawn ornaments, there is virtually no risk for arrest or police harassment.
Negative: This protest tactic is untested and could lack the visibility of other protest methods.
Symbolic funerals (untested)
Description: Holding imaginary and symbolic funerals for concepts such as “The American Dream”, the 1st Amendment, or fair elections, is a potential protest tactic. These funerals would be conducted on public land in a manner virtually identical to a standard march.
Positive: The staging of a funeral for a well-known and liked idea is a powerful image. This tactic can be used to convey concern over an issue while at the same time informing people to the values of the movement as a whole. Mock funerals are a new tactic and thus would draw attention from the public more effectively than a common march.
Negative: This protest is untested, but it is essentially a themed march. See specialized march negatives above.
Mic-Checking political or economic leaders
Description: The mic-check is a signature tactic of the occupations. The occupiers use this method of sound amplification instead of electronic means during meetings; over time, it has adapted to use in protests, particularly during political meetings/speeches. When used in a protest, the mic-check is essentially a type of flash mob.
Positive: There is no material requirement for this protest tactic, nor does it require a large crowd to execute. Mic-checking is very specific and causes a high level of disruption in the speech/meeting but only a minimal level of collateral disruption.
Negative: As with all protests on private property, there is a chance of arrest that the protesters must assess. While disruptive, this tactic is only viable in short bursts at a political rally due to security shutting down the “mics”. For other negatives, see the flash mob entry.
Description: Utilizing posters and wheat based glue, the occupiers could spread information quickly and cheaply across the city. Posting numerous posters on well-traveled routes (Ex. Boston Common area, major transportation hubs, etc) would allow the occupiers to spread information about the movement and the ideals behind it.
Positive: There is a much lower cost to a poster campaign than an official ad campaign; the only requirements are an industrial printer, a paste, and volunteers. Posters can be posted everywhere and can be replaced quickly if removed. A large variety of posters can be printed and thus a rotating/varied set of posters can be used to inform people over a wide range of issues.
Negative: In many cases, placing posters on private property is considered trespassing and can cause the distributer to be arrested. Oftentimes, the poor or lower middle class workers of an area are the ones who are left to clean up the results of any poster campaign.
Buying media ad time
Description: The occupations could use mass media, whether print, radio, or television, in order to promote their cause. Ads are a staple of most political movements and have been shown to be effective in swaying public opinion at the margins of support.
Positive: Ads raise awareness of the occupations and the issues that the occupiers support. Ads are a well-established form of information spreading and have a proven positive effect when utilized correctly.
Negative: Ad space is expensive and it is unlikely that the occupations could compete with the opposition to the occupations in terms of ad purchasing. As shown in a leaked letter, lobbying groups are willing to spend far more money than we can raise in ads, thus attempting to compete with them is directly is ineffective. A lot of people inside of the movement are opposed to the idea of spending money for an ad buy, thus the occupations risk a split if they spend significant money for ad time.
Proposing bills to the media/politicians
Description: It is possible that the occupiers could write their own legislation to present to a sympathetic politician for sponsorship in the legislature. Groups such as ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce have been utilizing this method of pushing public policy for years; while the occupiers don’t have the level of money that these groups do, a high enough level of human support can push politicians to act on suggested legislation (such as in the civil rights struggle).
Positive: There is no more direct method of affecting public policy than to write the actual laws which are passed by the legislature. If the bills are kept, virtually un-amended, the ideals of the occupation could be formed into law (For the closest example to this, look at the recent decision in CA which stated that corporations are not people in a non-binding resolution).
Negative: Many occupiers have little faith in the current political system. It is unlikely that any “occupy” proposed bills and amendments could pass the currently gridlocked legislature.
Letter writing campaigns
Description: Writing letters to political representatives is a well-established method of pushing a political agenda.
Positive: Letter writing campaigns appeal to the older demographics in the 99% movement, thus such a campaign would allow those uncomfortable with social media to participate in the movement. The only costs of a letter writing campaign are those of writing materials, postage, and time.
Negative: There is a high level of time investment and writing skills required for this to be effective. It is entirely possible that big money would eclipse any letter writing campaign; money has replaced constituent voices in many politicians’ decisions while they are in office.
Running educational seminars
Description: Educational seminars such as the FSU or the Zinn lecture series can be used to raise awareness for issues that matter to the occupiers. While not a direct protest method, increasing awareness on vital issues can increase support to the occupation, just as long as the occupiers have a defined solution to the discussed problems.
Positive: Teaching people about the issues vital to our country has a long term effect on their views. Those who are better informed on the issues are more likely to be able to act in their own self-interest and thus support the 99% over the 1%.
Negative: Informing small (relatively) groups of people on issues has little direct effect on elections or policy. People self-select themselves when they attend the seminars, thus those who are unwilling to show initiative are not affected by this tactic.
Running an “occupy” candidate
Description: Many third parties and independent candidates have run for office over the years, thus one potential tactic that the occupations can utilize is to select, fund, and support a candidate/candidates to run in any number of elections. If the person who is running as the “occupy” candidate gets elected, it puts a foot in the door for the occupiers to effect policy from within the system.
Positive: This tactic could lead to political legitimacy for the occupations in our current system; look at what the Tea Party did with the Republicans (regardless of your views on their beliefs), running a large number of candidates in the 2010 election. By using a similar model, the occupations could potentially gain power inside of the system which could then be used to push an agenda.
Negative: Many within the occupations don’t believe that the current system is salvageable and thus resist becoming involved in it; this belief is strong enough in some that it could potentially split the movement. With the increase in money in politics there is a real likelihood that the corporate entities that the occupiers protest could drown the campaigns in money, thus reducing the chances of this tactic being possible to implement.
Description: By endorsing a candidate, the occupations could promote certain politicians who are ideologically in line with the occupiers. This tactic assumes that there is a defined set of beliefs for the occupiers and that there are politicians who hold the same views.
Positive: By simply endorsing friendly candidates, the occupiers gain many of the advantages of running their own candidate with a decreased monetary and time based burden. It is easier to support existing candidates within the two-party system than to create a third party to compete with both of the entrenched parties.
Negative: There is little assurance that any politician would keep their promises to the occupiers once they entered office. As with running an “occupy” candidate, this threatens movement cohesion by splitting those who believe in reform from those who believe in a reset.
Operating as a PAC for issue promotion
Description: Rather than endorsing a specific candidate, there is potential that the occupations could engage in pure issue advocacy.
Positive: By pushing an idea, not a person, issue advocacy is far more flexible and adaptable than supporting a specific candidate. Acting as issue advocates, the occupiers could affect policy indirectly and without losing internal cohesion; the occupation would not be directly buying into the political system, rather supporting an ideology, thus those who don’t wish to perpetuate the current political system and those who wish for reform could work without conflict.
Negative: By removing themselves from involving themselves with politicians, the occupiers reduce the direct effect on individual electoral races.