Similar to the one-hit wonders and forgotten celebrities that inspired VH1 to ask ” Where Are They Now?“, many are asking that same question of Occupy Wall Street (OWS). Beyond any political views of the movement and the ideology behind it, more curious is the management of the Occupy movement from a public relations perspective. An article by Patrick Coffee in PRNewser asks the question: “Was Occupy Wall Street a PR Failure?” They did so many things right. What went wrong?
How it began
It all started with a simple blog post on July 13, 2011 in which Adbusters, a Canadian anti-consumerist organization, proposed 20,000 people gather together in lower Manhattan for a peaceful demonstration against greed and corruption in the spirit of the demonstrations in Spain and Egypt. From there, the movement began to take on a life of its own. What began as a grass roots campaign, quickly spread to hundreds of cities in over 80 countries. Social Media, like Facebook and Twitter, helped the movement go viral. It was getting world attention from the media and support from unions, celebrities, and politicians. In America, it inspired people to discuss the issues of income inequality, greed, and corruption. They even had a catchy phrase: “We are the 99%”. All good, right? So how did it fade in prominence and support as quickly as it sprang up?
What went wrong?
Many critics refer to internal strife and the fear of being co-opted as part of the organization’s downfall. The fear of being seen as a sell-out led many OWS activists to criticize and question the support they were receiving from celebrities and politicians (people in the 1%). They didn’t want to be seen as hypocrites. However, if your goal is to garner support and encourage change, you can’t start alienating your supporters, especially if any of those supporters have political power that you can harness to further your cause. Even the manner in which they have conducted their protests is alienating to the general public. You can’t just sit in a park with your fellow activists. You need to engage with the public in a more meaningful way, and that also requires putting a human face to the movement. They have no clear spokespeople and when you visit the website, there is no indication as to who is behind the movement. It’s almost as mysterious and cold as the large corporations they are opposing.
The internal strife highlights the biggest issues for OWS: leadership and direction. On its website, OWS defines itself as “a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions”. Their call to action has not been updated since 2011, and even as such, it isn’t very clear on what they want people to do. Because of this lack of leadership, the movement has no clear goals, objectives, direction, message, or call to action. If people don’t know what they are supporting or how they should be supporting it to make real change, there is no sustainability.
For the Occupy movement to continue and succeed, they need to change how they operate. They need to address the leadership issue and develop a REAL strategic plan, complete with clear measurable goals, direction, and call to action. In order to move beyond their core group of activists and further their agenda, they will need to partner with other progressive groups that have similar values. All the while, they will need to evaluate their progress in achieving their goals, making adjustments to their plan, if needed, as they go.