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Occupy Wall Street, how it started
October 17, 2011 11:47 PM   Subscribe

Occupy Wall Street started informally through social media. But who and how? Gilad Lotan has reconstructed the origin of #OccupyWallStreet for Reuters.
posted by stbalbach (35 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is really interesting. From my perspective it really started getting passed around via various Anonymous people on twitter. It wasn't until a few weeks later I heard of it having any association with "Adbusters."
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:20 AM on October 18, 2011


looks like there are two rival Occupy Sydney (hacked) and non hacked sites
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 12:22 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Better than the other OWS origin story from Reuters.
posted by jake1 at 12:27 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


It didn't begin "informally" at all. There were several formal General Assemblies in August to plan the idea, organized by a group based out of CUNY.
posted by shii at 12:56 AM on October 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Adbusters had been advertising and organising Occupy Wall Street for months. It was not some spontaneous informal thing.
posted by Megami at 1:01 AM on October 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Is there some need for Occupy Wall Street to be spontaneously evolved? It's not like the protesters are proponents of the Invisible Hand. They are more like the Highly Visible Finger.
posted by srboisvert at 1:09 AM on October 18, 2011 [25 favorites]


The need for the protest to have evolved spontaneously is so we can all become slackjawed with awe and wonder at the modern juggernaut of social networking rather than the natural organizational power of ordinary people.
posted by bleep at 2:02 AM on October 18, 2011 [12 favorites]


Super Economics League of America: the Invisible Hand of Capitalism and friends!

... The supernumerary nipple of post-Keynesian economics
... The secret orifice of the intrinsic theory of value
... The forgotten sphincter of Henry George Theorem
... The inaudible flatulence of the trickle-down effect
... The hidden extra testicle of the Calmfors–Driffill hypothesis
... The untouchable penis of Ragnar Nurkse's balanced growth theory
posted by the quidnunc kid at 2:04 AM on October 18, 2011 [14 favorites]


Adbusters had been advertising and organising Occupy Wall Street for months.

Yeah, this. It was a Kalle Lasn joint from the beginning. Which is one of the things that turned me off at the beginning, before it started to attract big groups of people. In a way I guess it's good that people don't know the actual origin of the thing, though.
posted by penduluum at 3:09 AM on October 18, 2011


Shii, thanks for that link.

I remember following some link a few weeks ago to an image of a female dancer standing on a bull promoting the date for an occupation, maybe that was an adbusters image.

In the last 24 hours I've read a bunch of accounts and they have all featured the General Assembly as a major reason for the ongoing success of the occupation.
posted by vicx at 4:08 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the late 90s I worked for an ad company and was a big fan of Adbusters, buying and sharing it with coworkers regularly. I eventually lost interest in the magazine when I thought it was becoming more about design and style than stories and ideas — or at least trying to appeal to a younger audience.

I only heard the Adbusters connection to OWS recently. It is a pleasant surprise to find out that long after I'd moved on (smugly thinking "buying magazines is not enough"), Adbusters continued to build and be part of a network that they could inspire to do more than buy magazines.
posted by KS at 4:19 AM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Tom Tomorrow: Who Will Save The Bankers? (The Invisible Hand)

I like the idea of "The visible finger of the working class." That has possibilities.
posted by spitbull at 5:09 AM on October 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


Twitter is virtual litter.
posted by ReeMonster at 5:37 AM on October 18, 2011


It is important, not because of the social media angle per se, but to prove wrong some of the conservative propaganda about the origins of OWS.
posted by yesster at 5:37 AM on October 18, 2011


Yahoo news reporting on the protests' one month anniversary: "One month in, protests yet to topple capitalism"
posted by azarbayejani at 5:47 AM on October 18, 2011


Regardless of where OWS began, I think it's important if only because it's the first time a lot of people have seen what the typical response to free speech actually is. For years I have been telling my friends that they live in a police state, and now they are starting to believe me.
posted by deanklear at 5:47 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is there some need for Occupy Wall Street to be spontaneously evolved?

Yes. There is. How we are taught history is that a powerful, compelling person of character takes an individual stand against injustice, and changes society through the power of their vision. It is a deeply individualistic model of social and historical progress, in which we are taught that, for instance, Rosa Parks was just a nice black lady who was too tired to move from her seat, and not that she was a part of a group of civil rights agitators and that she was specifically selected to protest in this way, and that it was a deliberate protest that was part of a movement which had laid groundwork and had already prepared its next steps.

It is the Horatio Alger story of social change, and it fits really quite well into the individualistic narrative that America loves to tell itself. It sanitizes social protest and de-fangs it by making it into an analogy of power and money: anyone can be President; anyone can invent the telephone or the lightbulb; anyone can become CEO of Apple or Godfather's Pizza; anyone can be a civil rights leader. Anyone can change the world.

It's divide and conquer. If all of those people are just individuals who happen to be in the same place at the same time, it's easier to dismiss them; it's easier to undermine them; it's easier to reinforce the narrative that some individuals choose to live on the street, and some individuals choose to work 3 part-time jobs without health insurance, and some individuals have put in their time and deserve their million-dollar bonuses. We are all just individuals making our choices, you know.

Reporting is the first draft of history, and it is important to get it right. That's why it's important to promote the idea that Occupy Wall Street is a spontaneous movement.
posted by gauche at 6:21 AM on October 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


gauche: Even when that idea isn't true? You yourself just said that Rosa Parks et al. were members of larger, organized movements. "Spontaneous" in this sense is a bullshit term. What is the opposite of spontaneous? "Organized by a group"? Or "organized by the elite"? Because if it's the former, then the entire idea of spontaneous organizing becomes nonsense — ideas start in individual minds; there is no collective consciousness. Someone — in this case, someone at Adbusters, apparently — came up with the idea to occupy a public space symbolic of capitalist power. That others in their organization voluntarily took up this idea and formed concrete plans and a message, and then spread the message to the public, is about as spontaneous as it is possible for something to be. If the second option is taken to be the opposite of "spontaneous", then of course it's spontaneous, but that in no way prevents us pointing to who in the non-elite started the ball rolling. And who started the ball rolling is a very important aspect of the story, because it allows others to either attach their own ideas to that of the progenitor, or to explicitly distinguish themselves from the progenitor and make clear their own goals. Either way, pointing to an origin does not undermine the spontaneity of a movement, and trying to cover up the origin only smacks of deceit and pretence.
posted by cthuljew at 6:39 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


in which we are taught that, for instance, Rosa Parks was just a nice black lady who was too tired to move from her seat, and not that she was a part of a group of civil rights agitators and that she was specifically selected to protest in this way, and that it was a deliberate protest that was part of a movement which had laid groundwork and had already prepared its next steps.

I always get confused when people on Metafiler tell me what "we" are taught. The history of Rosa Parks that I got in school was the second story, not the first. I probably got the first story when I was five, but eventually I was taught the second story as I expect many people are.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:00 AM on October 18, 2011


chtuljew: I agree that the idea of spontaneous organizing is somewhat nonsense and I don't especially want to get into an argument over the meaning of the term "spontaneous". I was more talking about how I perceive OWS is being reported by the media than I was about any facts that I may have about its origins.

I don't have any facts about the origins of OWS.
posted by gauche at 7:07 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


but eventually I was taught the second story as I expect many people are.

I never was. I graduated high school in 2002 (I don't think we actually ever talked about Rosa Parks in high school American History).
posted by muddgirl at 7:11 AM on October 18, 2011


I went to a pretty strong high school, and was taught that Rosa Parks was kinda somehow already connected with the civil rights movement, but not really how.
posted by eviemath at 7:29 AM on October 18, 2011


I know that I found an Anonymous forum that was planning OWS at least a few months before it happened; they called it Project Mayhem. I specifically remember they were discussing building a tent city for occupying urban areas. Although in searching for it now it seems like they had it timed for 2012, not now. Here's one reference to "the Plan" from June & one mention of Project Mayhem in May. So, spontaneous? As Heinlein said, when it's train time people start building trains.
posted by scalefree at 7:29 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always get confused when people on Metafiler tell me what "we" are taught.

That's probably because we have such a decentralized, non-standardized educational system in the US. Curriculum in public schools vary wildly from one state to another. If you go to the Christian school I went to one year, all you would learn in history class is the history of how Christianity spread throughout the world (A Beka curriculum), for instance.

Large swaths of the nation probably don't know a whole lot about more recent US history and were taught to call the Civil War the "War of Northern Aggression." With the increasing emphasis on homeschooling (using curriculum like the A Beka stuff I described above), it's only going to get worse. Wonder if there could be any politics involved in setting school curriculum...? Nah. No one would put their personal politics before the interests of the children.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:30 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I took AP American History, as did a lot of my friends. Most of them read Zinn's A People's History..., I did not. Really, really depends on the school — possibly even on the teacher. But by "we" I think is meant "the public perception". I really don't think the vast majority of people in this country, if asked to tell the story of Rosa Parks, would mention a large and well organized movement which strategically elected Parks to be the focus of this direct action.
posted by cthuljew at 7:36 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think perhaps that the narrative of history that gauche talks about, where everything is presented as being due to some key leader or small group of leaders, holds so much sway in the US currently that people see the spontaneous generation narrative as the only alternative.

Instead, do you all remember the link that was posted a few months back to some TED talk where the speaker showed a video of this one kid dancing on the side of a grassy hill at some sort of music festival, and the kid was dancing by himself for quite a while, just doing his own thing, and then a small group of a couple friends got up and joined him, and then in fairly short order pretty much everyone was up and dancing and mobs of other people were running in from somewhere off-screen? And the TED speaker's point was that, well, one could view that first guy as a "leader" who started the whole dance mob, but perhaps a better perspective would be to see the small group of friends who got up to dance second as the more influential group. And in then end, it wasn't like the large dance mob was taking orders from the original dancer or even from the second small group of dancers or that they had any control or authority over it, so he (nor the small group) wasn't a leader in that traditional historical narrative sense.

This seems to me, is what the development and current organizing structure of OWS has been like. Yup, Adbusters had this original idea. Then a small group of people took that basic idea, and adapted it for their own needs. But they didn't retain authority over the idea in like the traditional model of leadership - they said, "we're going to be doing this" and invited other people to join them, and many many other people did, but adapted the idea for their needs in the process.

(Also, I think the idea of something like a Hooverville but targeted on Wall Street or similar signifier of economic/financial power has been floating around, so if Adbusters hadn't crystalized it into Occupy Wall Street, someone else would have come up with something similar.)
posted by eviemath at 7:41 AM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


I know that I found an Anonymous forum that was planning OWS at least a few months before it happened; they called it Project Mayhem.

Yeah, this is why nobody takes Anonymous seriously. In case anybody missed it, Project Mayhem is a central plot device in the book/movie Fight Club.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:10 AM on October 18, 2011


(In other words, in both democracy and oligarchy things tend to get initiated by small and dedicated groups of people, but it's what happens next that makes a major difference.)
posted by eviemath at 8:11 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


The inaudible flatulence of the trickle-down effect.

The warm micturation of the trickle-down effect. -ed.
posted by loquacious at 8:40 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


How Occupy Wall Street Is Like the Internet: The strange but true story of a forest-dwelling man whose words wound up on a protest sign 3,000 miles from his home
posted by homunculus at 9:26 AM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Intellectual Roots of Wall St. Protest Lie in Academe: Movement's principles arise from scholarship on anarchy
posted by homunculus at 10:07 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did anyone notice that the article linked to in the post is about Twitter algorithms and how they relate to the #OccupyWallStreet hashtag and not about the origins of the Occupy Wall Street movement, spontaneous or not?
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 10:10 AM on October 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, I think the idea of something like a Hooverville but targeted on Wall Street or similar signifier of economic/financial power has been floating around,

Indeed. In WI earlier this year, we saw a similar effort take place at the WI Capitol, and once the movement was (illegally) successfully ejected, a protest town sprang up outside. And again later in the year.

This stands in some contrast to the Tea Party protestors - a few dozen would show up for a couple hours, spout some nonsense about Obunghole the Kenyan Socialist and then make it back home in time to catch the Packer game.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:45 AM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


pogo - yes. it has been interesting to watch the difference in how the media observes tea party stuff and ows stuff. the ows protest in town is so hyper-organized, it is completely unlike any protest action i have ever seen - you would think this is newsworthy, not just that there are a bunch of people mad at something but that there are a bunch of people mad at something capable of having their shit together in a clean, organized tent city for weeks. like-damn.
posted by beefetish at 11:39 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think one of the obvious reasons why journalists are scrambling to report on the origins of OWS is because they simply weren't covering the NY General Assembly earlier this year. It was like, "Ho hum, those liberals are protesting again."

That being said, the original link (which is not about OWS really but about Twitter and hashtags) is kind of fascinating. Keep it consistent and keep it fresh.
posted by muddgirl at 11:53 AM on October 18, 2011


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