Over the past two months, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has captured the attention of the world with its ongoing demonstrations aimed at highlighting the social, political and economic disparities that exist between the wealthiest 1% and the remaining 99% of the population. What began as a call by the Canada-based Adbusters magazine for a protest in the financial district of New York City to address the overwhelming influence and power of corporations and financial institutions has quickly spread across the country and throughout the world. However, defining OWS has proven difficult given its lack of hierarchical leadership, absence of specific, actionable demands and overwhelmingly cellular organizational structure. Views on the movement have varied with opponents framing OWS as “a growing mob” and supporters identifying OWS as “a democratic awakening”.
The initial Occupy Wall Street group based in New York City’s Zuccotti Park has served as a call to action for thousands of citizens and activists and has spawned hundreds of local and regional Occupy groups. These groups, largely formed and organized using social media and web-based tools (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, MeetUp), have carried the message of OWS beyond the confines of New York City and have provided a mechanism for similarly frustrated and disaffected individuals to voice their opposition to imbalances within the existing social, political and economic systems. “Occupy” groups have emerged in major US cities, such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, Oakland and St. Louis, with hundreds of participants engaged in direct actions or virtual-based solidarity efforts. “Occupy” groups have also sprung up in small towns and more rural corners of the country, like Bartlesville (OK), Grants Pass (OR), Rolla (MO), Salmon (ID) and Barnstead (NH), often with only a handful of participants. Resultantly, as a type of social movement, OWS has provided a flexible framework for ideologically allied individuals and groups separated by large geographical distances to unite in a form of collective action.
This connectivity across space has not stopped at national boundaries. Almost from its inception, Occupy Wall Street became a venue for international activism and a vehicle for establishing common bonds between disparate social actions. By the fifth day of OWS action in New York City, media outlets and blogs were reporting the participation of international activists side-by-side with New York OWS activists. One international activist in particular, Monica Lopez from Spain, was highlighted in a number of media reports, including an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now. The coverage of Lopez’s involvement in OWS was often framed as an indicator of how the energy and frustration of the OWS movement had resonated throughout large swathes of the world’s population. However, few of these early reports could conceive how widespread the OWS movement has now become.
Based on analysis of social networks, specifically Facebook and MeetUp, one can trace the distribution of Occupy groups across the globe. Presently there are 826 Occupy groups organized in the United States and 352 organized in other parts of the world. Canada (50), Germany (48) and the United Kingdom (38) have the highest number of Occupy groups outside the United States; however, other countries, such as Albania, Bangladesh, Chile, Dominican Republic, Israel, Jordan, Malaysia, Namibia, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Taiwan, have also seen the rise of local OWS groups. The spread of OWS is continuing as activists make common cause and form bonds of solidarity with social protest movements at work in other parts of the world (e.g. anti-austerity movements in Greece, ‘Arab Spring’ movements in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, social justice protests in Israel). While the final form, extent and impact of the OWS movement remains to be seen it is clear that OWS and similar social movements are redefining how we perceive, engage and understand activism in a contemporary context.
The Geographic Spread of Occupy Wall Street
(September 17, – November 1, 2011)
The Geographic Spread of Occupy Wall Street (September 17th – November 1st, 2011) by Robert R. Sauders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Originally published by Anthropology News.