Occupy is an unprotected trademark

Sarah Maslin Nir produced a nice piece in the New York Times that identified–and poked at–the ever-increasing diversity of people and groups claiming to be Occupy.

After Hurricane Superstorm Sandy hit New York, Occupy activists focused their efforts on helping those most hurt by the storm.  Occupiers raised money, cleared debris, and helped people navigate social services.  By all accounts, they were extremely effective.

Nir asks whether this turn embodies the Occupy ethos or represents a move away from meaningful advocacy.  Activists disagree.  Nir reports:

“We’re helping poor people; before we were fighting rich people,” said Goldi Guerra…..  “It’s still the same equation. But it’s much more glass half full, optimistic, giving and… ‘legal.’”

But other Occupiers see the cooperation with police and other authorities, fundraising from large corporations, and the redirection to service, as diversions from challenging and changing a fundamentally unjust social structure.

Figuring out what Occupy is all about is no easy matter.  In the early phase a broad collection of challenges to economic and political inequality were united around a tactic, the Occupation.  When the Occupations were cleared out, in accord with the base democratic ethos of the movement, activists spun out and launched an extraordinarily broad range of Occupy campaigns.

Occupiers focused on student debt, foreclosures, the Keystone Pipeline, electoral politics, and even the National Rifle Association.

This is just a sliver of the Occupy activism out there.  I wouldn’t dare to estimate the number of Facebook groups and local campaigns claiming Occupy as an identity.  Occupy groups are organized by community–or by issue area.

The upside: There’s a broad diversity of activity on the broad range of issues that intersect with inequality, and there’s a huge amount of democratic control.  People work on what they most care about!

But it becomes harder and harder to sustain a national profile or a meaningful message when Occupy has been attached to such a broad range of issues.

And no one can say no.

If I put on mouse ears and claim that Mickey endorses my views at the University of California, I’m reasonably confident that I would receive a timely ceases and decease letter from the amusement park up the street.  But any organized group can claim to Occupy, and to be Occupy.


About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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