As the dust settles on the Arab Spring in Northern Africa, the situation in New York City’s Zuccotti Park is whipping to a froth. So-called occupiers are gathering to protest income disparity in the United States, and they’re not going anywhere. The year is 2011. The Occupy Wall Street protest will swell, and hundreds of copycat encampments will sprout up to ‘occupy’ public squares across America.
As Robert Frost wrote, “Nature’s first green is gold, / Her hardest hue to hold.” The Occupy movement sought to broadly and radically transform society in a million disparate ways. The media speculated the movement was doomed because it had no concrete direction, and their assertion proved prescient; the movement was doomed to uproot from Zuccotti Park and dissolve, but not before leaving a blueprint for new movements to follow.
The First Blueprint
In the months before Occupy Wall Street, rebellion roared across Northern Africa and the Middle East, toppling autocratic regimes. Political instability is typically an international concern—particularly when it moves like a tidal wave, and doubly so when it concerns the Arab world.
Poverty and power vacuums were conditions that gave rise to Al-Qaeda and ISIS, whose influence remains far-reaching. The world’s armies remained idle, however, even as dictators pleaded for reinforcements. An unprecedented political cleansing pulsed through the Arab world. Social media chronicled the popular rebellion; the world watched the Arab Spring as it unfolded in real time. Intimate media content drew international sympathy and support for the revolutions, and the world’s oppressed took note.
Blueprint II: The American Legacy
Occupy Wall Street would go on to adapt the media-sharing strategy pioneered during the Arab Spring, thus creating the blueprint for the modern American social movement. Occupy activists spread engaging viral content, informing Internet users of issues regarding gender equality, wealth disparity, capitalistic abuses and racial discrimination. The legacy of Occupy Wall Street can be seen in every movement that’s followed, for better or worse.
Bernie Sanders ran a true grassroots election campaign. Sanders refused Super PAC money and fueled his campaign on an average donation of just 27 dollars. His rejection of corporate investment led to a silent media boycott; news outlets would not spread the stories from his campaign stops (except for when that bird landed on his lectern in Portland). Instead, Sanders ran a nearly-successful campaign on Occupy media principles. Sanders’ followers voiced their politics loudly and regularly on social media, earning them the nickname “Bernie Bros.”
Russian agents manipulated the American public through its affinity for the authentic, grassroots media content that characterized Occupy and the Arab Spring. Fake News spread viral content intended to influence the political process—the classic Trojan Horse. Imagine that Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s former dictator, had the power to falsify a great number of opinions that would pass as “authentic.” The Arab Spring would’ve drowned in misinformation and international condemnation.
Social media and live video sharing has laid bare the troubling reality of minority mistreatment in America. Racism is deeply entrenched; brutalities continue to surface daily. Organizations responsible for movements like Black Lives Matter and the Standing Rock DAPL protests are making concerted efforts to arm vulnerable populations with Occupy-type social media content creation tactics to increase visibility and self-advocacy.
The Next Generation
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Occupy Wall Street is that, for all the pain and joy we’ve caused with online media content, the youngest generation grew up learning to use its tools for their own purposes.
Survivors of the Parkland High School mass shooting are leading a fiery campaign for stricter gun control laws. That generation lives on the Internet. Much of the Parkland movement is sustained through sharing memes and viral content. Their protest is undoubtedly brave, if not doomed (like Occupy before it). Their biggest accomplishment to date is motivating an estimated 200,000 people to attend the March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, and many thousands more in similar marches around the country. Perhaps they’ve learned from Occupy’s mistakes, and can continue the fight against the seemingly indestructible gun lobbies. As Cory Doctorow wrote in his acclaimed novel Little Brother, “You’re young enough and stupid enough not to know that you can’t possibly win, so you’re the only ones who can lead us to victory!”