Whether the potential of the Occupy Wall Street movement is real or perceived, its fate lies in the hands of communicating its identity. Social movements are a precarious thing. They provide an opportunity for activists to communicate their values and beliefs to publics, to develop a popular movement and turn that palpable sense of energy and enthusiasm into real changes. They can be a ‘hit or miss’, and admirable they may be, past movements seem to follow the protocol of ‘they came, they walked, they shouted, they left’. The technology used, and the wealth of support behind the Occupy movement cannot sustain it alone. For persuasive communication to materialize it needs to develop its identity: its purpose, its cause, what its beliefs are, and most importantly ask why does it exist?
The movement is an underdog story in the making. It conflicts with existing power systems and so the cultural or educational systems try to drive it out of people’s minds, making activists seem crazy or unthinkable. The proposals they could put forward, say on healthcare reform are quite feasible, but, proposals need to be designed and brought to the public in a convincing way. Most of the US population would already agree with almost all of OWS points; however, these need to be developed into a force that can be actively engaged with the public. The movement’s provocative slogan of ‘we are the 99%’, references people’s frustrations with Wall Street, levels of income and wealth inequality and taxation. Whatever provocative motto or jingle they put forward, the movement runs the risk of only becoming balanced with opposing messages about them. The Occupy movement needs to develop its identity, that is, their own individual intrinsic philosophy and say why they believe in it, and how they’re not simply ‘kids’ or ‘hipsters’ with simplistic views of the world.
The movement seems focused on communicating on events, facts or figures; they communicate from the outside in. Yes, people can comprehend vast amounts of complicated information, about public policy, facts and figures, or ‘features and benefits’ – it just doesn’t drive behaviour. If the Occupy movement changes its strategy by communicating from the inside out, that is, why the movement is there and how their values are important its support will grow. If the movement can communicate its individual values of ‘why they do things’, or ‘why we’re doing what we’re doing’, they’ll talk to the part of the brain that controls behaviour, allowing people to rationalise with what the movement say’s and does. To properly convince people to be loyal customers, partners or followers, people need to be sold on why you’re protesting in the first place: to inspire and convince people to believe in what you believe in.
In the US there’s always been a gap between the public and public policy providing ammunition for the Occupy movement. More important than effective communication, is the development of structures to sustain the movement through hard times and into the future. Many people don’t know it’s going on or what it’s about, but among those that do, there’s a lot of support. In order to harness support and grow the Occupy movement, the movement needs to clearly establish its identity for effective communication to make this happen.