I find the Occupy (insert your city name here) movement intriguing. And I’ve pondered what I’d do if the group were a client. I thought more about it after getting an email last week from an Occupy Portland participant sent to several other Portland PR firms, including AM:PM PR.
“Occupy Portland has recently formed a Policy, Vision and Strategy Committee,” the email read. “The group consists of people from within and without the camp, including several heads of nonprofits, professors, and business and labor leaders. The purpose of the group is to come up with short and long-term strategies on a large scale to help the Occupy movement advance in a positive direction that brings real and lasting change to America for poor and working class people. We would love to benefit from your knowledge and experience. If anyone from your organization is interested, could we meet for coffee so we can talk it over and I can answer any questions you may have?”
If you judge PR success by the volume of coverage generated, Occupy Portland is doing well. It’s made the news every day since before its inaugural march and initial encampment October 6. It’s effectively used its website, Facebook (nearly 17,000 likes), YouTube (837 subscribers, more than 161,000 total video views), Flickr (nearly 2,300 photos posted), and Twitter (nearly 6,500 followers) to keep information about the protests moving to, from and among its participants, supporters and the community.
Protestors list plenty of reasons for their frustration: government bailouts of big banks; companies with billions in profits that pay no corporate taxes; shrinking benefits and higher health care costs; pervasive and persistent unemployment; and their key rallying point – the growing wealth of the richest 1% while the 99% are losing ground.
But that may be too many messages, and so far there’s been no clear call to action. As days pass, questions about what’s next are increasing.
Public sympathy for the protests remains high. Still, as the email noted, the group has yet to determine its long-term strategy for achieving real and lasting change. It won’t be easy to shape strategy because participants disdain traditional leadership. Instead, organized political interests have started connecting with the movement, seeking a share of the public stage built by Occupy. The movement risks losing control of its own credibility or having it co-opted by others with a better-defined mission.
To make the real and lasting changes they seek, the Occupy organizers need to move from civil disobedience to civil discourse. And I’d offer the following counsel:
- Define the purpose and mission of the movement. If the core of the protests is income inequality, that message is being muddied by the proliferation of other significant but tangential concerns.
- Debate the proposed direction internally to honor the democratic processes used by the movement. Vigorous debate will help further clarify the group’s purpose and mission.
- Decide. After a fulsome debate, get to the verb. Choose the direction and the primary goal. Accept that not everyone will agree.
- Declare to the wider community where the movement is headed. The debate and the decision will allow message clarity and consistency – essentials to developing momentum.
- Deploy the talents of the people who are part of the movement. Once purpose, mission and messaging are settled on, there’s a foundation for advocacy and action plans. Many talented people have been empowered by participation so far and their talents should be tapped to energize directed action.
David Sarasohn’s November 2 commentary in The Oregonian notes, “‘What’s next?’ is not a hostile question.” Having the answer could give the movement direction. Absent an answer, it’ll be little more than a crowded campsite stuck in the mud of a Portland park.