Occupy & Demands

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of making demands, who to make demands to, and the general tone of some of our tactics and messaging in the Decolonize/Occupy movement.  I was thinking about it again tonight and that thought led to another random thought, and onto another and another and soon I was writing my personal blueprint of how I want to see this movement grow.  So here’s another installment of Random Thoughts on the Occupy Movement, with a special focus on making demands!

Lessons from Coca Cola
A while ago, I heard about some research that Coca Cola was doing back in the day when subliminal messaging and advertising was still legal in movies.  They would show split seconds of advertising during a movie so quick that you wouldn’t consciously notice it, but your brain would capture it.


And they found that ads were more effective when they were framed as a question or an option as opposed to an order or a demand.  If their ads had a message like, “go buy a coke” or “you want a coke,” it was less effective then when they framed the message as  “do you want a coke?” or “are you thirsty?”

I think the logic behind it is that when people hear things like “do this” and “do that,” it sounds like an order (or a “demand”) and they are more likely to ignore the message.  When people come at you aggressively, there is a tendency to get defensive and not listen to the message behind the words.  When someone makes a demand, you feel like your choice was taken away and you don’t have an option other than to submit.  And you get defensive.  And you stop listening.

But if it’s framed as a question, you have the option to say no so there’s less pressure and you actually end up taking the message in more and asking yourself if you want one.

That’s the thing with demands.  It’s aggressive, and it makes it more likely that whoever you’re making demands to isn’t going to listen to you in the first place.

A Place for Demands, A Place for Outreach
And I do think there is a place for demands.  I think that when things escalate to a high level, you also need to escalate your tactics and your messaging.  I think making demands to a Wells Fargo or Goldman Sachs would be fine.

But if we are trying to get something from our local city agencies or local politicians, I think we would be better served trying to have a more open dialogue with them and try to win them over to our side.

I’m not saying we can’t mic check a meeting every now and then, but our message needs to be “join us,” not “fuck you.”

City agencies and local politicians are mostly people who live in our communities.  The local school board is not the 1%.  They live in our communities, they get how hard people’s lives are.  And if we can get them on our side, then our movement is that much more powerful.

I will say that I will make an exception from that last paragraph to communities struggling against local officials like Sherriff Joe Arpaio.  But we are often too quick to judge, and we times assume anyone working for the government or a nonprofit are “agents of the state” when they are more likely to be our neighbors.

And we need to win them over, not turn them into our enemies by vilifying them because we may find that we have a lot more in common with them that we expected.

The Need to Win Them Over
And here’s why we needto win them over: because without them, we don’t have a chance at making demands to Wells Fargo or to Monsanto or to Congress.

A poster for a protest against Wells Fargo

Here’s the thing with making demands.  It’s a useless thing to do if you don’t have the power to enforce them.

Earlier I wrote that when someone makes a demand, you feel like your choice was taken away and you don’t have an option other than to submit.  That’s kind of the point of making a demand as opposed to making a request or negotiating.

But when people saw those subliminal coke ads telling them to go buy a coke, demanding that of them, they simply ignored it.  And they were able to do so because there was no consequence.

If we don’t expand our base, and if we don’t have more participation and active support from local governments, businesses, schools, religious communities, etc., the 1% that we make our demands to can simply ignore them like the customers in those theaters.

We are not there yet as a movement.  We do not have the numbers and the unity to make the radical changes that are so necessary in our society.  If we strike too soon and continue to focus our anger at our neighbors, we will accomplish some change but will ultimately fade out.

We need to have a strong enough movement that has a powerful base that is organized, educated, trained, and united in strategy.  Then we can make demands and make sure there are consequences for not meeting them.

Only then will we have the power to make demands to the real 1%.  That’s when we make our demands, that’s when we strike.

So How Do We Build That Base?
Until we have a base that is strong enough to stand up against the 1%, our goal needs to be to win over more allies, not make more enemies.  And the tactics of our direct actions and our messaging needs to reflect that.

In growing our base, I think there are “tiers” that we need to target for outreach.  We could strengthen our relationships with unions, reach out to churches, schools and other institutions that are tied to a base and would be sympathetic to the cause.

And by outreach I don’t mean emailing them a flier to an event.  I mean actually investing time in building a real relationship.  Not just on Facebook.

We also need to find allies in local governments.  And we need to remember that, as I wrote before, many city counselors, school board members, local officials and even cops are our neighbors.  Some of them may live in nicer areas then some of us, but they are still not the 1%.  We need to have faith that we can win them over.

And that’s not to say that they can’t use a little “push.”  Again like I wrote earlier, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a little Mic Checking of a meeting or press conference, but the message has to be “join us,” not “fuck you.”

We can have our voices heard, sit back down and participate in the rest of the process.  And if we can’t get those negotiations to lead to anything substantial, well it’s a lot easier to hold local governments accountable then the 1% especially with support from labor, churches, schools, etc.

Meanwhile, we train people.  We educate people.  We build strategy.  We find our unity.  We get ready.

Soooo…. In Summary,
I think that this movement is moving waaaaaay too fast, and there is not enough work put into what is necessary to build a sustainable and truly successful movement.  We need to keep building.  We need to get bigger.  And we need to be more united.

That 99% thing?  We need to take it seriously and make sure we can truly represent the 99%, because that is the only way the 1% will listen to us.

Then, we strike.  Then, we can make demands. Then, we can make radical change.


2 Responses to Occupy & Demands

  1. Excellent piece. Thanks much. I especially like the report on the Coke study and the point about the need to build local allies. It recently struck me that instead of “demand” we can often refer to “objective”. Another option is “proposal.” Also, we might often begin with an invitation to engage in dialog about a particular problem and ask others to collaborate on developing solutions jointly. Perhaps some others will choose to take positive steps forward that differ from our original proposed solution. Lastly, I suspect that if we were strong and united enough, we could take a similar approach with even Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs. If they refused to engage in a problem-solving dialogue, then our action could focus on that refusal, We might garner more support from the general public “demanding” a problem-solving dialogue than we would demanding that they take some particular action.

  2. non violent protests are great. Things take years to change. but even tho blood gets shed YOU feel better because you let someone else do the bleeding. non violence has its purpose you are the pawns in this game, However targeted corporations to take out the coporations they ARE the1%

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