A wide spectrum of ideas at OccupySFOctober 7th, 2011
Anti-centralism… Nebulism… Post-economism. These are just some of the terms I heard individuals use to describe themselves last night at the OccupySF camp currently set up at the San Francisco Federal Reserve Building.
A lot of media coverage of the Occupy Movement is asking, “What do they want? What are their demands? What is this about?” And all over the movement, from forums to encampments people are have the discussion, trying to reach a consensus about what their list of grievances should be. The only problem is everyone is there for different reasons. They all recognize that the system is broken, but disagree widely about which institution is the root of the problem, and what the solutions should be.
I say don’t give them the luxury of a list of grievances. It’s an antiquated strategy and they’ll only use it to divide you. The internet generation has better communication tools available now than any movement in history. You don’t need to coalesce around a single message. You need to design some eye catching infographics that quickly and clearly convey the complex network of opinions in your movement without silencing anyone. The image above is my humble first attempt.
I took all the text from occupysf.com, combined it with the text of the most prominent signs displayed at the camp in San Francisco, and all my hand written notes from conversations I had with people last night and I created a word cloud. Word cloud generators scan through a body of text and then display the most prominent words according to size. In this example I removed all the words related to the logistics of the encampment itself like “blankets” or “coffee” so this should be a decent visual approximation of what issues are most important to OccupySF.
Obviously this can’t possibly represent the entire Occupy Movement. The issues important to OccupySF are going to be unique to the political culture of San Francisco, which is way to the left of… well… pretty much anywhere else on the planet. The crowd resembled a Rainbow Gathering complete with grungy tie die, dreadlocks and scheduled meditation circles. People played guitar and bongo drums through the night and breakfast was served by Food Not Bombs. If I had to guess, based on the conversations I had, I’d say the majority of the group was some species of anarcho-socialist, but the Ron Paul crowd was represented, and there were also people promoting mises.org.
There’s a lot of evidence in this word cloud that there is room for solidarity between the populists of the right and the left. “Federal Reserve,” “banking system” and “gold standard” are all prominently featured. Even “liberty” got a little shout out. And issues of common cause like “police brutality” and the “drug war” are more strongly prioritized than issues of disagreement.
I see no reason why similar graphics couldn’t be designed for every Occupy Movement encampment. Obviously someone with greater programming ability than me could solve some of the methodological problems with this early attempt. But I maintain that this is a superior strategy for expressing and preserving the diversity of this movement than any proposed list.