Everything you know about the Occupy movement is wrong, partly because most public officials never understood it in the first place and partly because it is changing on the fly after being forced to pack up most of its encampments over the winter. That’s according to Kalle Lasn, the 69-year-old man who gave Occupy Wall Street its name, initial mandate and inspiration.
Yes, the Occupy movement actually started across the Canadian border in Vancouver, where Lasn runs an anti- consumerism magazine called Adbusters. By using Twitter and the Web to get the word out, Lasn turned #occupywallstreet and OccupyWallStreet.org into brands that continue to stoke the movement and spark protests in cities of all sizes across the globe.
Many of the protestors are young adults, and Lasn points with optimism at the “mobilization of young people caught up in this feeling of ecological, economical and political crisis, who know if they don’t fight for a different kind of future, they are not going to have a future.” Surveys show young adults, the so-called Millennials, are more likely than any other age group to believe that inequality in income and wealth is a major problem for themselves and for the country.
But support for the Occupy movement is far from universal among Millennials. An analysis of recent polling data by demographer and LifeCourse Associates President Neil Howe indicates that “nearly half of young adults have not heard of Occupy Wall Street [and] of all the young people who have heard of the movement, nearly as many disapprove as approve.”
As for how the movement will change, Lasn says there may still be encampments, but fewer of them, with the focus expected to shift to surprise occupations that are one-day or one-afternoon affairs at target sites, including economics departments at universities, large publicly traded companies, courts and other public institutions.
Lasn says the next season of Occupy also will be a “meme war.” Memes, a name given by biologist Richard Dawkins to transcendent cultural messages, are Lasn’s weapon of choice for changing business as usual with “myriad ideas for challenging the status quo.” Memes travel well among activists, they travel quickly on the Internet and they can be used against those who resist change.
Lasn sees promise in like-minded people coalescing around a collection of memes to form a third political party, which would be a form of catch-up for a “political left that’s been kind of ineffective for a long, long time in getting our act together.” He insists the left has better ideas or memes than the right, but concedes that the Tea Party has been more effective, “because it is so visceral and so passionate they have made a big difference in this area of governance.”
And what of the public officials who don’t understand the movement? Lasn acknowledges that some mayors and other officials have tried to be supportive of the Occupy movement, but even those who entered public service in order to help redress economic and social injustice are not the most likely or attractive allies. “They tend to be an undynamic bunch of people who are not prodded very easily into anything new or especially anything radical,” he says. “It is only when extreme pressure is brought on them by the Tea Party -- and hopefully the Occupy movement down the road -- that things slowly start to move.”
Lasn says most public officials don’t need or wouldn’t want advice from him. But if they did ask? “Wake Up. Get with it,” he urges. “Make up your mind and start fighting for what you believe in.”