top ten questions about Occupy Wall Street

  1. Are OWS, the Madison protests of last winter, the Arab Spring, the Indian anti-corruption movement, and the Tea Party all examples of the same phenomenon? Are they miscellaneous stories plucked from the world’s headlines? Or–in the case of OWS and the Tea Party–are they contrary forces?
  2. Who is most susceptible to OWS pressure? Wall Street (I think not), municipal authorities, college presidents, the media, the Democratic Party?
  3. Structure: Is OWS an example of Jane Mansbridge’s “unitary democracy?” Of Clay Shirky’s organizing without organizations? Is it leaderless? Leaderful? Deliberative? Democratic, or anarchistic, or both? What are the prospects of survival, growth, and impact for such forms?
  4. Legal questions: Which Occupations are illegal? Do local authorities have the right, discretion, or obligation to enforce the laws that forbid encampments? Are there legal and ethical means to remove occupiers?
  5. What are the effects of OWS on public opinion? The media and public have given more attention to inequality of economic outcomes during the OWS period. Is OWS causing that change, or reflecting it?
  6. Learning and dialogue: Is OWS a space for people to change their minds and develop their thinking, or are participants repeating what they already believe to peers who already agree? Will OWS promote free speech and inquiry in larger environments, such as UC Davis?
  7. Ideology: what is (or will be) the predominant current within OWS: liberal reformism, radical anti-capitalism, or separatism (the creation of mini-utopias)?
  8. What are the connections to other forms of politics, such as campaigns and elections, public interest lobbying, litigation, and economic actions such as strikes and boycotts?
  9. Assets: what do the OWS participants bring to the table? Note that assets can be unconventional and overlooked–not just power, money, numbers of followers, and legal rights, but also values, innovations, stories. Still, not everyone brings every asset; what does OWS have and not have?
  10. Is OWS the beginning of an era of agitation from the left (and perhaps also the right), or will it be a footnote by next year?
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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.