Critical Mass Hype: Public Relations of Wall Street Demonstrations

Do you know how many people have to occupy a space to affect change, or to achieve critical mass?

Well, the Canadian magazine Adbusters and other activists believed if they could generate enough awareness in a movement that would confront business and corporate greed and the social and economic inequity that results from unethical business practices, then they could address the issues that create these inequities.

This movement, referred to as the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, began in September 2011 and lasted until the middle of November. It involved protesters from around the country gathering in Zuccotti Park, part of New York’s financial district. While the protestor’s platform focused on corporate greed, it also focused on corrupt business practices and undue influence of the business on government policy.

How do you fit into this scenario?

You were a significant consideration of a collective movement that felt all Americans would be affected by corporate business practices central to creating a society divided by class, and these protesters made up people from all walks of life. In fact, the majority of the funding that supported these demonstrations was contributed by those who belonged to middle-income and upper middle-income homes.

“We are the 99%” was one of the most memorable slogans that defined the American public in terms of their place in a society where we, including you, made up an increasingly divided and disparate part of the American population. The remaining one percent of the population were the wealthiest in the United States who made up business and corporate interests that influenced, even controlled, the government and economic policy... and us.

This movement pretty much brought attention to the negative financial environment that business interests had created for generations to come.

And what ends were they trying to achieve?

In trying to address these inequities, the protesters’ platform focused on addressing specific public policy issues which included:

  • Reducing the control of business interest on the government
  • Addressing income inequality
  • Addressing the need for improved employment opportunities
  • Addressing bank reform
  • Regulating speculative trading
  • Addressing student loan forgiveness and debt relief
  • Remedying the foreclosure problem

Ultimately, the effort highlighted the need to address the growing inequities between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of society.

…So, what is the hype about in terms of public relations?

Like most forms of demonstrations, the Occupy Wall Street protests developed out grassroots activism that wanted to address the financial conditions that create instability in governments. They captured the public’s attention in a few ways:

  • The protesters, through their anti-establishment, pro-anarchy image, were able to get the attention of the public by establishing authenticity, so the cause took on a realness.
  • The message conveyed to the public really was about inclusivity. The movement made sure that everyone involved affected change, and while the movement got its start through a small group of activists, anyone who participated in the demonstrations was a leader. This inclusivity was the reason that many of the protesters invested in platform ideas, even participating the entire duration of the demonstration.
  • Social media lit up with conversations that revolved around the movement and events. As usual, social media can turn even the loftiest discussions into ones that are accessible for public consumption, and social media functioned in this way as well for the demonstrations.
  • The timing of this demonstration was perfect for one that would address economic disparities, as it came a few years after the foreclosure crisis and other financial problems in America, in addition demonstrations occurred around the world in the Middle East, Libya, and Greece addressing the same topic.

In the end….

While the Occupy Wall Street protesters might not have achieved the critical mass they wanted, the leaderless movement connected to the public in a way that captured their attention, even long after the last protester was forced out of the park in mid-November.


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