Occupy Wall Street: Communitarians vs. Professionals
Anne Sorock /
This is the second part of our four-part series on Occupy Wall Street, transcribed from a recent Heritage Foundation event on the movement.
In part two, Anne Sorock, partner and research director at the Frontier Lab, examines the protesters’ psychological motivations. In her research, Sorock found two distinct groups: the communitarians and the professionals. Read on for more details on her fascinating findings.
Part 2: Communitarians vs. Professionals
I’m getting somewhat known for my Manwich metaphors because one of my first jobs in marketing was brand management for Manwich. And one of the things you learn when you’re trying to market a good is that there are a lot of reasons why people buy it. The taste of one flavor might be more popular with moms vs. teenage boys. Scan data will tell us how many times a year people buy Manwich and how many cans of Manwich they put in their shopping cart. But what I really wanted to know about Manwich was how it makes a mom feel when she serves it to her family.
That’s the approach I take when I look at the political landscape we want to understand what’s underlying people’s values. If you just look at Occupy from afar, you see signs about crony capitalism, you see signs about government spending, you’ll see everything from fascist signs to communist signs to teacher unions signs in solidarity.
I went to Occupy encampments across the span of a couple months from Zuccotti Park to Chicago to some more rural Occupy events. I then used the approach that I used when I was working at Manwich to understand why people bought into this political movement.
What we ended up with was a segmentation based on their deep values, which I think is fascinating and will help you understand broader dynamics in our political landscape. It’s not a monolith. I found two core segments.
The first were very concerned with being able to feel they were bringing a purpose and meaning to their lives by protesting. While we may initially have been able to talk to them about certain political ideas, what was underlying their reason for being there was a feeling of community with people, like-minded people, around them, a sense of purpose and a sense of meaning that they weren’t getting from other places in their lives. That was quite surprising to us because pretty quickly during our research any political ends sort of fell away. We understood these people to be there more for personal meaning than political objective.
They are a different segment from what we called the professionals in our study. They are more of the traditional organizers, political operatives who were truly wedded to a political objective. We also found something new and different for them at Occupy, which, as one of them said to me, was for the first time in his life he felt like he could see the ball moving forward. So they are getting a sense of optimism that what they’ve been advocating for or organizing for, for them, for their entire protesting lives. These professional organizers are for the first time being reinforced in terms of getting their objectives met.
What are those objectives? For these professionals, a lot of it is purely media attention. So I encourage you to look further at our study. It’s on my non-profit organization’s website,www.theFrontierLab.org.
Again, it’s important to understand it’s not a monolith. At the same time, my focus really, and my interest as a marketing researcher, is on that first segment — those who are seeking purpose, meaning, and community. One of these people said to me during an interview that when they woke up and unzipped the tent and looked around them, they felt like they were with their family. They had never felt that overwhelming emotional feeling of togetherness and sort of a safety of people around them.
For people who are trying to market freedom and free-market ideas, it’s important to understand that you can’t argue with these people necessarily just about their political ends, because there is something far deeper that underlies their motivations for being there.
On the plane ride here from Chicago, I forced myself to finally read “Rules for Radicals,” Saul Alinsky’s book. I think it’s an essential way for you to get insight into many of the organizers’ mindsets and, of course, our commander in chief’s mindset.
I’d like to read to you three quotes from Alinksy at the end his book. The chapter is titled, “The Way Ahead,” and he’s describing the coming revolution, what will the next stage of the revolution be. He says, “First, the role for organizers around this next revolution will be to excite their imagination with tactics that can induce drama and adventure into the tedium.” So give them drama, give them adventure, these people who you want to get motivated for you. The second thing he said, “The revolution must manifest itself in the corporate sector.” That is certainly the backdrop for the Occupy protest. And the third thing he said, “The human cry of the second revolution is meaning, a purpose for life, a cause to live for and need be, to die for.”
So as we look at the title of this event, “The Occupy Movement: A Post-Mortem?”, I think what you understand is that as much as Saul Alinsky counseled the people reading his book to not seek principle or policies but to rely only on the exchange of power, this movement is about power.
The people who are agitating within the movement are working well with each other. On the one hand, you have people who have very clear goals who are able to work with this other segment who are finding most of their rewards from being in the act of protesting, not from any political goals. So they are the perfect people to work with them and, ultimately, they believe the movement is a very Saul Alinsky-like movement. That is why we’re able to see many different themes that pass through it.