What can protest movements learn from Occupy London?

Posted in Protests on March 11th, 2012 by Leo – Comments Off on What can protest movements learn from Occupy London?

There are two ways of looking at how the country saw Occupy London before its eviction at the end of last month.

The first is that the principles of the protest were surprisingly popular. We saw in October an ICM poll that found a majority sympathetic to the protesters’ aim of ending ‘a system that puts profit before people’. Fewer than two in five said that the protesters were naive in looking for an alternative to capitalism.

A new YouGov poll has reinforced this. Asking simply whether people support the ‘aims’ of the protesters – not spelling out what those aims are – the result is an impressive 17-point lead for those supporting the protest against those opposing its aims:

The surprise isn’t that the country thinks that the current economic system is unfair. We already knew that there is an overwhelming view that those who play by the rules don’t get rewarded.

What is impressive is that Occupy London succeeded in tapping in to this. Despite not making specific proposals for reforming the economic system, and having their message diverted by fights about tactics, the protesters’ desire for something better than the current system was recognised and shared by a large proportion of the population.

Whether this support meant that the protests changed anything is another question. The same YouGov poll also finds that 71% think that it didn’t achieve much or anything at all.

This seems harsh. While difficult to measure, one likely success is that the protest prompted media debates about whether the economic system can be reformed, which created political space to consider it in a way that hadn’t previously existed. It may also be true that the protests inspired and informed new activists, who will continue to fight for economic and political reforms.

Opposition to the tactics

But while the protests may have achieved some things, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the tactics of Occupy London got in the way of its achieving more.

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Closing a London landmark and other ways to lose supporters

Posted in Media, Protests on October 27th, 2011 by Leo – 4 Comments

A week ago the Occupy London protesters at St Paul’s Cathedral had a strong level of public support.

Even just after the Cathedral closed its doors, ICM found a majority agreeing with the protesters’ demands:

This seems impressively high. Only two in five saying that there is no practical alternative to capitalism is certainly at odds with the dominant view in the media.

But this isn’t the same as finding support for the way the protest is unfolding, and opinion may well have changed since the poll was conducted.

The day after the fieldwork, the Telegraph was the first to run with the claim that nine in ten of the tents are empty overnight. Along with repeated stories of ordinary people’s lives being disrupted, the coverage has also targeted the supposed wealth of some of the protesters to suggest that they’re out of touch or hypocritical.

The thing is, this was all utterly predictable. After one day of most protests there will always be some bad headlines for the protesters, but barring disaster there’ll also be some positive ones. But after several days of protest, the fact that there’s a protest will no longer generate news: only the chaos will be of interest.

After the coverage of the UK Uncut occupation of Fortnum and Mason, and the most recent Climate Camp, there should have been nothing surprising in the protests receiving this kind of negative coverage, especially if they went on for several days.

The Fortnum and Mason protest also indicates the impact this can have on opinion.

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