The Occupy Movement as a Travelling Idea

Anne Kaun discusses the Occupy movement as a travelling idea with reinterpretations and reshapings based on different local and cultural contexts. Anne is a CGCS visiting scholar and lecturer at Södertörn University in Sweden. She is interested in investigating the cultural implications of the financial crisis for civic culture in two countries, namely the United States and Sweden.

September 17th marked the second anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, which quickly spread worldwide setting the stage for the global Occupy movement. During the last two years the movement has changed considerably. The camps have disappeared, however, a number of activist groups, such as Occupy Sandy, continue their work.

Occupy provides an example of international communication linking different localities characterized by various political contexts across the globe. It has often been considered a global protest network consisting of interlinking nodes linked by the communicative infrastructure of blogs, digests, and social networking platforms (Castells, 2012). I, however, would argue that rather than one strongly interlinked network, the global occupy movement is a travelling idea characterized by very specific reshapings and reinterpretations in different localities (Mörtenböck & Mooshammer, 2012). Occupy Stockholm and Occupy Latvia provide ideal cases to illustrate this point.

In the Latvian context, Occupy has been reframed in terms of the German and Russian legacy of occupation during the 20th century broadening its appeal for greater participation. In that sense, one of the aims of the Occupy movement, namely to overturn and resist forced occupation of other countries strongly associated with the notion occupy (Pickerill & Krinsky, 2012), failed in the Latvian context as Occupy never took off physically. Consequently, Latvia has never seen actual camps directly linked to the Occupy movement. In the Autumn of 2009, however, a group of approximately 20 activists, unrelated to Occupy Latvia, began camping in front of the Cabinet of Ministers, the main Latvian government building. The occupiers remained until summer 2010 articulating a broad range of demands. Two of the main issues were employment and austerity measures recently introduced. As the protesters were not linked to a global movement such as Occupy, which would only take off two years later, attention from international and national mainstream media remained low. Latvia also saw earlier crisis related protest mobilisations. On January 13, 2009 a protest against the government’s austerity measures turned into a violent riot. During this instance of mobilization a number of protesters tried to keep MPs from entering the parliament, camping in front of the building to block entry to it. After the resignation of the center-right coalition government in February 2009 the protest quickly faded. Besides these direct actions there have been loose online networks linking up to the global Occupy movement discussing the economic system, politics, and democratic organization.

In contrast to this, there were physical occupations taking place in Stockholm linking to the global Occupy movement. Moving around in the city, activists set up camps from October 2011 through July 2012. In the beginning the group was rather big and divided in several subgroups and committees working on specific issues, such as demonstration and study groups. Mainstream media reframed Occupy Stockholm as a sympathetic group of a few activists that were  exaggerating the economic crisis in Sweden. Consequently, the causes and mobilizations in Stockholm were not considered serious forms of political or civic engagement, even if local issues, such as the privatization and deregulation of the Stockholm housing market, were targeted by the Swedish Occupy activists.

For activists in Latvia and Sweden, Occupy served as a framing narrative to connect different local causes to global protests and mobilizations, as well as a way to express international solidarity. Rather than employing the network metaphor that overemphasizes the importance of technological infrastructure, I would like to stress the importance of the idea that Occupy provided a globally shared narrative of the possibility of political alternatives that were very concretely shaped within local contexts.

 

//Anne Kaun

 

Cited

Castells, M. (2012). Networks of Outrage and Hope. Social Movements in the Internet Age. Cambridge, Malden: Polity Press.

Mörtenböck, P., & Mooshammer, H. (2012). Occupy. Räume des Protests [Occupy. Spaces of Protest]. Bielefeld: transcript.

Pickerill, J., & Krinsky, J. (2012). Why does occupy matter? Social Movement Studies: Journal of Social, Cultural and Political Protest, 11(3-4), 279-287.

 

Featured Photo Credit:AttributionSome rights reserved by World Can’t Wait

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