There's been criticism about how Occupy Wall Street protesters don't have a clear mission, objective or message. Critics say it's a shame the grassroots movement has mobilized so many people without having a solid focus detailing their agenda.
We spoke with renegade entrepreneur, Baruch Herzfeld, whose most recent rank and file business is Zeno Radio, a mobile content business that provides small town international radio stations to individual cell phones in the United States. Like the protest, his service began as an idea just seven months ago and has grown through word-of-mouth to more than 100,000 users—typically immigrants enjoying their hometown radio station in their native dialects. Rather than criticize what the protestors could be doing better, Herzfeld points out some of the business practices that the now thousands of Occupy Wall Street protestors are employing successfully.
Occupy Wall Street has grown into a branded protest. The Twitter handle @OccupyWallStreetNYC is closing in on 37,000 followers, and much of that is due to the protest’s broad appeal.
“They allow people to personalize their own message and don't restrict anyone's message,” says Herzfeld. “Everyone gets to personalize their own protest and take it to Wall Street which has created a protest portal. Every single person has ownership of it and the brand is occupied by everyone. It’s like Twitter and Facebook where people are given the tools and then can personalize the product themselves so they can have ownership of the brand.”
Outsourcing and franchising
In order to spread the message globally, the Occupy Wall Street message has been outsourced. The work is being done by thousands around the country which has resulted in a franchising of the Occupy Wall Street brand.
“There’s other Occupies like, Occupy Florida, Occupy Toronto, Occupy Beantown,” says Herzfeld. “The broad base of protestors paved the way for this to mobilize quickly.”
A simple message
It may seem like there’s a lot of yelling and smoke being blown, but through all the blogged chaos is a simple, all-encompassing message.
“There are a lot of people protesting a lot of different things, but the message is, 'we are the 99 percent,'" says Herzfeld. “And that means they are part of the 99 percent who are fighting the one percent. That is how they’ve included everyone in it. It’s very simple and easy to fight against the one percent, and that one percent they’ve branded into an evil character they are fighting peacefully, simply by walking down the street.”
Occupy Wall Street has maintained a consistent practice of not protesting violently.
“When you’re down there, they make sure everyone is happy and joyous,” says Herzfeld. “They’re providing excellent customer service. People are having fun with bands, music and food. There's a social community of joy. In London and Greece the protests were violent with people throwing things and vandalizing.”
The good customer service has extended to the New York Police Department too, says Herzfeld. “The protestors have made a solid effort at befriending the police, but these are the blue shirt police. The white shirt police are who we’ve seen in the negative videos. Befriending the blue shirt police has weakened their adversary and strengthens a positive message."
Critics have stated that there are no solid leaders organizing the peaceful revolt.
“Instead of a traditional top-to-bottom strategy with a CEO, president or executive, but they have a company,” says Herzfeld. “Everyone in the protest is an employee who feels they have an ownership in the company. People are motivated to help the business. Everyone feels empowered to make decisions with their ownership stake.”
The Occupy message has traveled the world virally. What started with 40 seasoned protestors/anarchists has grown into something bigger, personalized yet all-encompassing. It was also the ideal climate for a protest, with people out of work and the economy down. Social media has proven again to be the ideal and comfortable forum for voicing frustrations peacefully.
“They took a product that people want and need and made it viral,” says Herzfeld. “That’s democracy. They took language of the past and repackaged it to an audience that wanted to hear it. It's not easy to get people out on the street, especially when there are cops. People have a fear of cops and getting arrested.”
Social media has also been used to debunk fears of protesting. The use of Livestream video has held contributing to keeping people’s actions accountable.
“This is a 'company' that is using the latest technology and have made an interesting, entertaining product using good looking, young people which make their product even more attractive,” says Herzfeld.
Old and new methodologies
The Occupy branding uses high tech and low tech. They are combining Livestreaming, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, but they are also making tremendous use of cardboard pizza boxes to spread their messages. The pizza box has come to represent how the company or campaign has found a less fraudulent and more comfortable way for people to feel like contributing. Rather than give money to a cause, people are bringing pizza for food and repurposing the boxes for posters.
“It’s not just electronic,” says Herzfeld. “It’s physical. The cameras coming down to capture something hand-made and crafty to show the world.”
Image credit: _PaulS_