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Power to the People: When Main Street Occupies Wall Street

Pascal Beucler

By Pascal Beucler, SVP & Chief Strategy Officer, MSLGROUP

 

The Occupy Wall Street movement is a really interesting hybrid of “traditional” and social media, “real” and virtual gatherings.

 

Occupy Wall Street

As we get used to the idea that the financial crisis is here to stay, it’s worth analyzing what’s happening in various European countries, and now in the USA, where the crowds of “indigne’s” (the indignant, the angry) are growing every day and occupying public spaces. It’s amazing to see how fast the game has changed within a few months: from celebrating regime changes in the Middle East, the West has had to deal with a series of revolutions at home, many of them triggered by the continuation of the crisis.

Even if mistrust of governments and corporations has been developing over the past decade (Enron, the burst of the high-tech bubble, 9/11 etc.), the continued financial crisis, in combination with the emergence of a new mindset, in a context of social media explosion, has dramatically transformed public opinion. And, in fact, far beyond public opinion, we should probably start questioning the “public acceptance” of our socio-political and economic systems, and be prepared to deal with bigger crises in the coming times.

 

The movement started in Southern Europe, particularly in Greece and Spain. Then the USA joined the movement, dubbed Occupy Wall Street. Hundreds of Americans have been camping there for weeks, and thousands are following their example across the country, from Boston and Chicago, to Houston and San Francisco. The protesters are using social networks, blogs and websites — such as Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Together and Ad Busters — to connect people all around the country.

The way Occupy Wall Street defines itself is insightful. Occupy Wall Street calls itself “a horizontally organized resistance movement employing the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to restore democracy in America”. It relies on an approach it calls a “people’s assembly” to “facilitate collective decision making in an open, participatory and non-binding manner” and welcomes people from all colors, genders and beliefs to attend its daily assemblies. It has also published a “quick guide on group dynamics in people’s assemblies” for others who wish to start their own people’s assemblies to “organize local communities to fight back against social injustice”.

Never have the ancient Agora (physical assembly, here and now) and the digital one (each and every social network, as well as the sum of all of them) been so closely inter-connected. The Occupy Wall Street movement is a really interesting hybrid of “traditional” and social media, “real” and virtual gatherings.

 


We are the 99%

If the first “indigne’s” were activists, most of the newcomers are young employees and graduates. It looks like a whole generation is joining a deep and wide “value-for-all” movement here, best expressed by the “we are the 99%” group:

“We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.”

 

In terms of beliefs and values, whether American, Spanish or French, in my view these young people have three things in common:

1. They don’t trust institutions anymore. Trust in corporations is at an all-time low across the world. The destruction of wealth is rarely lethal. But the destruction of confidence, brand equity and reputation among financial institutions and public bodies is terribly damaging. In a world where banks and financial companies are seen as reckless, fraudulent and disconnected from reality, whilst governments around the world are blamed for their inaction, we shouldn’t be surprised to see more and more social outrage. Never have corporate reputations been so precious, and so fragile.

2. They have new power, and they know how to use it. They are in control. And the more it goes, the more they realize the power they have in their hands. Like Marc Zuckerberg underlined it, during the recent “e-G8? we organized in Paris, “People being empowered is the trend for the next decade: that’s the core social dynamics…People have the ability to voice their opinion, and it changes the world, as it rewires it from the ground up”. As a matter of fact, what the crowds of people gathering in San Francisco said is exactly that: “We just want our voice to be heard”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. They demand purpose, and shared value. Financial institutions, like other corporations, need to not only rediscover their social purpose but also put it at the core of how they engage with their stakeholders. There is no value creation without solid profits. But profits cannot be the only criteria of value creation. The “corporate” side of organizations is more and more important. People expect companies, brands, institutions, to commit to core values, among which transparency, sustainability and accountability are central. Value for All is the new mantra, everywhere.

When he published his short essay Indignez-vous!, could Holocaust survivor and French resistance leader Stephane Hessel imagine the power of his call?

 

Originally posted on Crisis.MSLGROUP.com, our global network of 50+ MSLGROUP crisis experts, with deep vertical expertise across industries and geographies, connected to each other by our proprietary crowdsourcing platform.

In a world where every crisis is global, social and viral, you need a road map to think about the interconnections between trust, power, risk and crisis, from our experts at the MSLGROUP Crisis Network.

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