Occupy Protesters Want to Belong
December 21, 2011
Occupy protesters are motivated not so much by policy goals as by a need for community and a desire for personal validation, according to new research by the Frontier Lab.
I’m normally very skeptical about—and opposed to—ascribing motives or intentions to one’s opponents. The Frontier Lab is admittedly pro-liberty, pro-small-“r”-republicanism, and pro-America—i.e., if you like, conservative. That said, there’s a difference between carelessly assuming bad motives of anyone who disagrees with one—e.g., assuming that a liberal who favors legal recognition of same-sex “marriage” must be motivated by anti-religious bigotry, or assuming that a conservative who favors lower spending and lower taxes must be motivated by “pro-rich” or “anti-poor” prejudice—and a study of Occupiers’ motivations themselves, based on hour-long interviews and marketing-research principles. Make of it what you will.
At National Review Online, Charles Cooke (who has covered the Occupy protests many times over the past few months) summarizes and discusses the Frontier Lab’s findings. (Alternate summary: Rebel Pundit.) Read the full report yourself at the Frontier Lab’s Web site.
According to the report’s introduction, responses to the Occupy protests, particularly among pro-liberty types, have so far fallen into two categories: “(1) vilify or ridicule their message, or (2) embrace the anti-collusion rhetoric and rally around common ground.” The report suggests that neither response is apt, and later adds,
Those that would place the Occupy protesters, . . . on a Left-Right spectrum are attempting to overlay a dimension that simply cannot capture their entire essence. . . .
It is important to note that in the mental maps of [protesters], there was no representation of Marxism, Anarchy, or any other political justice outcome at the value level (see appendices).
Instead, the report concludes that many, perhaps the vast majority, of protesters are driven in significant part by a need for community; in effect, the Occupy protests fill a void left by the breakdown of community in modern America and by the protesters’ lack of religious upbringing. As Cooke puts it,
What did Frontier Lab discover? First, that many of the rank-and-file occupiers feel isolated in their lives, and appear to lack basic community ties such as are provided by participation in clubs, churches, and strong families. Indeed, much of the report could have come from the early chapters of Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone. They thus attach to their political causes with something like a religious fervor. . . . Crucially, involvement with others who agree with them provides an “overwhelming feeling of being part of a family.” I noticed this on my first trip down to Zuccotti Park, when I saw a telling sign adorning the entrance to the tent city: “For the first time in my life, I feel at home.” On subsequent visits I was struck by the importance of the commune to the project.