The Occupy Wall Street movement has pervaded the country over the last two months, establishing locations in cities and universities with the support of hundreds of thousands of American citizens. The movement claims to be “fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations,” (Banks). In the process the OWS movement has stimulated once arguably latent conflict to become significantly more overt (Banks). In the past two weeks, mayors across the country have approved police raids on occupiers, attempting to end the non-violent protests.
These raids are proving to be both excessively violent, and questionably motivated. With the technological age living up to expectations, police violence cannot escape photography and video. Entire blogposts have evidence of unprovoked violence against protestors. For example, Joshua Holland on AlterNet posted “Caught on Camera: 10 Shockingly Violent Police Assaults on Occupy Protestors” on November 18. Among them: point-blank chemical spray on an unarmed woman, UC Davis protestors being sprayed with chemical agents, and veterans hit with tear gas.
As more information is discovered, it was suspected that The Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and other federal police agencies aided in organizing the police raids. Encouraging the local law enforcement to seek legal reason to remove protestors, DHS and the FBI were thought to have had an excessively influential hand in ending the OWS streak (“Raids”). The interesting piece of information that is coupled with this fact is that the DHS in unable to directly decide to take action against the protestors. The decision to act thus is not within their authority. The DHS is accountable to New York representative Peter Kind, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, and further to the president (Wolf). From this fact, we see the influence to act against the OWS protestors was influenced by much higher authority in the legal hierarchy than local law enforcers.
The resulting conflict is not only a complicated one, but is still freshly developing. Still this weekend, Occupy Philly is thought to be shut down by Philadelphia’s police force after Mayer Nutter asked OWS protestors to leave City Hall by five pm on Sunday, November 27 (Banks). Yet, as news unfolds, we can see multiple sides to this issue. There are OWS protestors involved with the movement, and, as made evident from the chain of command motivating action by the DHS, stakeholders on Wall Street. Each of these groups is playing a strong role in this developing conflict made overt by recent police and protestor action. The framework surrounding the conflict between these groups is still developing, as well as confounding the issue.
The identity frame of the Occupy Wall Street protestors is a broad one. Beginning with their mantra of being the 99% (those who are not the richest 1% of Americans owning 40% of the nation’s wealth), this group finds commonality in having less monetary wealth than the richest percentage of the United States. This group prides itself in its variety of members, embracing the differences they share, but as a whole finding common ground in their economic demographic. In addition to this, OWS protestors are located in different regions across the country, defining themselves as “Occupy Penn State” or “Occupy Philly,” as a result incorporating specific location-based and institution-based identity frames. Each location and institution comes with its own set of specific interest frames. Enveloping the entire movement is a set of interest frames that include, from what information objective viewers can decipher, a plea for more transparent government processes as well as less corruption as it is defined by OWS protestors. These pleas create the interest base for the movement in its entirety; however, at each location specific pleas apply. At universities, for example, specific pleas may be made to administration by the students. These requests would not apply specifically to Occupy Philly’s specific location-based framework.
Interestingly, the group the OWS protestors have been in direct conflict with these past two weeks has not been explicitly the 1% they have been protesting. This group is an ambiguous one, made up of stakeholders on Wall Street and influential law enforcers as made evident by the authority of the DHS. This group finds commonality in their risk aversion, identifying as those who will suffer in one way or another, be it economically or politically, with the furthering of the Occupy Wall Street movement. This vague set of people may find themselves identifying by location or role–those who work together on Wall Street itself find commonality in being the target, whereas the administration at a university occupies a different location. This group may also find commonality in interests and values, again with Wall Street business people valuing economic and business success, and congresspeople valuing political success.
Each of these groups condemns the other. OWS characterizes the stakeholders as the 1% itself; however, because the protestors have had no direct interaction with a specific leader of the group they are opposing, and because said group has such an uncertain definition, they have continued to oppose a faceless enemy. As a result while the raids continue across the country, these protestors see the law enforcers as the face of the economic disparity they have been peacefully protesting. Local law enforcement has been the closest thing to formal, direct confrontation the group has come thus far.
In contrast, the ambiguous group of stakeholders views the protestors as ignorant, unorganized, and without focus as reflected by the mainstream media. Because the occupy protestors have not formally created a list of specific grievances followed by a list of proposed solutions, peripheral viewers characterize their cause as nebulous and subsequently have not developed respect for it.
Relating to conflict management frames, each side continues to be in direct contrast. Over the last two months, OWS has appealed to political action. Investigative journalist Naomi Wolf, polled protestors online finding the most common agenda item was to create legislation to address their grievances (Wolf). She cites specific examples such as legislation to limit the now unending amounts of money permitted to fund campaigns, to reform the banking system, and to eliminate the loophole allowing Congress to pass legislation affecting corporations they themselves are investors in (Wolf). Other reporters contest Wolf’s claims, offering different examples of requests made by OWS. These claims vary with location and interest across the country, but what each include is the appeal to political action–in order to address their pleas, the OWS sees legislation and political answers.
On the other side of the conflict, thus far the Wall Street stakeholders have allowed the protests to continue until only previously. As time passed, media was fact-finding, hoping to discover what they perceived as direct claims made by OWS. Upon finding none to their liking, this indefinite group proceeded with relative passivity. This was no doubt influenced by what they interpreted as an argument with no substantial claims, made evident in their characterization frame of OWS. Action was not taken to remove the protestors because no legal claim could be made to rationalize removal, yet no action could be taken to address their grievances because their grievances either did not exist explicitly or were too silly to address. Within the last two weeks, Wall Street stakeholders have altered their conflict management frame to one of struggle and violence. As discussed previously, an authority in the chain of command about the DHS requested the mayors across the country employ the force of local law enforcement to remove protestors. Having found themselves in a frustrating position, unable to address vague claims or to find an authority with whom to mediate, stakeholders used hierarchical legal power to simply eliminate the manifestation of the conflict altogether.
More explicitly than OWS protestors, Wall Street stakeholders are influenced by risk and gain versus loss frames. If the claims Naomi Wolf illuminated in her research were to be addressed, each stakeholder would stand to lose significant economic and political wealth and influence. On the other side of the conflict, OWS feels that since these legislative issues have manifested themselves within politics, they have been losing significantly. Their identity frames show that their interests lie economically and politically, contesting perceived corruption within these systems. OWS feels that citizens of the country have a right to direct influence in legislative processes as well as a right to an honest government, both of which they feel have been lacking. Because of this, OWS protestors feel the country has been proceeding in such a way that American citizens have been losing.
Ambiguity has been the main influence within this conflict between OWS and Wall Street stakeholders. Neither group has a clear construct or agenda, eliminating all possibility of explicit conflict management. This is made especially evident by the variety of identity and characterization frames within each group. Because of this ambiguity, each side has a the freedom to choose which qualities about the other they wish to condemn so as to romanticize their own cause. Each uses the flexibility of their characterization and identity frames to justify their own cause as well as to appeal to others that may fall into their same category. Consequently, not only has each side been able to find justification for their own actions, no matter their extremity, they have also been able to justify condemnation of the other side and eluding mediation.
The result has been violent raids on protestors, no doubt furthering dissension. As the issues persist, each side will need to attempt at reframing their characterization and identities. OWS, the party with the initial grievance, will need to explicitly outline their demands and positions in addition to organizing themselves in such a way as to allow for mediation with the party they are speaking against. This may consist of breaking into specific groups within the entire OWS organization because the claims and interests vary so significantly. One the other side of things, Wall Street stakeholders and congresspersons will need to characterize these grievances as legitimate and recognize the value of the issues presented to them.
Once these preliminary steps are taken, however challenging, conflict management can ensue in such a way as to avoid violence and force. As more information unfolds, and groups within this conflict become more defined, successful conflict mediation may be able to take place; however, as of now, ambiguity acts as the fuel for dissension on Wall Street.
Banks, Criminal. Occupy Wall Street | NYC Protest for World Revolution. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <http://occupywallst.org/>.
Holland, Joshua. “Caught on Camera: 10 Shockingly Violent Police Assaults on Occupy Protesters | | AlterNet.” Home | AlterNet. 18 Nov. 2011. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
Holland, Joshua. “Naomi Wolf’s ‘Shocking Truth’ About the ‘Occupy Crackdowns’ Offers Anything but the Truth | | AlterNet.” Home | AlterNet. 26 Nov. 2011. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. <http://www.alternet.org/story/153222/naomi_wolf?page=1>.
“Raids on OWS Coordinated with Obama’s FBI, Homeland Security & Others :: News From Underground.” US Citizens Arrested by the Army, on the “battlefield” That’s Right outside Our Windows? Help the ACLU Say NO! :: News From Underground. Minneapolis Top News Examiner, 16 Nov. 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <http:// markcrispinmiller.com/2011/11/raids-on-ows-coordinated-with-obamas-fbi-homeland-
Wolf, Naomi. “The Shocking Truth about the Crackdown on Occupy | Naomi Wolf | Comment Is Free | Guardian.co.uk.” Latest News, Sport and Comment from the Guardian | The Guardian. Gauardian.co.uk, 25 Nov. 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <http:// www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/nov/25/shocking-truth-about-