The Ultimate Spectator Sport

I must admit there is something entertaining about Twitter and the Occupy movement: from a distance, they have created the ultimate spectator sport. You don’t need to actually participate in the movement in order to be perceived as an authority.

Over the weekend, my Twitter stream was full of commentary on Occupy Portland. Comments ranged from “get them out,” “enough is enough” and “if it were up to me, I’d get them out by force” to people live-tweeting a live video stream and actual on-the-ground reports. I’m not a numbers guy by any means, but I would say a very small percentage of the actual commentary was done by people on the ground.

What happens when a small percentage of the commentary is based upon factual, objective, eye-witness reports? Conjecture, subjectivity, confusion, and false authority.

I appreciate my friend Aaron Hockley’s images from the field because he was actually there. He didn’t give his bias, he just took some photos that told the story of the eviction of Occupy Portland.

Truth be told, I was a spectator this weekend with regards to Occupy Portland. I am as guilty as the next person. I was not on the ground, but I also chose not to offer my opinion, until now.

Scalable Change

The question that I ask is this: Is social media an effective tool when it comes to affecting large-scale change?

As someone that researches and uses social media and networks a lot, people cite the 2011 Egypt Revolution as proof that social media can produce change. While it was successful in coordinating the people of Egypt, is social media scalable in a country the size of America where there is no central location that people are drawn to? According to Wikipedia, the area of Egypt is 387,048 square miles and the area of the United States is 3,794,101 square miles. It makes sense that Facebook and Twitter led to a central physical location in Egypt, because Egypt is roughly 9.8% the size of the United States, and it is physically possible for people to gather in one place. However, given the size and diversity of America, there has not been a central location in America for the Occupy movement, and I argue that is why the message has become diluted and not as effective as it could be.

Decentralization Of A Movement

It has been fascinating to watch the different Occupy movements spring up across the states through an effective usage of social media. They have been everywhere from Vancouver, WA and Denver, CO to New York City and Washington, DC. They have gotten attention, they have created debate and discourse among all walks of life, but the message appears to be losing steam among the 99%.

According to, this is the description of their movement: “Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”

What has become of the leaderless resistance movement? It has become parodied because of their voting gestures, it has become a mockery because of the fringe movements that are more interested in handouts then affecting long-term change, and most importantly, it has become a movement that has lost its centralized voice.

Leadership is Crucial for Change

The Occupy Movement is a leaderless movement and that is why it is losing steam. In the absence of leadership, people lose desire and enthusiasm for change and revert to previous behaviors.

While it is commendable to be a leaderless movement, long-term change takes vision, commitment to action and daily passion to inspire the masses and recruit new voices.

Without leadership, the vision will fall apart, the commitment will cease, and the inspiration to recruit new voices and maintain the existing followers will evaporate due to external situations, such as weather, dissent and miscommunication.

Two View of Leadership Communication

In Stephen Denning’s book, The Secret Language of Leadership, he sets out two views of leadership communication:

  • Traditional Approach: Define Problem >> Analyze Problem >> Recommend Solution
  • Narrative Approach: Get Attention >> Stimulate Desire >> Reinforce with Reasons

The Occupy Movement started with the Narrative Approach to leadership. They got the attention of the American people, but they haven’t been able to stimulate desire for new recruits and reinforce their opinion with solid reasons.

Continue the Occupation

In order for the Occupy Movement to survive, I think there are several crucial elements that must be addressed:

  1. Leadership is critical. In the face of physical decentralization, the presence of leadership is that much more important.
  2. Continue to get the attention through multiple means. Physical protests in public spaces is only one method of generating attention. A Facebook friend has done a tremendous job of generating interest by creating artwork and using social media as a platform of debate. It is through his continue work that I keep an active eye upon what is going on. In order to stimulate desire, we must use our collective creativity in an infinite number of ways. Check out Bryan Helfrich’s work at or view his design, Occupy Your Mind, on Wikimedia.
  3. Understand that the problem is systemic in nature and that change will not be instantaneous. We are a culture built around immediacy. We expect immediate change to problems that have taken years to develop. While there are short-term solutions that can deal with today, if we don’t deal with tomorrow, the problems will only get worse and more difficult to deal with.
  4. Recruit multiple voices in diverse environments for different purposes. Not everyone is willing to leave their job to protest, but that doesn’t mean that they are against the movement.

How are you going to go beyond being a spectator and engaging in this movement? For myself, I am learning more about how to be a transformational leader built around inspiring change in others. I aspire to be ethical in my treatment of others, transparent in my successes and failures, and focused on getting beyond the dictatorial views of immediate gratification.

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