The central demand of the organization appears to be for President Obama to "ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington." Beyond that the pervasive theme appears to be in protesting the richest 1% of Americans and their purported greed. In fact, when interviewed, leaders of Occupy Wall Street commonly refer to themselves as "the other 99%," which suggests that they represent a broad segment of the U.S. demographic. As far as we can determine, the group, to date, is largely made up of the left of the left wing, youth, and those underemployed. As a case in point, Marxist Slavoj Zizek spoke to the group yesterday.
To be clear, it is not apparent that there is any organization behind the movement that will make it overly effective, or that there is truly a coherent view, other than that "money" and "Wall Street" are bad. To wit, this weekend an Occupy Wall Street group met in Atlanta and invited Congressman John Lewis to speak to them. He has been a member of Congress since 1987 and is widely considered a leader in the American civil rights movement. A recent video, which is admittedly anecdotal, shows this segment of Occupy Wall Street could not even decide whether they should led Congressman Lewis peak to them.
Despite the lack of organization, Occupy Wall Street is garnering mindshare. According to the location of searches for "Occupy Wall Street" in Google Trends, the group is gaining the majority of its traction in more liberal areas in the U.S.
Analogies are already being made to the Tea Party. As of yet, those analogies are somewhat inaccurate. The Tea Party proved itself, even if a minority group, to be organized both politically and monetarily, which allowed the group to effect change in the 2010 election. To be truly effective, Occupy Wall Street will need money (they purportedly have $40,000 in the bank), the one key thing they appear to be protesting.
That being said, as the chart below shows, Occupy Wall Street does appear to be getting comparable traction in the media as the Tea Party did after roughly the same period of time. In terms of actual organization, the two groups are both loosely affiliated regional groups with no central leadership. The key differences so far though seem to be funding (the billionaire Koch brothers are a key backer of the Tea Party) and a more coherent set of concerns and issues.
The cohesiveness that the Tea Party was able to build in short order led to a number of key electoral victories in 2010, including:
- Marco Rubio defeating Charlie Crist for Senate in Florida;
- Scott Brown won Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts;
- Rand Paul won a Kentucky Senate seat; and
- Numerous primary and congressional seat victories.
It's too early to tell whether Occupy Wall Street will have real impact beyond disrupting the tourist flow in New York. The media, though, is certainly giving the platform a voice. Should fundraising and organization follow, Occupy Wall Street may be an interest group with a loud and disruptive voice in the 2012 elections.