The Occupy Movement Report Card

By Phillip Martin

Dec. 8, 2011

BOSTON — Wednesday’s court decision could spell the beginning of the end for Occupy Boston’s downtown encampment but not necessarily the end of the philosophical debate. With that in mind, WGBH News asked observers and participants to grade the movement's effectiveness.

> > What grade would YOU give the movement? Fill out your own Occupy Boston report card.

The academic

Cyrus Veeser, is a professor of history at Bentley — one of the nation’s leading business colleges — and an expert on social movements. If the Occupy activists, national and local, were his students, what grade would they get?

“I think they have done more than a good public relations firm or even an attack ad could do to change the way we think about these problems that we’ve been living through for the past three years,” Veeser said.

Veeser argued that the movement seems directed at altering the way we think about poverty, wealth, Main Street and Wall Street. For that, he gave it a B-plus.

The Occupier

Surprisingly, that’s a better grade than what Occupy Boston gave itself. Alex Ingram, looking out on the small sea of blue-tarped tents in Dewey Square, was decidedly self-critical of the movement he represents.

“I would give us a solid B,” he said. “While our message while strong and powerful, sometimes we don’t get it out well enough.” In particular, he thought the movement had to do a better job of reaching people from the suburbs and getting them involved.
As for the tactics of the movement, Ingram again went with the B: “I like the fact that we’re here and in people’s faces, but it’s got to be more…. We’ve got to get creative.” He added, “I may be hard on us, but we’ve got to be hard on ourselves to keep moving forward.”

So, if an independent scholar gives the movement a B-plus, and the movement gives itself a B, what about Occupy’s detractors?

The Tea Partier

Jeff Parish described himself as a fundamental Baptist who tends to vote Republican and identifies with the Tea Party.

“I have observed the [Occupy] movement and I don’t believe that it really does have a focus,” he said.
In fact, he’s been observing the movement from the beginning. For the past two months, Parish, who works downtown, has walked by the Dewey Square tent city and often stopped to debate Occupy supporters. He gave the movement an F.

“They don’t have a unified idea,” he said. “They actually aren’t trying to accomplish one thing. They’re trying to accomplish many things. And it’s a house divided against itself.”

Veeser had a different take on the same characteristics. In over two months of agitation, he noted, no national Occupy leader has emerged. I think it suggest that there is a certain discipline in the anarchy. Somehow, everywhere across the country, they have refused to allow multiple issues to be reduced to a single issue,” he said. “It would be quite easy for this to become a branch of the Democratic Party. It’s amazing that they have not allowed themselves to be packaged and resold.”

The politicians

Yet some Democrats are more approving of the Occupy Movement than the Occupy Movement is of the Democratic Party.
At the Dec. 5 US Senate Democratic debate at Stonehill College, WGBH News asked all five candidates for their Occupy report cards.

  • Marisa DeFranco: B for the national movement, A-plus for Occupy Boston.
  • Jim King and Herb Robinson: C nationally, B locally.
  • Tom Conroy: B both nationally and locally.
  • Elizabeth Warren, the professor, gave the movement… an incomplete.
The Occupy movement is organic. They don’t want outside leadership. They’re going to grow this internally, and they will decide its direction. The grade for Occupy is incomplete. It’s not over yet,” she said.

Sen. Scott Brown weighed in on Dec. 8. He declined to give a grade. Instead, he said, “I respect the right of people to protest, but we are a nation of laws and there is no right to indefinitely and illegally occupy public grounds at the expense of everyone else. Mayor Menino and city officials have been more than tolerant in allowing the protestors prolonged use of this space, day and night, without a permit. Now, the time has come for the encampment to end peacefully. Protestors can continue to express their First Amendment rights, but they are not immune to the laws that apply to the rest of us.”

And like any test and report card, the ultimate grade will depend on its lasting impact.

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