Occupy Foreclosures and a Chart of Changing Tactical Innovations in Protest Movements, Mike Konczal
Tomorrow Occupy begins a new front, with a national day of action that involves occupying foreclosed homes. Occupy Our Homes has created a list events at their site here.
Events are taking place in Brooklyn and Rochester New York; Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Petaluma and Contra Costa California; Lake Worth, Florida; Atlanta, Fayetteville, and DeKalb Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Denver, Colorado; Detroit and Southgate Michigan; St. Louis, Missouri; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington. If you aren’t familiar with what foreclosures are doing to neighborhoods across the country, this would be a good place to start. We’ll have more coverage on the matter during the rest of the week.
It looks like the previously successful tactic – occupying public spaces across the nation – is starting to collapse. Local cities have cracked down on occupations, and that battle looks to be over. New fronts are opening up though, from universities to foreclosed homes.
This is how it is supposed to go. Economist and friend of the blog Suresh Naidu sent me the following chart, and it’s a good one. The evolution of different tactics during the civil rights movement, 1955-1962, charted by frequency of occurrences:
This chart is taken from Tactical Innovation and the Pace of Insurgency by the sociologist Doug McAdam, who summarizes it as follows:
Given a political system vulnerable to challenge and strong internal organization the main challenge confronting insurgents is a preeminently tactical one. Lacking institutionalized power, challengers must devise protest techniques that offset their powerlessness. This is referred to as a process of tactical innovation. Such innovations, however, only temporarily afford challengers increased bargaining leverage. In chess-like fashion, movement opponents can be expected…to neutralize the new tactic, thereby reinstituting the power disparty…
As these figures show, peaks in movement activity tend to correspond to the introduction and spread of new protest techniques. The pattern is a consistent one. The pace of insurgency jumps sharply following the introduction of a new tactical form, remains high for a period of time, and then begins to decline until another tactical innovation sets the pattern in motion again….
the sheer number of actions is highest immediately following the introduction of a new protest form, as is the proportion of all actions attributed to the new technique. Thus, tactical innovation appears to trigger a period of heightened protest activity dominated by the recently introduced protest technique…tactical innovation seems to stimulate the renewed usage of all tactical forms. Thus, for example, the economic boycott, largely abandoned after the bus boycotts, was often revived in the wake of the sit-in demonstrations as a means of intensifying the pressure…
It’s a game between power and resistance. A strategy is innovated, to which institutionalized power reacts to counter. Power uses a variety of counter-innovations from co-option, discouragement to outright repression, which reduces the efficiency of that strategy. Because the tactic has used up its initial usefulness and because power has become adapt at countering it, new tactics have to be innovated.
Thus the advantages of the the Occupy movement – the creativity and energy of the participants, the permeability of the infrastructure in place – work towards this ever-evolving battle. I’d also argue that the lack of hierarchy, the regional and local characteristics of the movements and the lack of a platform help. If there’s a specific policy goal and it collapses, it’s harder to innovate a new front. Power is rigid and can control the framework of what is considered possible – the resistance has to be fluid and create a bigger vision than what is immediately doable.
Interesting note: future innovations raise the usage of all tactical forms – so if history is any guide, future innovations from Occupy can redouble efforts at previous ones, say public occupations.
Here’s to many more tactical innovations.