The Occupy Movement’s Commitment to Non-Violence

cropped-fist.pngThe Occupy Movement, beginning with the Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccotti Park, was a rapidly growing worldwide phenomenon that included over 2300 protests in over 2000 cities worldwide. The entire movement was controlled democratically, using no centralized form of leadership and operating quite literally through the will of the group.

Coordinating movements through social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, Occupy protesters each had a voice and each had the ability to communicate what they wished to accomplish to each other. Through these channels, the protesters regularly shared commitments to nonviolence.

Throughout the media coverage of each protest, sensationalized coverage of each act of violence, but in most cases the violence was initiated by police, accusing the protesters of being mischievous or causing a public disturbance. Even early in the protests the media covered several events in which police pepper sprayed protesters and they did not resist. This was said to have caused a lot of public sympathy for the people involved and helped elevate the cause of the protesters.

While each protest was different, the commitment to nonviolence was generally agreed upon. As the movement grew and more camps appeared and more people got involved, reports of sexual assaults and violent incidents increased, but there was few confirmed reports of either. Some protesters claimed that the authorities were falsely reporting violent crime in an attempt to sway public opinion against the occupiers.

The commitment to nonviolence was confirmed to be an effective tool in promoting the goals of the Occupy movement when members of the Occupy Oakland camp engaged in conflict with the local police. The source of the conflict was never officially confirmed, but many people on both sides claimed that the police initiated it, while many people also claimed that the protesters initiated it. Regardless of who caused the violence, the support for the Occupy movement in the Bay area was surveyed shortly after media coverage of the conflict with police and over 26% of people who had previously supported the protesters decided to withdraw their support. Many members of the camp also withdrew support – going home and attempting to distance themselves from the protest.

In many camps where violence was reported, semi-official releases were made announcing that any form of violence against other protesters or police would not be allowed. Even without any form of centralized leadership, announcements were made to ensure that all protesters knew that violence would not be a part of the Occupy movement.

With thousands of camps and hundreds of thousands (or more) protesters involved and no true leadership, the few violent events that occurred remain as a stain on public opinion of the cause. But with almost all of the Occupy protesters remaining committed to a nonviolent form of protest even when faced with police brutality, the Occupy movement was able to gain a huge amount of public support and spread their message, protesting social inequality to the world.