Occupy Foreclosures and a Chart of Changing Tactical Innovations in Protest Movements

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.

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11 Responses to Occupy Foreclosures and a Chart of Changing Tactical Innovations in Protest Movements

  1. Taryn Hart says:

    This is a brilliant post. I normally don’t comment just to say how impressed I am with something, but this is that good. And important.

  2. Lori Wolf says:

    Thank you Frank – for those of us in smaller groups of Occupiers, this reinforces what we were just talking about at our last GA. I am more encouraged that this is a natural evolution of the movement!!!

  3. And while we’re at it, lets credit some of the people as well.

    I was emailed a link to a video made by Brenda Reed, a woman battling Chase Bank over her own home foreclosure situation. I incorporated Brenda Reed’s video into a short article for a blog called Bank Protests that I started. http://bankprotests.blogspot.com/2011/09/san-francisco-area-protestors-block.html

    I then would mention this type of specific home foreclosure auction protest on a few occupy forums and would also provide a link back to that article featuring Brenda Reed’s video. http://bankprotests.blogspot.com/2011/09/san-francisco-area-protestors-block.html

    A little over two months later from that original video and article and the Occupy Movement is going to both occupy homes, and some regional occupy locations may actually attempt to shout down the public home foreclosure auctions as well.

    I just want to add that a one day home foreclosure action IS NOT ENOUGH and this can quickly turn into an insulting situation if after the cameras leave the occupiers move on to another cause as it will turn into little more than a photo op.

    If the Occupy Movement does not leave a small group of people behind for actions that are ongoing, the movement runs the risk of being labeled an opportunistic movement more interested in the news coverage than fighting for the 99%.

  4. Max Fitzpatrick says:

    Funny. I just wrote nearly the same observation.

    http://www.menvsculture.com/2011/12/tactical-innovation.html

  5. Pingback: ACORN Tactics – Occupy Our Homes: Today the Foreclosure Crisis Moves to the Top of the Agenda « Newsessentials Blog

  6. Fascinating piece and one that rings very true in my experience. Back in the ’80s I was involved with the then-new Earth First! radical environmental movement. We went through a whirlwind period of innovation during the heyday, always keeping our opponents guessing and always staying one or two steps ahead of them.

    I think one of the big differences that future historians will find when looking at Occupy is that, because of social media, the pace of evolution will be dramatically accelerated. Tactical cycles will last mere weeks, if that. That is one concern I have about the upcoming port shut down. I’m hoping it is not an overreach, with the opposition now much more prepared and Occupy spread thin and weaker.

    It is axiomatic in strategic planning that you never win the same way twice, but you can lose the same way an infinite number of times. It’s an evolutionary process: we train our opponents in how to beat us whenever we do the same thing.

    I do think Occupy needs to concede the physical presence in the square at this point, while still retaining its signature image of the tent. U.C. Berkeley students using helium balloons to fly tents over Sproul Plaza, the Occupy Melbourne protesters wearing small tents as clothing (one getting it ripped off of her body by police) and the projected “bat signals” are good examples.

    I think occupying foreclosures is the logical next step. Oakland has tried a couple of times and botched it, but today’s action seems like a winner. If it doesn’t really “stick” after today, we’ll keep at it till we get it right.

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  10. lase99 says:

    Supporting the ‘Occupy Movement’ is fatal. Please read why here : http://thebroadpicture.wordpress.com/

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