Occupy Flexes Its Operational Muscle

Posted: 27th November 2012

As Occupy Wall Street swelled last year, many commentators asked: what’s the point? While this question was occasionally cynical, it did highlight that the crackling energy of protest lacked direction. Now, more than a year after OWS became a truly global movement, there may be less overwhelming force but more incisiveness.

Two recent campaigns exemplify Occupy’s growing power as a local organizer and media force: the rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Sandy and protest efforts against the Keystone XL Pipeline. We’ll look at both operations through the lens of Recorded Future to see how events developed and the role that Occupy has played.

Occupy Sandy Efforts

Occupy Wall Street’s efforts to clean up and rebuild New York City after Hurricane Sandy is a massive community operation dubbed Occupy Sandy. The still-ongoing relief efforts began immediately, and include providing shelter, disseminating news about public resources, and distributing food and first aid.

The highlights:

  • On November 1, two days after the worst of the storm, the Huffington Post reported on community organized relief efforts in Red Hook, NY organized by Occupy Sandy. Volunteer Conor Tomas Reed, a doctoral student at CUNY and a professor at Baruch College, said that ‘Occupy has gone from general protest work to now direct community support’.
  • On November 5, the Atlantic reported that volunteers were declined by shelters before joining Occupy Sandy: “‘They didn’t have anything for us to do… so we went to the Occupy Sandy location… there was a tremendous effort there.’”
  • On November 21, a local blog from the New York Times reported on efforts by Occupy Sandy to provide Thanksgiving meals to those affected by the hurricane.

The fact that a protest movement known for ragtag assemblies in public parks has been steadily organizing and contributing to a humanitarian relief campaign for nearly a month now speaks to its stamina and operational capability.

Keystone XL Pipeline Protests

The Keystone XL Pipeline has long been contentious, but this year a new advocacy group emerged to oppose the pipeline’s expansion. Tar Sands Blockade describes itself as a coalition of Texas and Oklahoma landowners and climate justice organizers. The group’s first press release is dated June 25, 2012, but it’s not until Tar Sands Blockade started to coordinate with Occupy Austin and Occupy Houston that we see an uptick of momentum late in July onwards.


  • On July 15, Tar Sands Blockade tweeted at @OccupyHouston and received a retweet from the group on its call for support at the Houston stop of the Tar Sands Blockade tour.
  • On July 21, multiple announcements in social media publicize upcoming non-violent direct action training in Houston.
  • On August 16, an activist with Occupy Denton organizing with the Tar Sands Blockade Media Working Group published a call to action on popular progressive forum Common Dreams.
  • On September 19, Occupy Houston and Tar Sands Blockade announced a formal partnership in advance of their plans to occupy TransCanada’s U.S. headquarters in downtown Houston on Sept. 20th and 21st.
  • During October and November, Occupy groups across the country – including Chicago and Portland branches – take up the cause in advance of larger protests against the Keystone pipeline that took place in Washington, D.C. during mid-November.

This upstart community advocacy organization has in a matter of months garnered support from environmental activists around the country. The expansive Occupy network clearly accelerated the rapid rise of Tar Sands Blockade to national visibility.

Occupy Is Picking Its Battles To Be More Effective

Occupy has evolved from a philosophical, loosely knit protest movement into something much more powerful. In just the last two months, we’ve seen effective mobilization at the community level (Operation Sandy) and amplification of causes of choice (Tar Sands Blockade, Black Friday) through the massive global audience Occupy has engaged.

One can still ask, what is the point of Occupy? Do Occupy groups merely adopt prior causes of community and environmental groups, or do they lead the way? It doesn’t matter; the Occupy Movement “voice” has become a global megaphone that transcends the divergent local ability to conduct operations. As reported by Fortune: Samantha Corbin, an Occupy Sandy site coordinator said, ‘The relationships we built through Occupy Wall Street are a huge reason why we’ve been able to scale so fast.’  The Occupy Movement has found its legs and cannot be ignored.