“”If all that happens is those groups continue to try to occupy public space to express outrage, this dissipates relatively quickly,” said Doug McAdam, a professor of sociology at Stanford and an expert on social movements. “Lots of movements start out as more expressions of outrage or frustration, but that does not sustain a movement.”
While Occupy has changed the national conversation, McAdam said “two months do not a movement make.”
As Occupy approaches a fork in the movement-building road, experts and veterans compared it to other social movements as it confronts its challenges.
“People are not going to invest time and energy to come to demonstrations that don’t appear to be linked to specific outcomes,” McAdam said.
“Some movements are born with very specific goals,” McAdam said. “But lots of them are as amorphous and broadly expressive as the Occupy protest.”
The 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott was intended to be a one-day, localized action, McAdam said. But when many more people participated than even organizers expected, it carried forward, with specific goals in mind. It eventually lasted for 381 days.
“We typically look back at any of these movements as united top-down efforts,” he said. “But the civil rights movement was a collection of local struggles.”
There have been Occupy protests in more than 1,000 cities. But for the movement to flourish, suburbia needs to embrace it on its own terms.
Those at the front of the modern women’s movement in the 1960s, McAdam said, “were radical left feminists” who were “culturally anathema to middle-class suburban women.”
But “they highlighted and made visible and salient a general concern about issues about gender discrimination. And lots of women could identify with that even if they weren’t about to go out to some angry demonstration and throw bras in a trash can.”