Today marks the first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, and the movement’s faithful have taken to the streets for a series of planned demonstrations in a bid to recapture some of last year’s momentum. It’s a little early to assess how effective they’ve been in that goal, but so far organizers have succeeded on at least two (very) interrelated metrics we might be able to use in the short term: arrests and press coverage.
The New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, and a host of TV news networks all currently have front-(Web)page accounts of this morning’s “people’s wall” picket line at the New York Stock Exchange, which led to the arrest of more than 100 protesters. Here’s the New York Times with the scene:
“Police officers and protesters squared off at various points with protesters briefly blocking intersections and sidewalks before being dispersed and sometimes arrested. The police appeared prepared to counter the protester-planned blockade with one of their own, ringing the streets and sidewalks leading toward the exchange with metal barricades and asking for identification from workers seeking to gain access. Meanwhile, the protesters marched through the streets waving banners and accompanied by bands playing “Happy Birthday.”
The rest of the day’s OWS schedule includes a bike ride in lower Manhattan and a concert featuring Rage Against the Machines’ Tom Morello, neither of which would appear as likely to lead to arrests (and thus result in press coverage) as the NYSE event. Still, protesters and police proved last time around that it’s difficult to tell which events would lead to the most people in handcuffs.
When protesters first set up camp in Zuccotti Park last fall, they didn’t immediately garner the attention of the national media, in no small part because of the amorphous nature of a movement without a traditional structure or messaging machine. That largely changed, however, as protesters began to get arrested by the dozens during clashes with police, in New York City and elsewhere.
So while today’s arrests won’t necessarily restore OWS to tomorrow’s front pages, they nonetheless greatly increase the chances that the movement returns to the national radar, even if only temporarily. It’s also probably worth pointing out the obvious PR equation at play here, one that Occupy organizers appeared to master during the movement’s high-water mark last year: The more protesters get arrested, the more press coverage the movement gets. That press coverage, in turn, brings out more protesters, some of whom may be willing to spend a few hours in a police van during the next OWS event.