How Occupy Wall Street Works

Occupy Wall Street Organization: Power to the People

Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless, populist-oriented movement.
Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless, populist-oriented movement.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As a leaderless protest that's focused on income inequality, the structure of Occupy Wall Street can be tricky to grasp, since no strict organizational hierarchy exists. Billed as a "people-powered movement" against the economic stakeholders responsible for wealth disparity, by November 2011, Occupy Wall Street consisted of general assemblies of protesters dotted around the world from New York, Chicago and Oakland to Brussels, Madrid and Athens [source: ABC News]. The size of occupations, ranging from clusters of activists in smaller towns and cities to the full-scale camps of hundreds exemplified by New York's Zuccotti Park, determine the extent of each protest site's needs. Those larger assemblies tend to have sub-committees that Occupy participants can join up with, which focus on specific needs, such as food, donation-gathering and sanitation.

The flagship New York Occupy Wall Street protest operates on "people's assembly" principles enacted by Spanish activists known as indignados, which translates to "the outraged." On May 15, 2011, thousands of Spanish activists marched into Madrid's Puerta del Sol square, where they demonstrated against the government's failure to support its citizens by diverting the nation's economic crisis and camped out, Zuccotti-style. The non-violent civil disobedience protesters relied on models of "collective thinking" in order to hash out their unified principles and platforms. In other words, the Spanish indignados debated and formulated their group-wide platforms through extensive discussion and consensus-building, rather than confrontation with law enforcement. The movement's emphasis on non-violence echoes elements of other protests, such as the U.S. Civil Rights sit-ins of the 1960s and Mahatma Gandhi's strategy of passive resistance.

The original New York Occupy Wall Street activists have followed in Madrid's indignados' footsteps as they have hashed out their public demands, which we'll delve into on the next page. For a tech-savvy, social media-connected movement, the nuts and bolts of Occupy consensus-building actually rely on some rudimentary -- though some might say revolutionary -- communication methods. For instance, since Zuccotti Park (and other Occupy Wall Street sites) prohibits microphones, bullhorns and other voice-amplifying devices, speeches to the collective of hundreds or even thousands rely on a technique called the "people's microphone" [source: Hepler and Weigel]. The initial speakers, referred to as facilitators, deliver their addresses in clipped cadences that the crowd repeats to ensure everyone can hear.

Within the smaller working groups that focus on areas such as food and finance, the leaderless protesters also deliberate on dissenting perspectives and opinions and reach full agreement [source: Take the Square]. The Occupy activists then communicate their approval by "twinkling" their fingers above their heads [source: Hepler and Weigel].

What, in that case, has Occupy Wall Street twinkled in favor of so far?