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Interested Parties David Metz & Greg Lewis Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz and Associates Key Findings from Recent Survey of Occupy Oakland Protesters November 22, 2011
Over the past week, it has become clear that the encampment phase of the Occupy Oakland movement has come to an end. As of Monday, November 21, no tents remain in Frank Ogawa Plaza or Snow Park, and Oakland Police Department has stopped new encampments from taking hold anywhere else. But the Occupy Wall Street protest carries on in cities and at college campuses across the country, and it seems unlikely that we have heard the last from the active Occupy community in Oakland. This memo summarizes key findings from a survey we conducted of protesters at Frank Ogawa Plaza in the encampment’s final days. The Occupy protesters we talked were diverse in background, in opinion, and in their definition of what they are trying to achieve. They have been brought together by a shared sense of frustration with the status quo, and consider their participation in the movement as the means to some greater, as-of-yet undetermined improvement. In six words, we would sum up their responses to our survey as follows: They want things to be better. We conducted this research in the public interest, and not for any third-party client. As a small business located in uptown Oakland specializing in opinion research, we were motivated by our interest to learn more about what is going on in our own community. Our employees either live in Oakland or in neighboring East Bay cities; the Snow Park encampment is next door to the office we work out of every day; and the encampment in the Plaza was just a half mile down the street before the November 14 raid brought it to an end. Our business is finding out what people think, and the Occupy Oakland movement is a subject we all wanted to know more about.
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Page 2 Methodology: Of course, it is virtually impossible to capture a statistically-representative sample of a group as fluid and self-defined as the Occupy Oakland movement. In light of this, we sent out trained, professional interviewers with the goal of conducting interviews with as diverse a selection of protesters as possible. The interviewers were in the field on Wednesday, November 9th and Saturday, November 12th, and interviews were conducted at various times of day between noon and 6:00PM. We interviewed people who were camping at the plaza, as well as people who were visiting. While we certainly can’t say that our results reveal the views of Occupy Oakland with statistical precision, we can say that over the course of 109 interviews, we were able to learn a lot about the Oakland movement and the opinions and attitudes of the people who identify with it. The key findings of the survey are detailed below: Who considers themselves part of the Occupy Oakland movement? • The Occupy Oakland movement has attracted a group of loyal followers who continue to show up for events. Two-thirds (64%) of the protesters we interviewed identified themselves as “frequent” participants of Occupy Oakland events; 21 percent of respondents identified as “occasional” visitors. More “frequent” visitors tended to include Oakland residents, African Americans, and those who were camping at the Plaza. The movement continues to grow. Overall, 14 percent of the Occupy Oakland protesters we talked to said they were at the Plaza for the first time on the days we talked to them – indicating that the during its encampment phase, Occupy Oakland movement was continuing to attract more people to come down and experience it. Before the most recent raid on the Plaza encampment, a significant number of protesters identified as “living” there or at Snow Park. Asked to describe their current living situation, 21 percent said they were “living” at the encampment at the Plaza or Snow Park. Less than one in ten identified themselves as “homeless.” 27 percent of protesters we talked to were from outside of the Bay Area. The remaining 74 percent of the protesters we interviewed said they were from the Bay Area: 48 percent from Oakland, 12 percent from elsewhere in Alameda County, and 14 percent from other Bay Area locales. Almost everyone we asked said they would continue to participate in the movement “indefinitely.” Unless the respondent was citing travel plans as a reason they would not be able to continue their participation in Occupy Oakland, nearly everyone we interviewed said they would be with the movement as long as it went on.
Page 3 What do Occupy Oakland protesters think of the current political system? • Occupy protesters appear to be fed up with the both political parties and perceive widespread political corruption; they’re lukewarm about President Obama. Although Republicans were viewed less favorably than Democrats, the results clearly show that protesters were far from enamored with the Democratic Party. Only 27 percent of the protesters we interviewed had a favorable view of the Democratic Party; a plurality (43%) viewed it unfavorably and many were neutral toward it (29%). The Republican Party and the Tea Party movement were viewed unfavorably by significant majorities of protesters (74% and 67%, respectively). Views of President Obama were split about evenly between favorable (33%), unfavorable (30%), and neutral (34%). Overall, the attitudes toward political institutions reflected in the interviews reflected assumed corruption among elected officials and frustration that political institutions were failing to address serious societal problems. Half of the people we talked to have an unfavorable opinion of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan; the Oakland Police Department and Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan are held in even lower regard. Only 14 percent of respondents expressed a favorable view of Quan; six percent of Jordan; and nine percent of the OPD. About half of our sample had an unfavorable opinion of Quan (51%), and three-quarters (76%) viewed the OPD unfavorably. Some participants were more willing to reserve judgment on Jordan’s fresh tenure, resulting in a slightly less negative rating than OPD: 59 percent unfavorable, 21 percent neutral, and 15 percent who were unable to say. The Occupy Oakland protesters are politically engaged: 70 percent of the people we talked to were registered to vote and planned to vote in the upcoming 2012 presidential election. Interestingly, while the age demographics at the Plaza tend to skew young, the demographics of “likely” voters matches general electorate trends: younger age groups (under 30) were the most likely to say they would not vote in next year’s election. Also, respondents who said they would vote next year were slightly more likely to have a favorable opinion of President Obama; those who said they would not vote were more likely to view him negatively.
Why were the Occupy Oakland protesters here? • A majority of the protesters we talked to ranked fighting for greater social justice and economic equality as their top reasons for participating in the Occupy Oakland movement. Respondents were read the following three reasons why they might participate in the Occupy Oakland movement, and were asked to rank them in the order of importance to them personally: o I am here to show solidarity with the international Occupy Wall Street movement o I am here to show Bay Area officials that infringing on our freedom of speech is unacceptable o I am here to fight for greater social justice and economic equality
Page 4 61 percent of respondents ranked the last statement, “I am here to fight for greater social justice and economic equality” as their most important reason for going to Occupy Oakland. Respondents were most likely to rank the second statement (free speech) as their least important motivation. • In their own words, protesters say that they participate in the movement to teach, learn and promote awareness about important issues, and to try to make a difference. Respondents were given the opportunity to answer the following open-ended question: “In just a few words, what are you trying to achieve with your participation in the Occupy Oakland movement?” Across 109 interviews, the answers we heard covered a lot of ground. These findings affirm the conventional wisdom that there is not one single goal that personally motivates the individuals who identify with the Occupy movement. At the same time, there are clearly a set of themes that were expressed by pluralities of protesters. Many espoused the viewpoint that they were working to create and help build a community that they could identify with. On the same note, many others valued teaching, learning, and promoting awareness about important social and economic issues. Others said their participation was to contribute their ideas to the movement, help it grow, and show solidarity with the overall Occupy movement. A selection of verbatim responses to this question follows: “I am excited to be part of a global movement that brings to light important issues and creating communities.” “I support any actionable work toward creating an alternative, socially just, ecologically sustainable economic system.” “I want to riot, I came here to riot.” “I am just trying to become aware of what's going on in the country.” “I want equality and real human rights in this country.” “I support health care for all because I'm a health care worker.” “I am trying to help people better their situation.” “I am here to help this movement be sustainable, peaceful and healthy as long as they need to accomplish the many necessary changes taking place.” “I am trying to create a new sense of community so that we have more social solidarity and help each other.” “To get the country back from the rich people who have stolen it from us.”
“To protect younger people around. Revive my own hopes in things. And to slip in my own ideas like a maximum wage.” “Because of the unwillingness of political climate to do anything about wealth inequality or corporate control.” “To show the world there is another way to exist.” Looking to the future, what are the Occupy Oakland protesters’ expectations for the overall movement? • There was no single vision for the movement’s success articulated by a majority or significant plurality of protesters, but there were some common themes. Later in the survey, respondents were given the opportunity to answer another open-ended question: “For you, what will be the key sign that the Occupy movement has achieved its goals?” Again, we heard a wide array of responses. One common theme was that protesters saw the growth and perpetuation of the movement (some, but not all, specifically indicated that this meant the right to camp) as a goal in itself; and to some, it was a goal the movement had already accomplished. Many protesters said major economic, social, and/or political change would be a sign the movement had achieved its goals. Responses in this category ranged on a spectrum from calling for the end of capitalism to simply seeking greater social justice and economic equality. A selection of verbatim responses to this question follows:
“When we have a peaceful disassembly instead of getting shot by rubber bullets.” “The fact that it's still here and there are more humanistic stories here that anything else. It gives people a real look at collective politics and change.” “When there's local ballots and or changes made by judges, Congress, or even just tax officials -whatever is needed -- to close tax loopholes and communicate and prove it to the public reasonably.” “If the movement is still going and getting bigger.” “I don't think it will achieve its goals but maybe legalized camping anywhere.” “Seeing the top 1% paying more taxes.” “Economic conditions improve so that few people feel the need to show up.”
“The day that homeless folks don't need to come here because of their situation and the camp isn't the best social service provider.” “I don't think there can be one clear sign. The Occupy movement is trying to achieve too many goals, it's too complex for that.” “The complete decentralization of government.” “When 90% of the wealth in this country is not controlled by one person. When anyone in this country who wants a job can get one and make a living wage.” “To start rewriting the constitution for the people and Mother Earth, not the corporations.” “Total government reform based on an entirely new system, not based on a capitalist economic model that is centered around unlimited growth but sustainability, care for the environment, justice and human rights.”
Some (though not most) protesters endorsed specific policy goals like closing tax loopholes for corporations and the 1%, ending corporate personhood, electoral reform, greater funding for education, and prison reform. Overall, fewer respondents espoused specific policy goals for the movement, but those who did have similar requests for political action. The most popular policy among people we talked to called for the 1% to pay their fair share of taxes: protesters wanted to close corporate tax loopholes and to raise taxes on the rich. And what would protesters spend that new tax revenue on? More funding for education, the social safety net, and addressing the problem of homelessness. Other policy demands we encountered included: o Policies that would lead to greater economic equality, better living standards, and job creation; o Ending corporate personhood brought on by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision; o Electoral reform, such as public financing for political campaigns; o Health care reform; o Bank reform and creating accountability for the economic downturn; and o Prison reform – or, as one respondent requested, getting to the point where we fund education more than we fund prisons.
Three-quarters of protesters interviewed said they supported civil disobedience as a tactic for the movement; 11 percent supported violence. Overall, 77 percent of the protesters that we interviewed said they would support “civil disobedience” as a tactic for the Occupy Oakland movement to achieve its goals. Slightly less, but still a sizable majority (69%), supported the idea of occupying abandoned or foreclosed buildings. Four in five respondents (80%) said they did not support “violence” as a tactic for the movement. A small but not insignificant minority of respondents supported the use of “violence.” Several
Page 7 respondents noted that this question should have allowed for a distinction between violence against property and violence against people. • Protesters believe the Occupy Oakland movement is having a positive impact on bringing attention to social and economic justice issues; on the overall Occupy Wall Street movement; and on low-income communities. Protesters were mixed in their perceptions of its effects on small businesses. Respondents were asked whether they thought the Occupy Oakland movement was having a positive impact or a negative impact on various entities and issues: o Respondents were asked whether Occupy Oakland was having a positive or negative impact on “focusing government attention on social and economic injustice”, and “mobilizing the public to address social and economic injustice.” Respondents overwhelmingly said that the movement has having a positive impact in both of these areas (86% and 93%, respectively); o Fully 94% of the Occupy Oakland protesters we talked to see the local movement having a positive impact on the overall Occupy Wall Street movement, as well as Oakland’s reputation nationally; o Protesters were mixed about whether the Occupy Oakland movement was good for businesses in Oakland: 43 percent said the impact on small businesses was positive, 17 percent said negative, and 39 percent were not sure; and o 72 percent of protesters said they were sure it was having a positive impact on lowincome communities. Overall, we found an apolitical but distinctly left-wing tone within the Occupy Oakland movement. From the Mayor to the President and everyone in-between, protesters we talked to were frustrated with their public officials and the inability of the political system to fix the issues they consider important. Almost everyone we interviewed wanted a change to the status quo of economic inequality, but there was no consensus about how the movement’s goal would be achieved, or even what its specific goals should be. As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to evolve locally and at sites across the country, and as it shifts its tactics, it will be interesting to assess the degree that a greater consensus emerges.
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