The Occupy Wall Street movement began suddenly as a socio-political movement and quickly spread to other cities across the United States and globally. The Occupy Portland camps at Chapman and Lownsdale Square parks in Portland, Oregon, like other occupations, grew rapidly through bottom-up processes and provided a unique and fleeting opportunity to observe this socio-spatial situation in the heart of a metropolitan region. My goals were to discover what sort of organizational behaviors took place there, how they organized the space from an urban planning perspective, and add to the surveys and polls conducted in other occupations regarding demographic information and personal beliefs held by the occupiers and supporters.
Direct observations were made at the camps including participant observation as a volunteer at the designated Information Tent over a period of three weeks between October 22 and November 12, 2011. Major events, rallies and marches were attended. A convenience survey was conducted throughout the camp and while at the Information Tent. A total of 43 surveys were completed by occupiers and non-occupiers of the camps. Questions were asked regarding political and religious affiliation, length of time spent at the camps, and reasons for being involved in the movement. Informal interviews were also conducted as warranted.
The occupiers and non-occupiers were extremely diverse in many categories and beliefs. A virtually anarchistic camp created some problems for the occupiers but also revealed a virtual microcosm of society at large. Comparisons with other surveys conducted at Occupy Wall Street in New York City revealed that most subjects were male, under 35, employed, but had an average annual income less than $25,000. My survey in particular also revealed that a large majority (86.5%) were housed, and the majority (66.7%) of occupiers in particular rented apartments. The most common political affiliation reported was in fact no affiliation, followed by Independent and Democrat. Further, most reported having no religious affiliation followed by a general “religious” or “spiritual” belief, and Atheistic.
The organization of the space as a bottom-up system was comparatively rigid and refined over time. Public and private areas were established and neighborhoods were named and occupied by self-proclaimed tribes in some cases. Top-down planning efforts were resisted by the members of the established neighborhoods. Stress created difficult situations for the movement as a whole and handling internal issues became a large amount of time spent by the occupiers overall. An unofficial social hierarchy was also established including leaders, major players, supporters, floaters, and freeloaders. Despite temporary conflict and stress, the occupiers involved in the movement still created a vibrant, unique community centered around common grievances and shared experiences, and represented society as a whole.
The full project report can be found here: Public Space and Protest: An Ethnographic Analysis of Alpha and Beta Camps at Occupy Portland