Occupy Wall Street may fade, as quickly as it rose
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The faster anything rises, generally the faster it falls. Occupy Wall Street may be another example of this, as media coverage, social media activity, and activist numbers have all started dropping off. This is only expected to continue, especially with the onset of winter.
According to Google Trends, searches for Occupy Wall Street have fallen by 60% from their October 15th peak to October 30th. This is reinforced further by the Factiva news database, which cites media mentions of "Occupy Wall Street" declining by 19% in a week, ending on October 23rd.
With several other major events arising, such as the death of Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, the end of the NATO mission there, and European debt struggles, Occupy Wall Street may be facing an increasingly crowded media coverage environment. According to the Pew Research Center's weekly news index, Occupy Wall Street enjoyed 10% of the total coverage across their dozens of outlets at their October 1st peak. That same index now has Occupy Wall Street sitting at 4%.
Trendistic, which tracks total Twitter activity, showed tweets peaking at 0.3% on October 1st. Since then, the same metric has fallen to one third of that peak, to levels of 0.1% on October 31st.
Even a casual observer passing the protest sites would note that the presence of media crews has fallen off significantly, while the number of protesters also seems to be waning. Now, the toughest test of their will is about to arrive. That test is the winter, and it chase away all but the most resolute.
This is not to imply that the protesters have lost any of their resolve, or the issues have gotten any less serious. Rather, Occupy Wall Street could use these obstacles as an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment, and separate the die hards from the "tourists."
Keep in mind that any large-scale movement will have a lot of marginal players among it's masses, people who are boosting the numbers by being involved, but who aren't adamant enough to remain for the long haul. This type of supporter will be the first to fade away, able to say they were part of the movement, but eventually being pulled back into their former life.
Remember that all peaceful uprisings end in one of two ways - either they disperse and are forgotten (even by their activists in some cases), or they stop once they achieved their goal(s).
The problem with this, however, is that Occupy Wall Street's goals may not ever be accomplished. The targets of much of the activism are not being hurt or in any significant way affected by the protests. Until that happens, Manhattan and global bankers are more than happy to watch the crowds from a safe distance, with a mildly curious eye, while they close their latest ultra-risky $20 million credit default swap deal with the European Union (taking home another massive commission in the process).
I think that just about everyone would agree - a CEO being fired, but walking away with $10 million (as did Hewlett-Packard's Leo Apotheker) is nearly preposterous. This is especially true considering that during his time at the helm, the company's share price fell over 40%. Perhaps that's why he got fired.
The scope and activities of the Occupy Wall Street movement, in their current form, will almost certainly not be enough to change the way Hewlett-Packard competes for top CEO talent. They won't impact what contractual decisions the corporation must make to get the contract signed by the leader they want.
Perhaps they should protest for change on the steps of Washington? It's also difficult for the government to regulate how a company decides to spend it's money in the course of doing business, and how it pays out salaries, bonuses, and severances.
This would be a different situation if there were two dozen protesters in each corporate board room as deals were closed, but to the members of the board of the major corporations, the activists are a world away. Even if they are just a few floors down, on the other side of the glass.
The lack of clear goals has plagued Occupy Wall Street from an early point. One protester whom I spoke with, Brian (his real name withheld by request), admitted that the movement needed to clarify some realistic and actionable goals. This process took place slowly, and by group decision, but has done little to clarify anything to most observers.
A clear mission with a rock-solid result could do a lot for the change that Occupy Wall Street is trying to bring about. This is evidenced by all the great movements that came before, and enjoyed tremendous success: No War, Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Racial Equality.
Without a clear end result that can be understood by even a disinterested party, Occupy Wall Street is coming across to some observers as being about "complaining" rather than offering solutions. I certainly do not agree that the activists are complaining, and I do think they are offering solutions, but as it stands you may get six different answers from six different activists about what specific outcomes they are working towards.
Being a leaderless organization has served them well up to this point. However, they may really benefit in the future by having a spokesperson at least, if not a central leadership group. A leader could clarify goals, generate endless media coverage, and stand as a representation of the movement. He or she could also rally and organize the supporters, and help maintain morale for what's about to come. Specifically, a further drop off in media coverage, third-party interest, and activist numbers. And, of course, winter.
While the world is currently being "Occupied," it remains to be seen how much longer this will play out. The trends are going against the movement. However, if Occupy Wall Street does endure throughout the toughest months to come, perhaps with a strong leader, or refined goals, it will be very hard to ignore their plight.
About the writer:
Investment analyst Peter Leeds is the owner and founder of Peter Leeds Penny Stocks, one of the most popular financial newsletters in North America and the author of the new book Invest in Penny Stocks: A Guide to Profitable Trading. Leeds has been a guest speaker at American Stock Exchange, and has led panels at the prestigious Arch Investment Conferences.