WEST LAFAYETTE – S. Laurel Weldon, a Purdue University professor of political science, says the critics and observers of the Occupy Wall Street movement are missing the point of most protests, which is to get people talking about an issue.
“People keep saying the protesters are unorganized and lacking a policy platform, but those criticisms are misplaces because social movements rarely start out protesting over detailed policy proposals,” said Weldon. “The way social movements influence politics is by getting new issues on public agendas or popularizing new perspectives on old problems, not by presenting detailed analyses of diverse policy proposals.”
Weldon, the author of “When Protest Makes Policy: How Social Movements Represent Disadvantaged Groups,” said the same kind of commentary was made surrounding the tea party, womens' movements and civil rights movements.
“Protests are successful when they generate attention or influence the political agenda,” said Weldon. “For example, the Occupy Wall Street protests are forcing elected officials, political candidates and business leaders to respond to the protesters and in doing so they give attention to these issues.”
Other critics have complained that not all the protesters are homeless, but Weldon said that misses the point.
“One does not need to be poor to think that extreme inequality or servitude is unjust. It is odd that there is so much focus on the economic background of individual protesters. When a group of women protest against sexual violence, it doesn’t mean they are all victims; it means they are upset by how women are treated.”