What did Frontier Lab discover? First, that many of the rank-and-file occupiers feel isolated in their lives, and appear to lack basic community ties such as are provided by participation in clubs, churches, and strong families. Indeed, much of the report could have come from the early chapters of Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone. They thus attach to their political causes with something like a religious fervor. For many, a commitment to “social justice” is “not the end, but rather a means to an inflated sense of self and purpose in their own lives.” Crucially, involvement with others who agree with them provides an “overwhelming feeling of being part of a family.” I noticed this on my first trip down to Zuccotti Park, when I saw a telling sign adorning the entrance to the tent city: “For the first time in my life, I feel at home.” On subsequent visits I was struck by the importance of the commune to the project. As much as anything else, vast swathes of occupiers were simply looking for a new club. This group, Frontier Lab dubs the “Communitarians.”
The second group, which to all intents and purposes forms the leadership, is less existentially lost, and derives its fulfillment from the “prestige,” “validation,” and “control” afforded by the movement’s coverage in the media. Frontier Lab calls this group the “Professionals.” Its members fill the ranks of the professional Left and boast long histories of attending and organizing protests. For them, indignation is quotidian, “community action” is a career, and they feel “validated by the fame and attention” and “rewarded for their life choices.” Unlike the Communitarians, the Professionals actually want tangible change, or a “win,” but politics is still playing second fiddle to self. There is nothing spontaneous or organic about the movements they lead. They are waiting for the revolution and hope to be in its vanguard. Their careers depend upon it.
I’ll bet there’s quite a bit of overlap between the Occupy “Professionals” and the folks identifying as “Team Dorner” on social media.