It doesn't have a long roster of celebrity endorsements, and it is still fuzzy exactly what the Occupy Wall Street cause is all about. Yet the so-called leaderless resistance movement is gaining the support of ordinary individuals and labor organizations worldwide and spreading like wildfire from New York to Mexico City, Dublin, Athens, Sydney, and Hong Kong.
Let's not get entwined in the details of their demands or even try to define the demography of the protesters. Moreover, wondering who serves as director, president, or executive manager of the Occupy Wall Street movement is pointless. The short answer is nobody. There is no formal structure, no hierarchy, no global headquarters, no blueprint for achieving the equally blurry goals, and certainly no Washington-based lobbying group. But the movement is raising money ($300,000 for the New York group, according to a recent account) and rapidly transforming into a global phenomenon.
That's why ignoring the Occupy Wall Street protests may result in a giant headache for businesses and corporate executives. They are pitting corporations and governments against ordinary citizens. There is really no formal body to engage or leadership to converse with. It is an amorphous movement that, despite a central coordinating organ, continues to grow globally by simply attracting folks who share a distaste for our current political and economic system, which they believe is not serving their interests.
A quick Google search (follow this link) reveals a lot about the history of the Occupy Wall Street movement, some of the goals the protesters hope to achieve, and the diversity of the people behind the movement. Even then, you may end up more confused than enlightened by the kaleidoscope of demands and objections to conventional business practices.
What's clear, though, is that the Occupy Wall Street movement doesn't like something — or a lot of things — about the current capitalist system. In other words, it doesn't like something about the way you do business: the influence your company and industry have with politicians, the profits you make, how they are distributed, the amount your business pays in taxes, how and what you pay your executives compared with what ordinary workers get, the carbon footprint your products leave on people's doorsteps or in the air they breathe. The list goes on and on.
The protesters also don't like being ignored, and Wall Street is doing its best to wave them off as dissenters who don't understand or appreciate the value financial experts have supposedly created. As Paul Krugman of the New York Times puts it in a recent column: “The modern lords of finance look at the protesters and ask, Don't they understand what we've done for the US economy?”
Simply acting as if the Occupy Wall Street movement won't touch your business in any way or believing it's not related to your operations isn't a smart strategy. I wish I could tell in my crystal ball how this movement may influence businesses, but that's not possible. The movement is still taking shape, but the trajectory of its growth, underlined by the systemic problems in the global economy with workers hurting across businesses and industries, tells me it shouldn't be ignored.
Sometimes I feel like going out and protesting myself. But don't ask me exactly what I would be chanting. I have no problems with the billion of dollars in profits companies have made, and I don't envy any executives the millions they may be getting in salaries, stock options, and other compensatory packages. What I feel is a deep sense of consternation about political leaderships in general (in my country and elsewhere), along with disappointment and perhaps even anger about the financial mess created by lenders, borrowers, and regulators over the last five years and a deepening sense of apprehension that we haven't plumbed the depth of the challenges the global economy faces.
What I feel is difficult to express and even harder to define, which makes me understand why the Occupy Wall Street protesters are clogging up financial centers globally. I am unlikely to go out and join them, but I share their distaste for politics and business as usual. If this movement continues to gather force, you'll feel the heat eventually, and it won't matter whether you are on Capitol Hill, in the White House, in a Silicon Valley boardroom, or on Wall Street.