Maps

The Real Birthplace of Occupy Wall Street

The physical and digital combined into an "open-source hypercity urbanism."

The Occupy Wall Street movement, which took physical form in a New York City public space one year ago, was arguably more virtual than physical. The protestors camping in Zuccotti Park were an imposing and impressive crowd, but the movement's foundations and gears were decidedly online.

The intersecting physical and digital worlds of the Occupy Wall Street movement have been illustrated in a new set of maps and visualizations by Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder. The maps accompany an essay they've written for Places that explores the interaction between these two realms, the history of the movement and what they call an "open-source hypercity urbanism" that it created.

Massey, a professor at Syracuse University, and Snyder, a principal of the experimental architecture studio Cheng+Snyder, write:

In the United States, the internet was largely exempt from the state control and censorship that curtailed protest activity on the street, but it was inherently open to surveillance and imposed another set of exclusions based on access to online spaces and protocols. Its various platforms afforded ties that were both broader and weaker than those at Liberty Plaza. Discussions took place in specialized forums and channels quite unlike the multisensory, multiparticipatory assemblies, meetings, marches and rallies of the physical realm. From its inception, Occupy tested the capacities of the internet’s virtual spaces to sustain organizational activity, deliberative discourse and other kinds of public-making. [10]

As with the physical occupation, many online actions had precedent in earlier movements, from the anti-globalization protests of the 1990s to the Arab Spring of 2011. For years U.S. activists have used sites like Indymedia to distribute information and mobilize protest participation. [11] After posting its call to action, Adbusters sent word to its email distribution list and created a Facebook event, mobilizing a pre-existing network of followers. As one of the largest privately owned public spaces online, Facebook became a key platform for the Occupy movement. Facebook profiles such as OccupyWallSt, Gilded.Age and OccupyTogether, created in the weeks leading up to the first protest, provided broadly accessible channels for information. When individuals “liked” or commented on items in these newsfeeds, Occupy ideas propagated through user-generated social networks. Throughout the fall, members used the site’s text, link, note, and photo and video sharing features to endorse events and activities.

This video shows some of the maps of the movement:

This chart visualizes all that online (and some physical) activity from the first mention of the occupy idea was published by Adbusters Magazine in July 2011 through to the occupation and eventual clearing of Zuccotti Park and after. It tracks posts on Facebook, Twitter, wearethe99percent.tumblr.com and other blogs, Google searches, members of the New York City General Assembly, arrests and weather.

Massey and Snyder argue that the Occupy Wall Street movement – in New York and beyond – helped to write a new formula for building public constituencies and public places online and off. They suggest that these techniques may turn out to be the largest impacts of the movement.

Images courtesy Vimeo/Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.