Occupy visceral. Environmentalism cerebral. Occupy succeed. Environmentalism fail.

WE CAME, WE SAW, WE OCCUPIED. There was minimal thinking, maximal acting involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement. It worked. It had an impact. It moved the conversation. When’s the last time the environmental movement moved the conservation?



About a year ago I was out to dinner with some folks in Portland. Someone began talking about some crazy people in New York City who for the past few days had organized an “Occupy Wall Street” movement. One particularly know-it-all person spoke up, saying that the whole effort was stupid and an unfortunate waste of everyone’s time because, “they don’t have a clear action plan — they’ll never amount to anything.” Bottom line, you shouldn’t act on anything until you’ve carefully thought it through.

Within days EVERYONE was talking about the Occupy movement as it spread to other cities. But a lot of the news pundits, like my favorite Chris Matthews, echoed the same predictions of inevitable failure because they hadn’t “thought things through” — i.e. they didn’t have a plan.

Yeah? Well, sometimes not thinking things through can be more powerful than bringing in teams of brainiacs to analyze, negate, and constrain what was initially a good idea. The way that conservation foundations have, producing a movement that is widely labeled as “failed” (not by me — by lots of essays, including the excellent report from Sarah Hansen of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy earlier this year).



So it’s a year later. The Occupy Movement succeeded. Yes, their ranks are now thin, but an article in today’s USA Today quotes Hector-Cordero-Guzman, a City University of New York sociologist who has studied the movement and says, “It has made an impact. Many of its complaints and some of its rhetoric — notably “We are the 99%!” — have become the stuff of mainstream politics. Occupy, he says, “changed the political conversation from where it was last summer. Income inequality, money in politics, the influence of Wall Street — you can see those now in the presidential campaign. You see it in questions about Bain Capital and about Mitt Romney’s tax returns.”

Mission accomplished. From a ragtag bunch with no clear “action plan.” They succeeded in communicating effectively, not by holding weekend retreats at expensive lodges with paid facilitators and assembling phone book-thick plans of action, but just by DOING it. Not by thinking, by acting.

The entire environmental movement today is run by the money which comes from cautious, conservative foundations who agonize over every dollar they hand out. You can’t make a good idea take off quickly in the conservation world. Everything is slowed down, scrutinized, thought through, drained of life, and then eventually squeaked out in the most boring of ways. In other words, Dullsville.

Congratulations to the Occupy Movement. Who cares about their future — they may not have one. They already have a solid past. And it has involved that most precious of commodities: excitement.