Occupy protesters have not been big on the kind of top-down planning that those who usually think about branding, so it wasn't a surprise when a few organizers we spoke to brushed off the topic. "I don't think your question is very interesting," said Yvonne Yen Liu, an organizer with the Occupy Oakland protests. We mentioned the association with occupations in Iraq and elsewhere, and she wouldn't have it: "The point of Occupy is not the word Occupy, but the two that follow it: Wall Street." In New York, the sentiment is similar. "Occupy Wall Street is not a brand," organizer Alexa D. O'Brien wrote in an email. "Operation Enduring Freedom is."
But in a consensus driven decision-making process, words can be scrutinized. In Boston, for instance, the United American Indians of New England endorsed the Occupy Boston protest, but with some reservations, said organizer Keith Rosenthal. "In their letter of endorsement, they do indeed point out the problems of the term, 'Occupy,' which has historically been connected with the theft of Native American lands," he said. "I don't think anyone is particularly wed to the phrase, 'Occupy.'"
Shady commercial ventures and verbiage aside, another expert we spoke to insisted that the broader definition of branding, Occupy needs to bring all kinds of people to the protests, to the movement, to rally behind an idea if they have any hope of affecting change in the political system. Not there aren't plenty of silly names in American political history. The Whigs were the original patriots, the revolutionaries that shook the shackles of British oppression in the name of social justice over three hundred years ago. The name is short of wiggamore, a Scottish term for cattle driver and a working class movement in the 15th century (and not the white powdery mops that British judges wear on their heads). The Know Nothing movement came along in the 1840s, named to suggest its semi-secret nature. Theodore Roosevelt's Progressive Party in 1912 got hung with the Bull Moose moniker after their standard-bearer deemed himself "as strong as a bull moose" after he was denied the Republican nomination. More recently, the name of the political movement that emphasized traditional American patriotism got colorful again with the Tea Party. But even they had a shaky branding start when, their symbolic use of tea bags got them labeled "Teabaggers." As soon as they figured out what that was slang for, the movement quickly embraced Tea Party and started considering the former name a slur.
As silly as thinking about names can be, Pasotti argues this stuff matters. "The movement will only be successful in persuading and mobilizing as long as viewers and participants see it as a space for 'common folk,'" she says. "They need to maintain distance from extremism especially in our political environment. You want outsiders to empathize with participants. That's the main mechanism of solidarity."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.