With the Occupy movement expanding to numerous cities in the US and around the world, it has focused attention on the conventional ways scholars, activists and the public think about how and why people participate in collective action. Scholars of social movements have written on the ways in which
certain biographical characteristics such as one’s job and family and friendship ties can act as countervailing forces on participation. These characteristics play a part in determining how individuals view the costs and benefits of participation, particularly if there are high costs and/or risks associated with participation in collective action. However, a November 5th Associated Press article (Part-time participants help fill ‘Occupy’ ranks) discusses the so-called “part-time activist.” Mainly focusing on the involvement of college professors in the movement, the author of the article, Wilson Ring, writes: “As their counterparts hunker down in tents or cook over gas grills, another contingent is swelling the ranks of the Occupy Wall Street protests: those squeezing in their activism around work, parenting and other daily duties.”
The Occupy Seattle movement, now officially at its new location on the campus of Seattle Central Community College (previously in Seattle’s downtown Westlake Park), appears larger on weekends than on weekdays. It is true that the movement there, as in other locations, has garnered the support of many of the college’s instructors. But local news stories also feature a variety of “weekend” participants who have jobs, careers, and families and use the weekend – usually reserved for time spent with the family –as a time to join the occupiers who are there every day. Indeed, they participate as a family. Thus, there are ways around biographical unavailability: bring your kids to the protest. In an October 9th Globe and Mail article about the Occupy Wall Street movement spreading to Canada (click here for more on Occupy in Canada), an Occupy Vancouver organizer was quoted as saying: “In Vancouver we have a huge number of people who don’t consider themselves activists. Having opened the channel of communication with police, allows them transparency they wanted so they can safely bring their kids.”
In overcoming constraints on participation, it is important to consider the nature of part-time involvement as well as the beliefs of injustice and common grievances shared between part-time and full-time Occupiers. Back in New England, Ring writes of Ann Kurtak, a 25-year old Burlington, VT native whose strong beliefs regarding economic injustice in the US “prompted her desire to be part of the Occupy movement to the extent she can while balancing other obligations.” According to the report, “Krutak has been unemployed since quitting a job in July at a nonprofit, timing she called fortuitous in light of the Occupy movement. Now, she spends about three or four hours a day at the Burlington site, helping organize the main tent and ensuring the group has supplies. From home, she helps manage its social media presence.” Similarly, Eve Weinbaum, a 47-year old college professor and mother of three says that “Part of it for me, and I think for a lot of people I’ve talked to, is that it’s not just another time commitment. Compared to so many other things we do, these activities have been energizing and inspiring.” Whether these part-time or weekend activists consider themselves activists at all, their actual multifaceted contribution to the Occupy movement is significant. Their increasing presence in the movement also sheds light on the collective action problem, especially the relationship between biographical constraints, social psychological motivations and the quality of activist involvement.