restricted access "It's the kids who made this happen": The Occupy Movement as Youth Movement
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"It's the kids who made this happen":
The Occupy Movement as Youth Movement

Like many scholars of young people's texts and cultures, I expect, I have watched with great interest the protest movements collectively known as Occupy and media coverage of these movements over the past year. From the beginning, whichever event is cited as the beginning, the activists collectively have been represented and addressed as young people. Adbusters, the Vancouver culture-jamming magazine that first posted the call to "#OCCUPYWALLSTREET" on its website in July 2011, implies an audience of young people in its style and content. The playful register of the September-October 2011 issue, with its now-famous centrefold of a ballerina gracefully posed on the rampaging bull used by Wall Street as a metonym for the markets, is one example, as are the pictures of young people used to illustrate the spreads that end the issue: two prepubescent boys with slogans painted on their chests clown for the camera while another boy who has discarded his shirt faces down a line of police in full riot gear in the piece on "World War IV," and a swarm of youthful demonstrators fill the background of the page headlined "Dreaming of Democracy." The mainstream media reports followed the lead of Adbusters. Articles about Occupy are almost invariably accompanied either by high-angle shots of a crowd of mostly young protesters in an urban space or by a series of head-and-shoulder shots of individual occupiers. The 31 October 2011 issue of Maclean's: Canada's National Magazine, for example, uses both of these visual cues: the crowd shot appears on the front cover behind the provocative title, "The Occupy Wall Street Movement Has It All Wrong," while four youthful activists, posed with their placards in front of them, appear at the head of the article.

As the encampments settled in for long stays in the public spaces they occupied, the appeal of the movement to a wide cross-section of people became increasingly visible. Reporters filed stories about, [End Page 1] for example, the presence in the crowd of financial workers from Wall Street firms, the appearance of television and film stars in the park, the support of Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney for the message of the protesters, and the pepper-spraying of eighty-four-year-old activist Dorli Raine at Occupy Seattle. Such features gave weight to one of the most popular slogans of the movement—"We are the 99%"—developed from an article by economist Joseph Stiglitz in the May 2011 issue of Vanity Fair in which he described the enormous and growing income gap between the "upper 1 percent of Americans" and everyone else. Despite the evidence of the complicated composition of the Occupy crowds, however, media commentators and public intellectuals alike continued to privilege "young people" as the face and the heart of the movement.

In this context, it seemed, young people was a floating signifier that indexed a subject position as much as a chronological age. Kalle Lasn, co-editor of Adbusters, was quoted as observing that young people are at the forefront of Occupy Wall Street because of "their Internet and social media savvy": "a few smart people on the Internet can call for something and, if it captures the public's imagination, it can get tens of thousands of people out on the streets" (Mickleburgh, "Anti-Wall Street"). Theorists of globalization Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri attribute some of the success of the movement to the fact that "the young people populating the various encampments" are politically inexperienced and therefore willing to ask the "seemingly naive, basic question: Is democracy not supposed to be the rule of the people over the polis . . . ?" ("The Fight"). "[N]ew to politics," they find that "the form of representation itself is not adequate to their desires" (De Cauter). Italian journalist Emilio Carnevali, speaking of the indignados marches that took place in more than 950 cities worldwide on 15 October 2011, sees the composition of the crowds as symptomatic of the times in which we live: "There wasn't a single march that wasn't composed mostly of youth...