Interviews with the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Awarded Scholars:
Stephanie Luce, CUNY Murphy Institute
Penelope Lewis, CUNY Murphy Institute
Ruth Milkman, CUNY Graduate Center
Project Date:
Dec 2011
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

Occupy Wall StreetThe Occupy Wall Street Movement is the first high-profile progressive social movement of the 21st century. It has captured headlines for weeks, and many polls show that it rivals the Tea Party movement for popular support. While future of movement is uncertain, it has already had a profound impact, spawning similar movements around the world and drawing huge financial support.

Recent information indicates that the founders of the movement are primarily educated youth in their 20s and 30s. Along with their high levels of education, they have also acquired high levels of debt and face a job market that offers few prospects for employment, especially at levels that will allow them to pay off their debts. Many are disappointed in the aftermath of the 2008 election, which they hoped would bring about positive change in the U.S. Although this paints an interesting picture of the roots of the movement, most of the information so far on the participants is anecdotal. So far, there has been only one attempt to systematically survey the participants in Occupy Wall Street, by the Wall Street Journal. Ruth Milkman, Stephanie Luce, and Penelope Lewis will build on this preliminary information with a three-part survey of the participants in Occupy Wall Street.

Studying Occupy Wall Street

The first part of the study will be a survey of participants in a large Occupy Wall Street march. The researchers will use multistage block sampling to divide up the crowd, and trained student interviewers will each be assigned a block in which they will approach every tenth person. The ultimate goal will be to survey 1,000 participants in the march. The surveys will include questions about party identification, education levels, debt amounts, current living situation, previous activism, and personal experience with the recession.

Milkman, Luce and Lewis will also train graduate students to conduct 250 surveys of core OWS activists. Participants will be recruited during a General Assembly meeting or other organized event. They will ask the same questions as during the march, and also add a number of open-ended questions such as, why did you become involved in OWS? What are the central issues that OWS is addressing? What would you consider “victory”? How long will you remain in the park? What would you like to be doing in five years?

Finally, the Milkman, Luce and Lewis will themselves conduct in-depth interviews with 25-50 occupiers. During these interviews, they will probe more deeply into the biographies of the activists and the depth of their commitment to the movement, as well as the roots of Occupy Wall Street. Participants for these interviews will be selected from the facilitators of the “working groups” that have been established by Occupy Wall Street, with the assumption that these are the most involved and dedicated activists.The project will be completed by the beginning of 2012.


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