Millennial Movements: Occupy Wall Street and the Dreamers

Source: Ruth Milkman, Dissent Magazine, Vol. 61 no. 3, Summer 2014

… Occupiers and Dreamers alike are sharply critical of the political establishment, Obama included, and of the explosive growth in inequality since the 1970s. Both movements use the tactics of civil disobedience and direct action, including occupations of public spaces. Both support racial and gender equality and LGBT rights. Both movements also rely heavily on social media, as Millennials famously do in every aspect of their lives.

But despite their many similarities, Occupiers and Dreamers also differ in some key respects. One is demographic: white males were overrepresented among Occupy activists. Although many women and people of color were involved, they were less numerous and less visible. By contrast, the Dreamers are disproportionately led by Latina and Asian women, and nearly all participants are people of color.

The two movements also differ in their discursive strategies. The Dreamers made extensive use of storytelling as they built their movement. Occupiers occasionally told stories as well, but their main public narrative targeted class inequality and “the 1 percent.”

Finally, the two movements featured different organizational structures. The Dreamers used conventional political organizations and methods of decision making and had identifiable leaders. But Occupy rejected traditional structures in favor of “participatory democracy” and making all decisions by consensus. While Occupy shunned immediate demands, the Dreamers focus on specific policies, like in-state tuition rates for undocumented students as well as the DREAM Act itself.

The activism of both groups reflects the demographic makeup of Millennials and their economic prospects. They are more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation: about 43 percent are non-white (Latinos are the largest and fastest growing group). And they are the most highly educated generation in U.S. history: a third of Millennials over age twenty-six have a four-year college degree or more. But they have paid a high price for this achievement: two-thirds of recent college graduates have outstanding student debt, averaging $27,000….