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The Evolution of Occupy – Participation in Shareholder Meeting Protests

Last week’s protests at the shareholder meetings of General Electric and Wells Fargo highlight the newest trend in protest against corporations and gives visibility to the power struggle going on within and over the Occupy movement itself.

99% Spring and 99% Power are nationwide protest efforts founded by the Services Employees International Union (SEIU) and MoveOn.org. They are designed to harness the momentum of the Occupy movement to protest against a variety of corporations and in support of social reform causes; the traditional efforts of both oganizations. This has caused considerable controversy within the Occupy Movement because many of the Occupy protesters believe this is an attempt to “co-opt” the Occupy Movement – that Occupy will become a proxy for the SEIU and MoveOn.org in their long-term campaigns against identified targets.

Part of the 99% Spring activity has been a widespread training program in non-violent civil disobedience. They hope to train 100,000 activists during the spring, and so far the training events have been well attended, and reportedly, the online training has been busy as well.

Both groups have planned to protest at a series of shareholder meetings for their target corporations throughout the Spring and are promoting these protests on their website. The call outs are also being repeated on a number of local Occupy websites and by other protest groups.

There are a number of tactics likely to be employed for protesting at shareholder meetings designed to attract attention to the cause and to disrupt attendance at the meeting and the meeting itself. The purchasing of a small number of shares to ensure legal access to the meeting is not unusual. Close corporate coordination with the police is, of course, essential, as is a well-integrated operational and communications plan.

Protest tactics continue to evolve, even when those of the law enforcement community and security providers remain almost static. Understanding the threat and being prepared remain the best measures for managing protest, particularly at such public events as a shareholders’ meeting. The protesters involved in these events are well prepared and practiced to the extent that protest liaison and management is a specialist field. Corporate security, communications and police coordination needs to be as well prepared and rehearsed.

Sam Rosenfeld blogs on protestor management, security sector reform, and the intersection of security and financial issues. Chairman of The Densus Group, Rosenfeld is a former British Army infantry officer who served for eleven years in many of the world’s more contentious environments. He holds an MBA from Wharton Business School, a MSc in Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management, and a BA(Hons) in International Relations and Strategic Studies. Read More