The political agenda of Occupy Sydney

8 November 2011

Contrary to some media reporting, the Occupy Sydney movement has a focused and coherent political agenda, researchers from the University of Sydney believe.

Based on 180 field interviews undertaken at the 5 November rally in Sydney, a research team from the University's Department of Givernment and International Relations have discovered that the movement's position is focused on concerns about the social and political impact of capitalism on Australian and global society.

"The movement in Australia has been characterised as incoherent by the media and commentators," researcher Dr Stewart Jackson said, "but it has a strong critique of the impacts of capitalism on social inequality and on politics. There's a concern that money politics and the impact of large multinationals have reduced the effectiveness of Australian democracy."

Despite some reports that the movement is a small core of 'professional protestors' the researchers found that it is comparatively diverse. The average age of protestors is 39, two-thirds are employed, with the remainder spread between students, retired and the unemployed.

"The majority of participants are not part of core organising groups but individuals concerned about the issues the movement has raised," Dr Jackson said.

Participants tend to be drawn from the left of Australian politics, with large numbers of Greens supporters, but also many who have lost faith in party-politics altogether. Co-researcher Dr Peter John Chen argues that the movement's comparatively negative media representation comes from the political cynicism of participants.

"Members have a quite negative view of the performance of Australian democracy. Because of this, their protest actions are not targeted at government, but at awareness in the wider community to bring about change from the bottom up," Dr Chen said.

While Australians are quite cynical about politicians, they tend to have a high regard for the Australian democratic system overall. Because of this protests tend to focus on government action.

"Where protests are more diffuse in their focus, and don't have specific policy goals, it's easy to discount the protest as irrational but the inability of governments to address the economic problems of the United States and Europe shows that these worries have a real foundation," Dr Jackson observed.

The University of Sydney is hosting a public discussion of the Occupy movement on Wednesday 16 November.

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