Diffusion of the Occupy

Movement in California

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Occupy Riverside, October 16, 2011


Christopher Chase-Dunn and Michaela Curran-Strange

Institute for Research on World-Systems

University of California-Riverside

<chriscd@ucr.edu> <mcurr003@ucr.edu>

v. 1-5-12,  2590 words

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IROWS Working Paper # 74



            Most people are aware that the Occupy movement that began on Wall Street in New York in early September spread to large cities throughout the United States and abroad.  In California, early Occupy sites were established in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and several other large cities.  But the movement also spread to 143 smaller cities and towns in California. The Occupy Barstow webpage proclaimed that Barstow is “about as far from Wall Street as you can get.” But the Barstow occupiers probably did not know that there were also Occupy actions in Weaverville, Idyllwild, Calistoga, El Centro[1] and many other small California towns, even in very remote areas. The Transnational Social Movements Research Working Group at the University of California-Riverside has been studying the Occupy movement in California since late September.[2] The Occupy movement uses social media such as Twitter and Facebook as well as public assemblies to organize, communicate, and raise awareness about growing inequalities. Our survey of 482 incorporated towns and cities in California[3] found that nearly 30% (143) of them had Occupy websites on Facebook between December 1st and December 8th. This snapshot of the web presence of the Occupy movement shows where and the extent to which this movement diffused from its early presence in the largest cities to the smaller cities and towns of California. [4]

Occupy Facebook Pages: A Snapshot

            Our survey of Facebook sites established in California cities and towns shows that Occupy movements emerged in seemingly unlikely places, demonstrating the depth of frustration that people feel about the recession and the austerity measures that have been taken by authorities. Discussions on local movement Facebook pages illustrate the variety of issues that are important to local participants. In the small town of Yreka in Northern California, a man who had recently lost his home to foreclosure was trying to start an Occupy site in early November. Participants on the Occupy Riverside page have talked about the high unemployment rate in Riverside County, the high rate of housing foreclosures, and have helped an ex-Marine reoccupy the home from which he and his family had been evicted as a result of foreclosure. On December 6, there was a national call to Occupy Our Homes. According to one protestor in Petaluma over 1000 homes were facing foreclosures in the town of 56,000. Occupy protestors in Petaluma successfully petitioned Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to suspend evictions during the holidays.

The Occupy Ojai movement has organized its participants to move their savings from accounts in large banks such as Wells Fargo and the Bank of America to local banks and credit unions. The Occupy Oakland group was subjected to repeated attacks by police and organized a successful one-day shutdown of the Port of Oakland in protest. Occupy Davis has protested police tactics in wake of the events at UC-Davis in which students were pepper-sprayed. The Occupy Redding group is supporting postal workers who are protesting job cuts. Other issues being discussed on the community Facebook pages include student loan debt, rising tuition costs, raising taxes on the rich, corporate crime and moving toward a more democratic and sustainable economy.

Occupy Facebook Pages: Population Sizes of Settlements

            We divided up the cities into small, medium, and large using 2010 U.S. Census population data. Large is defined as having 100,000+ people, medium is defined as having 25,000-99,999 people, and small is defined as having 0-24,999 people. By using this method, we get 66 large cities, 198 medium cities, and 218 small cities. Forty-nine (74%) of the large cities have Occupy Facebook pages, 69 (24%) of the medium cities have Occupy Facebook pages, and 26 (12%) of the small cities have Occupy Facebook pages. This supports our hypothesis that settlement size is a main determinant of the spatial diffusion of the Occupy movement.

Description: C:\Documents and Settings\Christopher\My Documents\my stuff\irowsnov2011\IROWS\projects\tnsms\fall 11\time mapping occupy\irows74_files\image003.jpg            Our study of the location of these movements shows that the population size of a city or town is the main factor that explains where Occupy protests emerged and where they did not. Big cities have more people and so it is more likely that a group will emerge to mobilize under the banner of the Occupy movement. And yet there are some rather large cities that did not have movements. The five largest cities that did not have Facebook Occupy pages were: Fremont, Moreno Valley, Lancaster, Garden Grove, and Roseville. These are close to larger cities that have Occupy Facebook groups. Participants from these cities were probably drawn to the larger nearby Occupy sites. Some places have county level Occupy Facebook pages, such as Orange County. Garden Grove occupiers probably use the Orange County Occupy Facebook page. Lancaster, Fremont, and Roseville might seem to be exceptions. However, Lancaster is very near to an active Occupy site in Palmdale. Fremont is not far from Oakland. Roseville is not far from the active site in Sacramento.

            Despite the effect of community size, some rather small settlements do have Occupy Facebook pages. These small towns include Mount Shasta, Sonora, Sebastopol, Ojai, and Half-Moon Bay. These towns are not geographically close to other larger Occupy groups, so they created their own pages and occupation camps. According to the Mount Shasta Herald, over 150 protestors marched through the streets of the small Northern California town of 3,400 on October 17th. These small town protests suggest the spatial depth of the movement.

            As expected, we found that the Facebook pages of most of the larger cities had more “likes” or followers than did medium or small cities. For example, the Occupy Los Angeles (population 3,792,621) Facebook page had 47,210 followers. San Francisco’s (population 805,235) largest page had 21,609 followers. They had another large page with 15,400. Oakland’s (population 390,724) page had 18,172 followers. A few of the pages from the medium and small cities had impressive followings for their size. For example, the Occupy Santa Cruz (population 59,946) page had 7,226 followers. The Occupy Arcata (population 17,231) had 2,950 followers.

            We also found that larger cities were the early creators of Occupy Facebook pages. Los Angeles was the earliest in California to start their page. The first profile picture was posted on September 21st. San Francisco’s first profile picture was posted on September 22nd. Oakland started their page on October 7th. A few of the medium and small cities created Occupy Facebook pages in September or early October as well. For example, Petaluma Occupiers created their Facebook site on September 27th; Santa Cruz, South Lake Tahoe, and Arcata on September 28th; the Coachella Valley on October 2nd; and Half Moon Bay on October 5th.

Occupy Facebook Pages: Northern California versus Southern California

            Our analysis shows that 70 cities in Northern California (defined as being north of Bakersfield) and 73 cities in Southern California (defined as Bakersfield and south of it) have Facebook pages. By using this method to divide incorporated California cities, we have 255 northern cities and 227 southern cities. About 27% of the northern cities have Facebook Occupy pages, while 31% of the southern cities have Occupy pages. This north/south finding is interesting because most people believe that the political culture of Northern California is much more leftist than that of Southern California. Our findings suggest that this is no longer true, at least as indicated by the propensity to establish Occupy sites.

            When we look at the early adopters (cities that established Facebook pages in September), we find 13 cities. Seven of them were Northern California. In October, 97 Occupy Facebook pages were started. Forty-seven of these pages were in Northern California, while 50 were in Southern California cities.

            We also examined the Los Angeles area (Los Angeles, Kern, Orange, San Bernardino, and Ventura Counties) and the Bay Area (San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Solano Counties). We found that of the 143 Occupy Facebook pages, 78 (54.55%) of them belong to cities in either the Los Angeles or the Bay area. The Los Angeles area comprises 14,663,765 (47.58%) of the total population of California, while the Bay Area comprises 6,102,154 (19.80%) of the total population of California. Greater Los Angeles area had 50 or 34.96% of the total Occupy Facebook pages, and the Bay Area had 28 or 19.58% of the total Occupy Facebook pages. This supports the idea that Northern California is no longer a bastion of Leftist progressives compared with Southern California, at least as this is indicated by the Occupy movement.

Occupy Pages: Voting Patterns

            We collected data about voting behavior to examine the relationship between republican/democrat voting patterns in the last presidential election and the propensity of cities and towns to create an Occupy site. We found that in California the democratic candidate (Barack Obama) won 340 incorporated cities or 71%. The republican candidate (John McCain) won 139 incorporated cities or 29%. Most of these were in the predominantly rural counties of California. Of the cities where the democratic candidate won, 112 or 32.94% of them have Occupy Facebook pages. For cities where the republican candidate won, 31 or 22.30% of them have Occupy Facebook pages. This difference of 10 percentage points is not as great as might be expected. Nearly one fourth of the cities and towns in the rural counties of California in which a majority voted for John McCain had established Occupy protest sites. This is further support for the notion that this movement has great spatial depth and penetrated into even the politically conservative areas of California.

Occupy Pages: Universities and Colleges

            We also looked at number of Universities or Colleges in the incorporated cities of California. After observing that graduate students from the University of California-Riverside had been important early organizers of the Occupy Riverside movement, we hypothesized that proximity to higher education communities might have an effect on whether or not cities would establish an Occupy Facebook page. We found that 170 cities or 35.27% of the California cities have at least one higher education institution. Most cities (312 or 64.73%) do not have at least one university or college. We found that 83 of the 170 cities with at least one university or college have Occupy Facebook pages (49%). This compares with 60 cities with Occupy Facebook pages of the 312 that do not have at least one university or college (`19%). The 8 cities with the most number of universities or colleges all have Occupy Facebook pages. Thus our hypothesis was supported.

Occupy Pages: Secondary Websites

            We also looked for non-Facebook Occupy websites. We found that 71 cities have Occupy websites outside of Facebook. Five cities that did not have a Facebook page created another type of page. Barstow is an example of a city that did not have a Facebook page but created another website.

Occupy Pages: Demographic Aspects

            We also have collected age make-up information, median and mean income, race/ethnicity make-up, and average education level for each of the incorporated California cities. Analysis has not yet been completed on these data. In the detailed report, this analysis will be provided.


            This preliminary report provides early results from our study of the diffusion of the Occupy movement in California. We have found a large positive association between settlement size and the establishment of Occupy site. Larger cities are far more likely to have Occupy sites. And the larger sites were usually established earlier than those in smaller cities and towns.  Somewhat surprisingly the Occupy movement has been as strong in Southern California as it is in Northern California. And it has also penetrated the rural counties of the state to an appreciable extent. And there is a strong association between the locations of Occupy movements and proximity to institutions of higher education.

We will address the following additional research questions in a longer version of this research report: Does proximity to large military installations have any bearing on the presence or absence of Occupy sites? Does the median income of communities have an effect on Occupy Facebook page creation? Is the average level of education in a city associated with the likelihood of having an Occupy site? How is the racial/ethnic make-up of cities related to the likelihood of having an Occupy site?  Is a city with a high percentage of college-age (18-24) people more likely to have a Facebook page than a city with a smaller percentage of college-age people? Regarding voting patterns, we will also examine the percentage of votes received by Ralph Nader in the 2006 presidential election to see if it is related to the propensity to establish an Occupy site. We also plan to develop a coding scheme for different issues raised by local Occupy sites and to examine the geographical patterns of these issues. And we may be able to study change over time in the amount of traffic on Facebook pages. Has the crackdown on occupations of public spaces decreased or increased the amount of participation in Occupy Facebook pages?

Many of the Occupy encampments have been removed by authorities, but events such as the crackdown in Oakland and the following one-day shut-down of the Port of Oakland show that this movement has broad support and is capable of powerful collective action.  Efforts to befriend local officials and law enforcement personnel as part of “the 99%” have often broken down in disputes over alleged disruption of business, crimes supposedly committed by homeless people that have been attracted to the encampments by free food, as well as alleged endangerment to the public health caused by poor sanitation and disposal of waste at the encampments. Winter weather and official suppression have taken their toll on the public encampments in California, as they have elsewhere. But the causes of the rapid spread of the Occupy movement have not lessoned and so it is likely that those who were mobilized will continue to be engaged in other forms of political activity.

Ken Phillips of radio station KVCR in San Bernardino, CA interviewed Chase-Dunn about this study on December 16, 2011 (https://irows.ucr.edu/papers/irows74/kvcroccstud.mp3). Part of this tape was played on KVCR on Tuesday December 20, 2011.



[1] Mike Davis’s article on the Occupy movement in El Centro appeared in the Los Angeles Times on November 8, 2011.

[2] The project web site is at http://www.irows.ucr.edu/research/tsmstudy.htm

We have also observed and participated in the Occupy Riverside movement.

[4] When collecting the Facebook data we found that some cities had a more than one page. We collected data from the largest and most up-to-date pages. The smaller or inactive pages were not included in the data except for a few places in the notes because they are not considered to be main pages. A few of the pages were “subscription only” so we were not able to obtain all the information we wanted from these. “Events” created in Facebook were not considered pages. The establishment date of a Facebook page was inferred from the earliest picture upload or, where not available, the earliest post. Population data were collected from the 2010 Census. Demographic data were collected from the 2006-2010 American Community Survey. Election data were collected from the California Secretary of State. Information about California Universities and Colleges was collected from the California Post-secondary Education Commission.

An excel file that shows the towns and cities we studied and the presence or absence of Occupy Facebook pages is https://irows.ucr.edu/papers/irows74/califcities.xlsx