The “Occupy Wall Street” protests in New York and similar demonstrations in many other cities in the US and around the world should serve as a wake-up call to the business community. These demonstrations highlight potential security vulnerabilities every business should be aware of. Firms that have offices and personnel in the areas affected by the protests should prepare for these protests to continue for some time. They should also be ready if the protests change course from the largely peaceful demonstrations we’ve seen so far, to ones characterized by isolated cases of vandalism or other violence.
So far, to the credit of their organizers, these protests have been largely peaceful. At this juncture, we’re really seeing the beginnings of a battle for public opinion. The protest movement has chosen a deliberately leaderless hierarchy. They call it a “horizontal movement”. Should this protest movement continue to gain momentum, watch for the current leaderless hierarchy to morph into a more centralized one. This happened during both the French and Bolshevik Revolutions and in the US, during the anti-Vietnam War protests in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Every business owner in the path of the protests should evaluate their action plan just in case the protests should turn violent. Now, at this point it’s hard to predict, but violence is often more likely to escalate with a centralized protest leadership structure. The exception to this would be if a Gandhi- or Martin Luther King-like figure emerges to lead the protest movement, but that seems unlikely at present.
Factors external to the protest movement itself, such as a perception that excessive police force was used or if protestors’ demands were not being met, could also influence how the movement’s leadership hierarchy develops and the degree to which the movement itself espouses violence.