Occupy protests have spread to nearly 150 locations equally distributed between Northern and Southern California. Researchers at UC Riverside used social media sites like Facebook to track the movement’s growth from large urban centers to remote mountain towns.
Sociology professor Christopher Chase-Dunn and graduate student Michaela Curran-Strange manned the study, which has traced the Occupy movement to some far-flung locations.
“I found this guy up in Yreka who had lost his house to foreclosure," said Chase-Dunn, referring to the former Gold Rush town north of Mount Shasta, which boasts a population of 7,800. “And he was angry and he was trying to start a local Occupy. I don’t think he ever did but he was trying, and it was one person.”
UC Riverside researchers tracked him down, along with dozens of other California Occupiers, using social media like Facebook and Twitter.
“Basically it’s a cheap way to find out what’s going on in Idyllwild and Weaverville," said Chase-Dunn. "With social movements you wanna study how they diffuse, where do the ideas come from and then where do they go to.”
Some Occupy sites have a handful of campers. Others, like one based in the Northern California town of Arcata, have Facebook followers that number in the thousands. Some groups stage regular public actions; others limit their activism primarily to the Web.
According to Chase-Dunn, the broad range of concerns and possible solutions indicate a movement in flux. “There’s pragmatists who want to make a big difference in American politics, and then there’s a bunch of Utopians [that are] talking about the long distance future."
Chase-Dunn predicts that the movement will likely split over those lines and perhaps will create spinoff Occupy groups with more narrowly defined agendas. Researchers plan to examine voting patterns in California cities and towns with active Occupy groups.