November 8, 2011; Source: Washington Post (Associated Press) | Only a day after we ran a piece about the rampant commercialism seeping into K–12 schools in the U.S., we stumbled across a much more shocking phenomenon that, given our society, we should have expected—the commercialization of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Is there nothing sacred about social movement protest anymore? In the old days, the commercialization was relatively limited to vendors selling message buttons that we studded onto our surplus army fatigue jackets. Now, like the corporations subliminally and overtly hawking their products to unsuspecting schoolchildren, we see the specter of the commercialization and even branding of the Occupy protests for the purpose of earning a buck—and generally not much of a buck for the Occupiers.
Competition to trademark “Occupy” and “We are the 99 percent” has started. In New York, the Zuccotti Park OWS organizers filed for a trademark of “Occupy Wall Street” when they learned that others not associated with the protests had applied for trademarks at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The OWS lawyer said he wanted to ensure that the OWS name wasn’t “co-opted for commercial purposes.” But a small businessman in Arizona has applied for “Occupy Wall Street” and a husband-and-wife team from Long Island has filed for “Occupy Wall St.” The original OWS protesters are likely to win, since they’ve been calling themselves Occupy Wall Street from the beginning, though there is a question—practical as well as legal—about how to award a trademark to be managed by a group that describes itself as leaderless.
Some of the marketing is a little hard to stomach. A clothing designer named Ray Agrizone has created theoccupystore.com offering T-shirts, hoodies, and gift certificates. Promising to donate 10 percent of his profits to OWS, Agrizone says he has lost money so far, but planned to donate $100 to OWS soon. According to the Associated Press, he has also proposed to OWS “that a section of Zuccotti Park be turned into a merchandise zone for the benefit of the movement.” A man of the zeitgeist, Agrizone’s analysis of the Occupy movement contends “there’s nothing wrong with turning a profit,” and concludes “I don’t think that’s what this is all about.” Perhaps referring to Che Guevara’s beret, Yasser Arafat’s kaffiyeh, or Mao Tse-Tung’s eponymous jackets, Agrizone concludes, “There is no better way to spread the message of revolution than through clothes.”
Will bigger corporate players than whatever Agrizone is look to commercialize OWS? Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, based in Vermont, has issued a statement in support of the Occupy movement, decrying the wealth disparities in the U.S. as “simply immoral”— though Ben & Jerry’s is hardly a purely counterculture natural ice cream marketer, owned since 2000 by the Dutch multinational behemoth, Unilever, whose ownership of brands such as Bertolli olive oil, Hellman’s mayonnaise, Slim-Fast, Lipton, Dove and Lifebuoy soap, Axe, Lux, and more make it a firm with $60 billion in annual sales worldwide (http://www.unilever.com). Paul Polman received €2,877,000 (roughly $3,955,112) in 2010 for his service as CEO of Unilever, a sum that doesn’t count other income such as the $221,000 he received in cash and stock for his role as a board member of Dow Chemical.
Which profiteer better reflects the values of OWS movement: Ray Agrizone or Paul Polman? Our answer? Neither.—Rick Cohen