This is a work in progress, a living document: a collection of my thoughts as they are today. I have come to this particular moment through the numerous conversations, dialogues and actions that I have participated in with my Occupy sisters and brothers over the last several months. My perspectives are also informed by the years that I spent organizing for peace & justice around the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the parallel work organizing against Bush & Co. in all their “1%” guises. These thoughts rattle around my head incessantly and I am writing them up to add to the dialogue, to free them if you will. My hope is that others might evolve these ideas further, to help us all to grow the movement, to avoid repeating past mistakes, and to see opportunities where we might otherwise not think to look.
THE MODEL IS THE MOVEMENT
This observation seems pretty obvious to me, but I find that it is often misunderstood. I started using this phrase to get at the underlying irrelevance of the statement “what are their demands?” I don't think this was ever really meant as a question at all, but was simply presented as a rhetorical challenge to delegitimize the movement by labeling it as disorganized and lacking leadership. The news outlets that genuinely sought to report on the origins of the movement often sited the Adbusters poster which featured the headline “what is our one demand?” The headline was of course written prior to the occupation of Liberty Square and never actually adopted as a slogan of the movement, but for weeks it was used to hammer away at OWS as if it was a necessary prerequisite for a social justice movement to follow the rules set by the society that it was attempting to change. If reporters had taken the time to investigate the new organizational models that were being developed within OWS, they might have begun to understand how absurd the question of demands actually was.
Here's my take on it. Demands are rooted in the idea that someone has something that you want and if you negotiate with them they may give it to you. The collective bargaining process pits the leverage of the united workers against the interests of the managers (employers). In that model, management must respond to the demands of the workers to avoid a potential strike. Labor is similarly tethered to management because it is management that provides the salary and job to begin with. Though this is a perfectly sound organizing model, I don't see it as relevant to Occupy. I don't believe Occupy is particularly concerned with asking nicely for a piece of the pie or a fair share, but is focused rather on the complete withdrawal of our consent for a system that is designed to keep us enslaved. Inherent here is a recognition that the vast majority of the work we do is ultimately not for our benefit at all, but solely to produce profit for the 1%. And the 1% are relying on our tacit participation in order to continue to harvest the wealth from us. In order to be sustainable within this culture we are going to have to come up with viable alternatives to the current economic system.
So this brings me back to the model is the movement. Traditionally political movement goals were attained through the concessions of those in power. A traditional “solution” to the sub-prime crisis (housing bubble crash) might take the form of a tax applied to all derivatives. Isn't this essentially a tax on the profits made from you losing your home? Do you really want a piece of that pie? Are you satisfied with getting a little bit back of what was yours to begin with? An alternative solution could involve stopping the 1% from making pie out of your suffering. It is these kinds of alternatives along with strategies for their development and mobilization that emerge through the Occupy model. There is a recognition that the essential power of a 99% movement lies in the diversity of knowledge, experience, and passion of the people involved. Establishing movement goals before everyone comes to the table, would not take advantage of these strengths and could even create resistance from folks who felt they were not included in the process. The open dialogue of the people made possible through the local occupations and assemblies creates a real sense of connection. And in turn this experience of community builds compassion and understanding. Within this atmosphere, we can’t help but begin to move toward the sustainable alternatives we want. To paraphrase Jack Gibb in his book Trust, the “goals” are ultimately a by-product of the movement. It is the movement, the process itself, that is the product.