There is a movement sweeping across the world.
Its roots lie in the city of New York, but in the two short months since its beginning, it has spread across the planet like wildfire. Occupy has evolved into a movement of tremendous potential and staggering implications. But who are these protesters? What do they want? Why should you care?
The answer is simple and yet complex.
Who are they? …They are everyone. What do they want? …They want a better world; a sustainable future, both in terms of the environment, of social justice and of our economy. And why should you care? Because this is your fight. The occupy movement is protesting against the very basis of our system, against the very elements that are responsible for government corruption and environmental degradation. The occupiers have realized that the collapse of the economy and the crumbling of our system, is but one symptom of a far deeper, more serious disease which is affecting the very matrix of life on Earth. Our world is a world in which people are increasingly alienated from each other and from Nature, in which government and corporations rule the world and the people, the 99%, are marginalized and their input no longer counts. Occupy is a counter-current to the modern world. Occupiers stand together, and they stand in solidarity for justice, for equality, for the Earth.
We are the 99 %
Nearly three months ago, protesters set up camps in parks in some of the world’s major cities, starting with Zucotti Park in New York. The tents set up in the parks had, above all, a symbolic value. It was seen as a reclaiming of the commons, a coming together of people from all kinds of backgrounds. However, camps were also heavily criticized, and not without reason. Questions of drug abuse, of violence and sanitation were raised, and while some camps presented exemplary conduct (Occupy Washington asked participants to sign a contract to assure that drugs were kept off the site and that all park regulations and safety were respected) others were seen as hazards.
The problems with the camps however do not justify the way protesters were treated during the series of evictions that have been ongoing since the first few weeks of November. The coordinated wave of police violence and repression of people’s right to protest that has swept across Occupy camps lately has brought forth new questions. People are questioning police brutality, excessive use of force and violations of the people’s right to assembly. Many are asking, and rightfully so, who do the police serve? Are they not supposed to protect us, the people? A striking example of this is the famous UC Davis incident, (Nov. 18) in which a police officer cold-bloodedly and repeatedly pepper-sprayed a group of students sitting passively on the ground in a non-violent, non-confrontational protest. Reportedly, one of the victims was still coughing up blood 45 minutes after the incident, and several students had to be hospitalized. Videos of the event have since gone viral and students as well as university staff are calling for the chancellor responsible for this incident to resign.
Following the eviction of many major camps across north America, many people, including the media, seemed to think that the occupy movement was just a passing fad, that now that the movement had lost many of its home bases, it would die out. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only did police brutality, mass arrests and shockingly violent incidents add fuel to the fire, they also reinforced the legitimacy of the Occupy Movement.
Like the posters of many occupiers say, “you can’t evict an idea whose time has come”, and “the people will only take so much”. And honestly, who doesn’t want a better world? This is why the occupy movement won’t die. Because it is so broad and all-inclusive, and because it brings together environmental, social and economic issues. Anyone who is fighting for a better world, is in one way or another, even if they won’t admit it, part of the Occupy movement. Because this movement is fighting for everyone.
However, the movement has certainly gotten its share of criticism. Common critiques include that it is disorganized, ineffective, and that protesters don’t know what they are doing.
I have a question for those of you who are still skeptical about Occupy: how can a disorganized, ineffective movement mobilize tens of thousands of people to take to the streets? If the movement is not coordinated, how could they have nearly shut down wall street on november 17?
One of the movement’s greatest accomplishments is the spreading of awareness. Who has not heard of the 1% and the 99? Occupy has managed to draw media attention and has opened important dialogue. It has caused people to think.
Furthermore, the movement is constantly evolving. Groups across the world are finding new, creative ways to get their messages across and to take effective action to start shifting this world to a better future. Take for example Occupy London’s Bank of Ideas.
Participants of the Occupy Movement in London, England have taken over an old bank building belonging to UBS. They are now in the process of cleaning it up and making space for all kinds of groups to have meetings and discussions. Occupy London hopes to make The Bank of Ideas into a place to run programs and events for all kinds of groups and to open dialogue on what our future should look like.
From bat signals to the people’s mic, Occupy has many faces; every location has a different approach, and this is one of the things that make it so versatile, so diverse, and so powerful. The fact that the movement has no leader encourages active participation by all. There is not one person speaking for all, but rather everyone speaks for everyone. (The people’s mic is an example of how you should take this statement literally.)
A leaderless movement does not mean it is disorganized. By “leaderless”, it is meant that there is no single leader when you look at Occupy from the perspective of a traditional definition of leadership. There are facilitators who help move discussion along and occasionally step up to act as leaders. However, anyone can be a facilitator, leadership roles are available to anyone and there is no one person constantly in charge. This is an example of a participatory democracy. Using this model of decision-making, Occupy protesters have proved that a real democracy is possible and effective. They have been able to take coordinated action and will continue to do so. Here is a taste of what is to come.
Finally, if there is an Occupy group near you, it is worth attending a meeting, or at least part of one, before dismissing it as a fringe movement causing nothing but trouble. In my experience, general assemblies are lengthy (because everyone has input and everyone’s opinion is considered, so issues are really discussed in depth!) but Occupy protesters’ concerns are legitimate and affect all of us. Every Occupy group is unique, and the citizens who participate in it take ownership of it and make it their own. It’s a great way for university students to hear about issues in their community and vice versa. It’s an opportunity to get to work together with great people who care and to get your voice heard, because no one’s ideas get shot down, and anything anyone has to say is considered legitimate. Furthermore, I am convinced Occupy is here to stay, so just as well get out there and learn firsthand what it’s about.
Websites to check out:
The Adbusters were instrumental in starting this global movement: http://www.adbusters.org/
Occupy Wall Street:
An article worth reading: