(A PDF of my 4,000 word defence of Occupy Melbourne can be downloaded here: Ignite.)
I presume you have all heard about the occupation of Wall Street that began a few weeks ago in New York? Thousands of people have been staging an extended protest – an occupation – of Wall Street, voicing their diverse objections to a global financial system that has gone amuck. It may well be, however, that some of you have not heard about this historic event, and the reason would be because the newspapers are barely covering it. The occupation of Wall Street has only just started getting attention in the U.S, despite it commencing several weeks ago. And in Australia, where I am writing, the occupation has barely been mentioned in mainstream media at all.
Why is this? Why is it that thousands of people camping in the streets, in peaceful, democratic protest, for weeks on end, does not deserve media attention? It is because mainstream media are intimately connected with the very politico-economic system that is being objected to – that is being rejected – by the masses in the streets. The newspapers, of course, find space for terribly important articles on the infidelities of movie stars, as well space to cover the latest verbal ejaculations from climate change deniers; and there is always space for pages of advertisements to tell us what we need to buy if we are to be happy and successful. But the newspapers cannot seem to find space to cover this truly remarkable grassroots expression of civil discontent. Free press? Yeah right. Those days are well gone, and let’s not pretend otherwise. If you want news, don’t rely on Murdoch.
However, by deliberately avoiding any significant coverage of this prolonged mass protest – a protest that, it cannot be denied, deserves coverage – mainstream media (as dutiful representatives of Empire) are telling us something critically important. They are telling us that they are nervous about what is going, that they feel threatened by it. Otherwise why pretend that nothing is going on? It is clear they are scared of fuelling the fire. Little do they know, however, that those on the streets smell this fear, and are now feeding off it. To read more, see: http://occupywallst.org/ and http://www.occupytogether.org/ . See also, a rare mention in the news here.
Let’s face it, thousands of people camping in the streets of New York doesn’t happen everyday. And now the “Occupy Wall Street” movement has spread across America and indeed the globe. At the time of writing, there were 1235 cities involved through meetup.com and a growing list of cities currently ‘occupied’ can be found here: http://www.occupytogether.org/actions/. What’s going on here? Is this the start of something? Are we the people we have been waiting for?
This Saturday 15 October the occupation of Melbourne is commencing at City Square, and the organizer’s Facebook page already has almost four and half thousand expressions of support, and counting. No one can predict whether this movement will realize it’s potential. Perhaps it will flop and merely signify our last opportunity to avoid having the boot of Empire stamp on the face of humanity forever. But perhaps – just perhaps – there is something real going on here. Just perhaps this is the moment of madness that will shake the world awake.
I must confess that I do not have a great deal hope that anything will come of this movement, but I have some hope, and that’s all anyone should need to take part. As Gramsci stated: ‘Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will.’ I’ll be heading down to the City Square in Melbourne on Saturday afternoon to see what’s going on. I invite all of you in Melbourne to head down too, and please tell your friends about it. It’s strictly a peaceful, no alcohol or drugs, protest, so bring the family; a book; a picnic; the guitar; perhaps even a sleeping bag and a pillow! And if it turns out that only a few hundred people show up, then so be it. At least we can say that when we were called we stood up to be counted. We don’t get opportunities like this everyday. In fact, this opportunity could be unique. It would seem, then, that we are the people we have been waiting for. We must be.
As I was writing this post – there is so much more to say, but for now this must suffice – I found myself thinking of the closing passage in one of William Morris’s essays of 1884, which I will leave you with to mull over. I hope to see you on Saturday.
It is Peace, therefore, which we need in order that we may live and work in hope and with pleasure. Peace so much desired, if we may trust men’s words, but which has been so continually and steadily rejected by them in deeds. But for us, let us set our hearts on it and win it at whatever cost.
What the cost may be, who can tell? Will it be possible to win peace peaceably? Alas, how can it be? We are so hemmed in by wrong and folly, that in one way or other we must always be fighting against them: our own lives may see no end to the struggle, perhaps no obvious hope of the end. It may be that the best we can hope to see is that struggle getting sharper and bitterer day by day, until it breaks out openly at last into the slaughter of men by actual warfare instead of by the slower and crueller methods of “peaceful” commerce. If we live to see that, we shall live to see much; for it will mean the rich classes grown conscious of their own wrong and robbery, and consciously defending them by open violence; and then the end will be drawing near.
But in any case, and whatever the nature of our strife for peace may be, if we only aim at it steadily and with singleness of heart, and ever keep it in view, a reflection from that peace of the future will illumine the turmoil and trouble of our lives, whether the trouble be seemingly petty, or obviously tragic; and we shall, in our hopes at least, live the lives of men: nor can the present times give us any reward greater than that.