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Occupy Wall Street / Occupy Melbourne: Are We the People We Have Been Waiting For?

(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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Responses to “Occupy Wall Street / Occupy Melbourne: Are We the People We Have Been Waiting For?”

  1. Mark Burch says:

    I think the lack of media coverage of the Occupy Wall (or your street of preference) Street might partly be explained by their inability to cover any event that doesn’t fit the paradigm of TV journalism. There must be a hero (preferably an underdog) and a villain. Demands must be few, simple, and clearly able to engage the popular imagination the way soccer does, or celebrity scandals. Sensational content helps immensely. That’s why bloody conflict always trumps peaceful, well-disciplined civil disobedience. What the media absolutely cannot deal with is a multitude of critiques and causes that find their common object in a monolithic oppressive system. The media neither understands the system nor the diversity of reasons it might be opposed. Thus hugely significant events are often unreportable.

    But I think a much more important consideration is the possibility that this event will repeat the mistakes of the “counterculture” of the ’60s. Back then we knew quite clearly what we were against, but we had no coherent, widely supported platform detailing what we were for—even if it is a complicated platform. It isn’t necessary that the media understand the revolution, but it is essential that the revolution understand itself. I worry that many people now, as then, have not bothered to do their homework. The Carnival of street demonstrations combined with the momentary communities of anarchy that emerge at such times are deeply appealing and engaging, but they don’t amount to a different society. They constitute moments when we can glimpse other possibilities, but they don’t constitute realizations of those possibilities. (See Rebecca Solnit’s book, _A Paradise Built in Hell._

    So if this event is going to amount to anything more than a festive occasion after which it can truly be said that a grand time was had by all…it must produce a coherent plan for an alternate organization of society. If we object to a global economy, then what is the alternative? If we worry about climate change, how shall we redesign cities, stem over-population, rethink consumption and transportation, etc.? If we protest social relations that are subordinated to fear, greed, and oppression, then how shall we configure social relations on love, generosity and liberty? If over-consumption is threatening the ecosphere, how shall we develop a narrative of the good life based on sufficiency, simplicity, humility and cooperation?

    Of course we already have most of the answers to all of these questions. But we need to stitch them together into a coherent alternative narrative of the good life. People seldom down tools and abandon what they know, no matter how oppressive it is, unless they have a pretty clear idea how they will feed their children tomorrow. But if the alternate program can be welded up from the huge number and diversity of insightful critiques of consumer culture and its handmaid, globalized capitalism, then the demonstrations can become a movement and the movement might actually go somewhere.

  2. Samuel Alexander says:

    Hi Mark, eminently wise words. I agree entirely. The occupations certainly have to aim higher than merely a day, a weekend, a week, perhaps a month or even two, of festive anarchy. As you say, the risks of repeating the mistakes of the counterculture of the ’60s are very real. But the task of avoiding those mistakes, let’s face it, are tremendous. Last year in Australia, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tried to place a relatively small resource tax on companies earning “super profits” from Australia’s resource base – and he was promptly booted out of office after a multi-million dollar ad campaign funded by those he wanted to tax. If, in this day and age, we cannot even raise taxes a little on the huge mining companies, what hope is there for anything more significant coming from the top down? The same situation applies throughout the West, as far as I can tell. If there is going to be change, it will have to come from the grassroots up, and once the counterculture is strong enough, then, perhaps – only perhaps – the top down reform might arrive. But we mustn’t wait for that top down reform, and that is why these occupations inspire me and give me a degree of hope. I agree that we need some coherent plan for an alternative organisation of society, but the absence of such a plan, or consensus on such a plan, doesn’t mean that the individual and the community cannot just start building a new society today, as I’m sure you would agree. Once – if – these occupations die down, everyone involved mustn’t think that their work is done, because it hasn’t even really begun.

    Here’s one vision of a better future: http://simplicitycollective.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/LookingBackward.pdf

  3. SJ says:

    I keep an eye out for the seeds of change and I can imediately respond by saying, look at James Robertsons alternative economy. Then compare it with green party policy and you can see that there is at least some formation of ideas that relate to an alternative economy. It is the start of a framework that could guide decision making if we ever steal power back from the corporations. I think the first thing to do is to outlaw lobbying. It should be clearly relabeled as corruption or the bastardisation of democracy. Then the press must be liberated. The green parties could probably be used as a political platform for resistance in the first instance.

  4. Trevor S says:

    Seems like a bunch of people that want more for themselves by taking it from someone else. They’re not so far removed from the very people they protest against.

    The antithesis of what I am about, ie less.

    As to the political bent, anyone who votes ALP/LNP/GREEN etc in Aus simply perpetuate the current orthodoxy, they ARE the current orthodoxy. The only way to change the realpolotik is to vote the lot of them out. Rudd was booted because his fellow MPs voted him out, that’s how our Westminster system is supposed to work !

    My ballot paper is replete with choice. I can only assume others are either happy with the way things are, are naive or some combination of both. I prefer the German model a little better, the Pirate Parties take on liquid democracy seems interesting.

    If you “want more” from BHP, go buy some shares, fairly simple stuff.

  5. Samuel Alexander says:

    SJ, thanks for your note. I agree that outlawing lobbying and freeing the media are two very important first steps. The first step seems relatively straightforward, in theory at least. There are ways to get money out of politics – for example, only allow citizens (real humans, not the ‘artificial humans’ of corporations) to fund political campaigns. This has its problems too, but less problems that the current system.

    Freeing the press is absolutely needed, but that gets more difficult, although not impossible. I can imagine a time when a state says that huge media conglomerates are fundamentally undemocratic and demands their fragmentation. We need lots of small media, not a few massive conglomerates.

    I also agree that green politics is the most likely space in contemporary politics of any revolutionary reform to take hold.

  6. Samuel Alexander says:

    Hi Trevor, thanks for your note. With respect, I think your argument lacks all logic. Just because people are calling for redistribution doesn’t make them the same as the 1%.

    Furthermore, you grossly oversimplify the Rudd situation. His peers voted him out partly because a massive corporate funded ad campaign set out to discredit him. Anyone can see that the politics of big business played a major role in Rudd being booted. See above suggestions about campaign refinancing and media control. Anyone who doesn’t take this into account when thinking about politics will have a very superficial understanding of how things work.

    I’m not so sure the Greens are as orthodox as you make them seem. I’m certainly not prepared to lump them in with ALP or LNP.

    I’m afraid you’re last comment doesn’t dignify a response. You need to think more critically than that.

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