It strikes me that most people, including most of those in the Occupy Movement, generally tend to confuse protest for revolution. The approach and tactics developed by Thoreau, Gandhi, and Dr. King were so incredibly effective in terms of creating social change that most modern day revolutionaries tend to regard their approach as the only effective and morally legitimate means of pursuing social justice. I’ve found that the notion of attempting to create a revolution from within the system, using the very same tools of the system, in order to transform the system will often generate fairly engaging ethical discussion among Occupiers, not a few of whom are reluctant to pursue this approach, presumably out of concerns over hypocritically behaving exactly like those whom we oppose. Are those concerns legitimate? Yes. However are those concerns a legitimate reason for the Occupy Movement to focus exclusively on pursuing its admittedly radical agenda solely along the non-participatory lines our revolutionary forefathers established during the last two centuries? No.
The issue of demands fell squarely within a discussion of the ethics of revolutionary participation within the system. This was the big story of the movement besides all the riot pornography of police brutality of course. We were deliberate in not developing any demands, largely it seems because we had a lot of different reasons for joining the movement and there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of all of us coming to a consensus on any pragmatic demands. The other reason, best explained by Judith Butler in an issue of Tidal (our social theory publication http://www.facebook.com/TidalOccupyTheory), was that the very act of making demands presupposes that there is someone in charge with the power and willingness to address them. The act of making demands imparts legitimacy to whoever answers them.
So we focused on making demands of ourselves instead. We tried to embody the changes we wanted to see just as Gandhi told us we should all those years ago. Our media center spread the news of our movement all over the globe using solar power from Greenpeace, bio-diesel fuel, and bike generators well before the mass media began paying any attention to us. We created our own political procedures in our General Assemblies. Free food was served from our own kitchen and there were and are people working on alternative currency systems. The early weeks of the occupation were a utopia for many of us. We had temporarily created a small post-revolutionary society within a large corrupt society. All of us wanted the former to engulf the latter.
This approach was objectively effective for a time. I would go to LibertyPlaza every morning before going to work with hand clicker counters. I observed and recorded that the number of people who woke up at ‘Liberty Plaza’ every morning kept increasing in spite of the fact that everyone in the mainstream media kept telling us that we would fail precisely because we had no demands. We had created that same curiosity and ‘blank check’ which Obama had created in 08, where anyone – radicals, liberals and even conservative Tea Partiers – could all find whatever they were looking for within the movement. The fact that we had no single demand was actually a blessing in disguise. Our refusal to negotiate with the system according to its terms was a critical part of our success. It’s the reason why Occupy Wall Street has turned into a stable community of dedicated activists, which is what it is now, which isn’t the same thing as a growing dynamic social movement.
Occupying the streets is an incredibly empowering, energizing and shamelessly fun experience. True democracy and equality can only exist when you have lots of people in a public place like in the agoras of Ancient Greece. Democracy and equality die the moment those people leave the square to return to their homes and work and democracy and equality are reborn the instant that the masses return to the square. My acid test for an oppressive regime is the extent to which they allow their citizens to publicly assemble (and this country just barely passes as far as I’m concerned). Occupy must and always shall be prepared to reclaim our streets from anti-social commercial interests, police and even car traffic.
That said however, it’s painfully clear to me that the majority of the people in this country are not interested in participating in a radical non-participatory social movement even though those same people may want, need, and crave better lives within a better society every bit as much as the radical minority of this country wants the same. For every one person seen protesting on the streets, there are countless more who help us from home through financial and social media support and more yet still who at least now recognize and talk about the issues that forced us to rally in the streets last fall. There won’t be a Tahir Square-moment in this country because North Americans are not oppressed by guns, tanks, bombs, or even the poverty, famine and austerity that we see in the post-colonial world as much as they are oppressed by duties to family, school and presumably fulfilling work. It is selfish, egotistical, hypocritically authoritarian and counter-productively self-defeating for anyone within Occupy to demand that those people, especially those who support us, sacrifice jobs, careers, homes, or familial obligations in order to adopt a radical lifestyle…(even if the masses don’t know what they’re missing out on).
Even though politicians now have to pay lip-service to the topics of corporate greed and wealth disparity thanks to Occupy, the movement has thus far in my opinion been a symptom and a reaction to social transformations more so than a catalyst of social transformations. This will surely change with time as the collective consciousness of the movement continues to gradually think outside of the boxes it creates for itself.
There’s nothing terribly historically original about many of our most effective strategies, approaches and tactics. General Assemblies and even Human Microphone Checks are tried and true time-tested radical tactics. Arab Spring, the Indignados, and plenty of others beat us to the punch in terms of our social media efforts. We learned directly from them in many instances. We’re still paying homage to our ideological parents for the indispensable tools they bequeathed us as opposed to giving birth to our own unique, novel, revolutionary innovations.
I’m not the only one in the movement who wouldn’t be opposed to occupying electoral politics exactly the same way that the Tea Party has. The time has come furthermore for the movement to occupy, own, and manage our businesses, companies and corporations for ourselves in order to generate the capital we would need to finance the solutions to the seemingly endless list of disastrous social problems facing our global society.
The integrity of my core radical values is in no way contradicted by my advocacy of directly participating within and occupying the capitalist system. The participative approach strengthens my values if anything since this is the essence of appropriating the means of production, which of course isn’t a novel idea at all, we just have a lot of new ground to occupy since Marx suggested the approach. Perhaps we should at least reconsider the advice of all the assholes who tell us to go out and get a job instead of protesting.