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Umair Haque: The Protests and the Metamovement

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
6th October 2011


With every day that we hold the square, we chip away at our fear, at our confusion, at our alienation. We improvise new ways of living, new relations, new forms of solidarity. We create. We meet each other. We share food, sleeping space, music and drink. We fight the cops together. We talk about what a new and better world would look like, and we try, to the best of our abilities, to build it. And, as we discuss our ideas and principles in Liberty Plaza, it becomes clear that, though we may have different focuses, different politics, though different goals brought us all here, we can only achieve them together.

The first text is an excerpt from Umair Haque’s editorial on the context for OccupyWallStreet. It is followed by a report from the trenches from Willie Osterwell. Finally, Yotam Marom analyzes what has been achieved so far.

1. Umair Haque:

“Across the globe, protests are rippling out like vectors in an epidemic.

I believe that we’re witnessing the rise of a global Metamovement.

The Metamovement is a movement of movements. Not all these movements are similar, and no two are exactly like. The Arab Spring is part of the Metamovement; the London Riots were part of the Metamovement; India’s nationwide anti-corruption protests were part of the Metamovement, just like Israel’s massive demonstrations were; protests spreading across America, under the banner of Occupy Wall Street, are all part of the Metamovement.

It’s one thing for institutions to fail — as in fail to deliver the goods — but for them to punish people for attempting to pursue prosperity reaches beyond failure. To get a visceral feel for this, please stop for a second and visit We Are The 99 Percent. This is not merely nonfunction, but malfunction.

The Metamovement isn’t just a faint, transient echo, but the increasingly resonant reverberation of people challenging this brutal state of malfunction, this Great Splintering of institutions and social contracts. Their truth, I suspect, might be this: there’s no one left to turn to — and so the Metamovement has turned to each other. Not for yesterday’s notions of “solidarity”, or the corporatist ideal of “inspiration, “but as nodes in a pulsing network whose coherence defines it: to demand institutions which can literally deliver the goods of enlightened social contracts. That enshrine in the people, first and foremost, the inalienable right to be authors of their own destinies — instead of condemning them to be mute puppets.

It is, of course, this sense of autonomy that is the cornerstone of eudaimonia, the belief that a good life is a life lived meaningfully, and that it ought to be possible to both live meaningfully and make a living. And in that foundational sense, I’d say the Metamovement is the first glimmering of a larger revolution that will burn over the globe like Bouazizi’s fire. No, not every revolt ends in revolution — but every revolution begins with revolt.

And make no mistake, this is revolt — an insurrection against a monstrous status quo that’s failed too many, too deserving, for too long, while serving too few, too undeserving, far too well. It is not in the nature of man or beast to stay yoked to the gleaming machines of their own economic, social, and moral annihilation. Better — as perhaps Bouazizi thought — to commit the ultimate act; to choose. To choose to let loose a brutally human cry, one whose echoes might come to define a defining decade.”

2. Willie Osterwell:

” As the General Assembly grows, major meetings with everyone in the square become unweildy and incredibly difficult. There is a need to shift decision making to smaller groups and it would be great to see a focus on neighborhood organization: General Assemblies in the burroughs would be an incredible achievement. As with the movements in Spain and Greece, occupiers have eschewed simple demands or sound-bite messaging. As elsewhere, there is no official representative body which speaks for the protesters, no centralized or formally heirarchichal power structures. The lack of a clear, easily reguritated message tends to enrage both the media and the traditional and professional left, but the demandless occupation is not a reflection of stupidity, political impotence or idealistic naivete, as many within and without the protests have claimed.

When we look around us, we see a world that is burning, a planet being consumed by capital, an economic system which thrives on the production of human suffering, mass imprisonment, violence, economic strife. We see a world that cannot be fixed by the same people who brought us here, with the same methods, ideologies and processes. And we see that we are not going to win the fight tomorrow. But we want to win. We’re going to win. So we do what we can. We take a space, we build our resolve and our numbers.

With every day that we hold the square, we chip away at our fear, at our confusion, at our alienation. We improvise new ways of living, new relations, new forms of solidarity. We create. We meet each other. We share food, sleeping space, music and drink. We fight the cops together. We talk about what a new and better world would look like, and we try, to the best of our abilities, to build it. And, as we discuss our ideas and principles in Liberty Plaza, it becomes clear that, though we may have different focuses, different politics, though different goals brought us all here, we can only achieve them together.

We are preparing ourselves for the fight ahead, because we have been left futureless by a group of people who insist we ask them to solve the problem, so they can refuse us. We don’t make one simple demand because this isn’t for the media to turn into sound bites, for politicians to aggrandize or argue against, for bankers to gamble on and academics to study. We’re not asking the people in power for permission, we’re teaching ourselves how to take what we need and make a better world without them.”

3. Yotam Marom

“Though the press is now somewhat intrigued by us, and alarmed by police brutality, it still has very little to say about the actual content and processes of this occupation: The spontaneous working groups that emerge to deal with any issue that comes up, the remarkable de-centralization, the actions we have carried out in solidarity with labor struggles around the city, the public education taking place at the occupation, or the incredible display of direct democracy practiced in the camp.

Maybe it’s because they don’t care, or maybe it’s because we are a threat to their sponsors (and we are). But, honestly, maybe it is because we speak a new language, one we have to translate it for them.

I have to admit, I was skeptical. I saw too many young white college kids and not enough grassroots organizers fromNew York, not enough of those communities hardest hit by neoliberalism and austerity. I was pushed away by some of the cultural norms being adopted and found myself at odds with the lack of demands, not to mention the sometimes over-emphasis on process. Having helped organize Bloombergville (a two-week occupation against the budget cuts in NYC) only a few months earlier, I found it hard to believe this would be significantly larger or be able to mobilize the kind of mass support it needed in order to make an impact. I didn’t see how this would aid in the overarching aim of building a movement, beyond a single uprising. But I was wrong about some of those assumptions, and – though we are still far from being a huge, unified movement with clear goals, led by the most oppressed layers of society, with the capacity for long-term struggle – things have steadily improved.

First of all, the occupation has lasted more than two weeks and it’s growing every day. Many tens of thousands of people have participated in this occupation in some way or another – from the thousands who have slept out or marched or stopped by, to the thousands of pizzas ordered for us, the thousands of dollars sent our way, and the thousands watching the livestream and emailing and calling and tweeting. Add this to occupations being planned in something like 70 cities in theUSalone, not to mention those happening in other countries (both those in solidarity with us, and those that were our inspiration). Labor, student, and community groups from around the city are joining, and they bring with them serious organizers and community members from the most oppressed and marginalized communities in New York. They also bring their own concrete demands, which are easy to support because they are obvious, as they have always been.

Next, we have taken steps to define ourselves, to write documents to that affect, and to move toward a collective consciousness that is bold and uncompromising. Those documents that define us take forever to write, because we all participate in their writing (yes, it’s a bit of a drag, but revolutions aren’t so easy when we are fighting for the type of liberation that demands self-management). Now, to be clear, I have always been a strong proponent of clear demands – because they help define our struggle, point the way to actions we want to take, give us tools for measurement, communicate with people outside of the occupation, and represent those busy struggling elsewhere. However, I do want to point out that we have been able to continue to grow and bring new communities in despite a lack of demands, and that those people and groups will bring their own. I also think our demands really aren’t as mysterious as some people are letting on; I think our critics are playing dumb. Let’s cut the crap. We wouldn’t be on Wall Street if we didn’t already have an implicitly unifying message: We hold the banks, the millionaires, and the political elite they control, responsible for the exploitation and oppression we face – from capitalism, racism and authoritarianism to imperialism, patriarchy, and environmental degradation. We have a diversity of grievances, complaints, demands, principles, and visions, but it is clear that we have planted ourselves in the financial capital of the world because we see it as one of the most deeply entrenched roots of the various systems of oppression we face every day. Come on. The clue is in the title: Occupy Wall Street.

Every day, the occupiers see themselves more and more connected to a movement – a movement around the country and the world, but also a movement through time, stretching from the giants who came before us to the future giants we will be. Every day more people from different communities join, and in their attempt to represent themselves, they bring their people, their demands, their languages, their struggles. Every day more grassroots organizations – struggling around housing or healthcare, for adjunct professors or postal workers – join the fight, bringing with them the clear message that this movement must be grounded in the hard organizing work that took place before this occupation and will continue after it. This deepening of consciousness and realization of the connection between the different struggles we wage will be among the most important things to come out of this.

We have already taken back some space – space for new forms of democratic participation, for the type of initiative and creativity discouraged by the status quo, for autonomy within solidarity, for experiments of self-management and equity and solidarity, for a type of rebellion that rejects permits, pens and sidewalks, one that demands streets and bridges instead – someday also buildings and governments. It will be hard, I hope, for us to go back to the pens in the future, having tasted what it’s like to stand among thousands in the pouring rain on the Brooklyn Bridge, and that’s quite a liberating step forward.

These are enormous victories not only in the consciousness of a new generation of fighters, but also in the creation of a new narrative – one that refuses to accept the myth that Americans don’t struggle, that we can be bought off with TVs and iphones, that things really aren’t so bad and we’re willing to let injustice happen because we get a bigger piece of the bounty our military and capitalists extract from others. No, we are rewriting the story, telling it ourselves, tweeting and tagging it, filming and singing it, writing it with our arrests and the bruises we get from the terrified and bewildered police who will eventually have to either join us or get the hell out of the way. And the story will be an important force not only in this struggle, but in the many to come. We will tell the story while we are at work and school, on the picket lines, in marches, at our next occupations and sit-ins, in jail when the bosses get frightened enough to tell their henchmen to arrest us in the hundreds as they did on October 1st, and the story will help us remember and imagine our boundless potential while we fight on.”

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