Excerpted from Peter Marcuse:
“The Occupation movement that is spreading across the country has a number of purposes, plays a number of different roles, in the struggle for justice and a better life in our world.
A confrontation function, taking the struggle to the enemy’s territory, confronting, potentially disrupting, the operations at the center of the problem. It has the potential to disrupt Wall Street, by occupying space Wall Street needs to function; symbolically, hyperbolically, it waves a pointed knife over the heart of the economic beast. But it must be admitted that there is little push to actualize the potential; only in Oakland, thus far, has there been significant interference with the normal conduct of mainstream business. When neighbors complain about the noise and unpleasantness of Liberty Park’s occupiers in New York City, it is in their capacities as residents, not as business people, that they complain.
A symbolic function, The occupations show the existence and extent of a demand for change of many sorts, giving expression to and concretizing an inchoate but widely shared and deeply felt unhappiness about things as they are and the direction in which they are going, actively involving bodies in a coherent movement, calling for change not only Wall Street but at Harvard, Columbia, Harlem, the Port of Oakland, Portland, Chicago. The symbolism ties in to the occupations in the Arab Spring, and a long history of social protest.
An educational function, provoking questioning, exploration, juxtaposition of differing viewpoints and issues, seeking clarification and sources of commonality within difference. For Occupy Wall Street and many of the other occupations, the lesson is of the gap between the 1% and the 99%, often pushed to argue that not only is the gap unfair in a distributional sense, but also in terms of power, that it is in fact the power of the 1% that causes the pain for the 99%, that the wealth of the 1% is the result of the deprivation and repression of large numbers of the 99%, not some unfortunate maldistribution of society’s wealth for which no one is responsible.
A glue function, creating a community of trust and commitment to the pursuit of common goals.
It provides a way of coming together in a community for those who are deeply affected and concerned. The close physical proximity to each other, the close working together over time, the facing together of common obstacles and hardships, the very need to endure the difficult conditions of living together and meeting daily needs in an environment needing to be significantly reshaped by their own hands day in and day out, fosters strong reciprocal trust and mutual support.
An umbrella function, creating a space and a format in which quite disparate groups can work together in pursuit of ultimately consistent and mutually reinforcing goals, without issues of turf or competition inhabiting their common action. In this sense, it constitutes a political umbrella, an organizing base for an on-going alliance, not just a temporary coalition, of the deprived and discontented. It provides others a non-threatening way of joining together in marches, demonstrations, petitions, campaigns, in part by the very fact of being open to multiple demands, not forcing priorities among them, seeing them as pats of a single agenda, and not creating a separate organization. Look, for instance, at the range of organizations endorsing Occupy Wall Street’s recent actions; it is hard to recall any previous occasion that has brought so many together for a common purpose.
An activation function, inspiring others to greater militancy and sharper focus on common goals and specific demands. The movement is concerned to expose the role Wall Street, the 1%, play across a whole host of concerns around which there has already been active mobilization: housing, health, employment, culture, inequality, non-participatory democracy, racial and ethnic and gender discrimination. Wall Street by shining a light on, attracting attention to, the relationship between the 1% and the 99%, dramatizing inequality and the abuses of power, giving intellectual and symbolic substance to the critique of the prevailing economic and political system., and thus to encourage them to act as part of a common front against a system as to which they have a common interest to change.
And to activate not only symbolically, and not only as an umbrella for others’ activities, but by direct support of those activities: providing space for meetings, facilitating cross discussions among supporting groups and interests, organizing marches or rallies or other events in support of those whose actions lead to the shorter term but directly attainable goals, the non-reformist reforms, that point in the direction to Occupy’s own ultimate goals of change.
A model function, showing, by its internal organization and methods of proceeding, that an alternative form of democracy is possible and the process of change need not involve a reversion to hierarchical command structures of some previous revolutionary movements. It thus creates a possible alternative model of organization, not so much of spatial organization as of social and political organization, ways of living together, diversity, democratic decision-making, mutual support, self-help on a collective basis.
The use of Liberty Park and the purposes it is being asked to serve also raises a number of important questions about the nature and uses of public space.”