Voices from the Occupation
Is the Occupy Movement Naïve?
I have been a participating in the Occupy Movement since 15th October, and a member of the Occupy London Finsbury Square camp and media working group since early November. The most common questions I have been asked, and have been asked over and over in the media, are:
Who is leading the occupy movement?
What are the goals of the movement?
Is the Occupy Movement naïve?
In this article, I seek to explore and address these questions, through my own experience and some of the voices from the global occupation.
Who is Leading the Occupy Movement?
This question is based on a premise that people are lead, by other people. The civil rights movement had Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks. The UK miners’ strikes of the 1980’s had Arthur Scargill. The suffragettes had Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst. The Levellers of the 19th century had Gerrard Winstanley. There has always been a ‘leader’, or at least a notional figurehead. However, there are precedents for leaderless movements based on horizontal democracy in western protest movements in recent times, namely the environmentalist movements. Many features of the way Occupy camps operate on a daily basis are derived from the mechanisms learned and developed by Climate Camp.
For the uninitiated, it would appear no one leads the camp. In reality, everyone leads the camp. There is no figurehead, no boss, no leader. The camps are constituted of people who stay on camp and who pass through. Anyone, living on camp or not, can choose to start or join a working group around some social utility, purpose or interest: outreach, media, waste, tech, art, therapy, dancing, kitchen, process, the list goes on.
It is each person’s personal choice to join a working group, start a working group, or spend their time wandering around attending talks, educating themselves and helping out with the washing up when they can. Participation is encouraged and not enforced.
The decision making system on site is the General Assembly. Everyone, on or off camp, is welcome to come along at 7pm each evening. Anyone can raise a proposal, anyone can veto a proposal. A number of hand signals are employed to allow people to communicate while someone is speaking, without shouting them down or cheering them to the point they are unheard. Decisions are made by consensus rather than majoritarian voting. This means rather than majority rule, you get a much broader method of developing an idea to its most workable state.
Inside of this, people get to develop their own leadership. I have experience in my working life of leading groups, speaking ideas into existence and building teams. However, I had to learn from scratch in this new environment. I found myself, on arrival at camp, looking for the leader, asking permission to start this blog, seeking approval. There is a great sign on most camps I have attended which simply states: If you see a job that needs doing, it’s yours. This has a profound impact on people’s perception of responsibility. It is not your responsibility to merely ‘do your job’, or ‘vote’, or ‘report a problem’ to some authority figure to deal with. Each person is equally responsible for the cohesion of their community. One of the ways in which this impact can be most readily seen, is the notable lack of litter around the camps.
For all the direction and speed of decision making that results from a leader, or a leadership body based on hierarchy – there is also a disenfranchisement and a value hierarchy of contributions; this accounts for how many people in our society now feel the Chief Executive is WORTH 150 times the person serving his lunch. One thing I have personally realised is that actually, being able to eat warm nutritious food is every bit as important as writing an article, or facilitating a general assembly. I don’t want my contribution valued or compensated to any higher a degree than the Kitchen working group. Why? Because my contribution, made freely, means I am doing what I am most interested in doing and so are they. My day is interesting and so is theirs. My contribution is valued and so is theirs. People can derive their fulfilment and satisfaction from their own self actualisation, not their relative position in the value hierarchy to someone else.
What are the Goals of the Occupy Movement?
In a word, myriad; many and widespread, but centred around two themes. One, a socio-political and economic system created and managed by the people, for the people. And two, a reimagining of our relations with ourselves, each other and our planet - the recreation of living sustainable lives in community with each other and nature.
I hear this question asked a lot more by those not contributing to or participating in the Occupy Movement, than by those who are. I think it is abundantly clear to anyone currently participating, that the current world system is broken. A new means of social organisation is required and this will take time to create. Therefore, each day is one step closer to developing that idea. It is clear, obvious and frankly, essential that there is no rush to solutions, but a real and substantive conversation on a global scale about what on earth we do next – or what we do next on earth.
If we were to take the analogy of building a house, we are not even building the foundations at the moment. We are in another house, with a leaky roof, a vermin infestation, a mortgage we can’t afford, which is collapsing around our ears. A bunch of people have declared that house redundant and moved onto the lawn to figure out what to do about it. Firstly, we need to figure out how to get the other people out of the collapsing house before they get crushed. Then we need to figure out what about that house and our behaviour in it, made it collapse. Then we consider what basic essentials our new house and our means of operating inside it would need to have. Then how we build that house in such a way that we avoid what happened when we built the last one. Then we build it. Then we move in and start turning it into our home.
This is a radical idea, it is a revolutionary idea, and it will take time, patience, cooperation and the contribution of as many human beings as possible. This doesn’t mean some short term disaster abating actions cannot be taken, in an effort to limit the worst impacts of ‘the collapsing house’. But these are content goals, and the Occupy Movement is primarily about shifting the context we live our lives in, more than tinkering with the content, leaving the context untouched and ready to lead us in the same ludicrous direction in the future.
Is the Occupy Movement Naïve?
na·ive or na·ïve
1. Lacking worldly experience and understanding, especially:
a. Simple and guileless; artless: a child with a naive charm.
b. Unsuspecting or credulous
2. Showing or characterized by a lack of sophistication and critical judgment
In reviewing the Occupy Movement against the definition of naivety set out above, one has to come to the conclusion that it is not naïve. In fact, considering the current state of play within the global system of capitalism, one might consider it naïve not to be reviewing ones options right now. The world is undergoing a series of simultaneous crises on a global scale – the food crisis, the environmental crisis, the financial crisis – to name but three.
No mainstream political party or media outlet is asking the fundamental questions being asked in the pubs, kitchens and gardens of people around the country and the world. The Occupy Movement is a place to go to ask those questions, explore those issues, and to reconnect with what it is to be a human being, not a product/consumer.
Einstein said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Right now, as you read this, central banks, corporations and governments are operating in a business as usual fashion and most of us are expecting a different result. Or at the least, hoping for one. The government is telling us it is an age of austerity but we must continue to consume, the banks must lend. They have to do this inside the current system due to Keynesian paradox of thrift. The logical thing to do when you are overextended and struggling to balance your finances, is to increase your income and/or reduce your spending. However, if we all stopped shopping like idiots and saving our pennies – UK GDP would fall off the charts and we would lose our jobs as our companies went bust, ending off poorer for our trouble.
So, if your wages are cut and your cost of living goes up – how are you meant to keep consuming? More credit. So the system must limp on until it breaks.
So, the question – is the occupy movement naïve? - is bogus. I see it asked a lot on the basis that it seems naïve to want a better world. We are under so much pressure to subscribe to these pessimistic, fatalistic arguments for public austerity in the name of corporate prosperity, that there is no space for any other argument.
To paraphrase a popular quote: the best means of social control is to limit the conversation, but to allow vigorous debate within that conversation. Therefore, it looks like an argument. It looks like Labour and Tory, Democrat and Republican, Guardian and Daily Mail are in vigorous debate. In reality, the conversation is so limited that their debate is futile.
The Occupy Movement is breaking open the conversation. People are gathering to ask questions about social justice, equality, gender, race, sexuality, class, economics, ecology, art, education, work, our own opinions and role in all of these. This is a global conversation on a scale which has never been witnessed before, because it was not technologically possible before. But while it is global in scale, it is local in action.
So if you are asking any of the above questions, who are you looking to for the answers? The news? The papers? This blog? You tube videos? Facebook? How about you take a moment and remove the middle man? How about not looking to anyone else to give you their opinion, but to find your own from real experience? How about being willing to have your opinion impacted by that experience? Take a bus, a train, a walk to your nearest occupation and not only ask them, but answer it for yourself, because we are the 100%. You have a place here. Your views are sought. Your contribution is required. You are of value. Those thoughts in your head could be the contribution that makes the difference.
Watch this video, if you are in any doubt....