Occupy ________

October, 2011

A guide for those still feigning perplexity. (Do you know who you are?)

This thing, this occupation is an idea as much as it is an act. It is an idea that no one place or group can own. It is an inhabit-able idea, an enact-able idea. It is a platform. A recipe. It is an awakening to the truth of our situation. It is a recognition of a shared predicament. It is a longing for a solution in common. We are together enduring a problem, and we are reaching out to one another, across our differences, across our distances, to find and recognize each other, to create the space to assemble, to assemble ourselves, to craft solutions together.

We had been preoccupied with the trinkets of the marketplace, with the spectacles prepared for our amusement. Or we had been preoccupied with our individual struggles for survival. Now our attention has focused beyond these, on the systems of production, accumulation and transmission that had captured us with tantalizing images, useless things and pointless labors. Now we are focused on what we have in common.

We had occupied a space that long before had been inhabited by others. Over hundreds of years we participated in massive displacements, making space for ourselves at the expense of others. We now find ourselves pushed out–out of our houses, out of our squares and parks. We discover that almost no free and public space remain to us. So we have committed ourselves to remaking a public place and holding it as a precious and necessary ground for reconstituting life.

Too many of us have been rendered unproductive as massive unemployment continues while the oligarchs and plutocrats reap ever greater rewards. So we have found a new vocation, and occupy ourselves with protest. Our presence in this space gives new meaning to being: it links our bodies and unrealized potentials to the idea that another world is possible.

Income and wealth are concentrated in the hands of a very small group of people in the U.S. and the world. Compared to other times, this situation has gotten worse. Compared to other places, we in the U.S. are among the least equal of all countries. This unfair distribution of resources is not a question of merit (the wealthy are no better than the rest, they have not done more, they are not smarter), of necessity (it does not need to be this way), or of greed or jealousy (the system distributes wealth unequally regardless of the ethics and desires of any individual). So it is simply a principal of the common good that demands that we create a world in which our assets are divided so that everyone can live a decent life.

There has always been a gap between the American ideals of equality and democracy and the reality of American political life. We have acted to close that gap before: to address racial and gender discrimination. Today we face a conspicuous degradation of the principals of equality and democracy based on the power of money. So corrupting is the influence of money on our political system that regular people have almost no say in governance. The failure of legislatures to make meaningful campaign reform, the decision of the supreme court to equate money with speech, and corporations with personhood, and the system of influence where business interests and governmental interests share personnel, all conspire to construct a system of plutocratic rule that is democratic in name only. The real effects of this situation are government policies that conspire with corporate interests to rob us of our wealth, to devastate our ecosystems, to destroy our health and our welfare, and to leave us uneducated and destitute.

Wall Street
A street is a public thoroughfare, or should be. Wall Street is owned, and it stands for a particular form of private wealth that is at the center of all that is wrong in the world. Moneyed power today is financialized, computerized, networked and globalized; it is a monstrously abstract force that has become more and more distant from everyday experience. The contrast Main Street / Wall Street emphasizes the way that the interests of moneyed power diverge from the interests of the people. Wall Street is a symbolic shorthand; it is not a real place. It is a fantasy: the market as a perfect system; the market as the complete model of social interaction. We reject that model because we embrace our full humanity, and we refuse to be a mere commodity. We are not satisfied to trade and contract for fractions of ourselves. We have needs and desires and thoughts, and friends and lovers, families and communities, and in the fullness of our being we will care for and love each other, and live not as things, but as people.
The 99%
We are learning to say “we.” It is a new way to conceive of ourselves. A multitude. We have so often been manipulated by divisions: the us against them frame is as divisive as it is easy and effective. But this we encompasses almost all of us: from the poorest to the very comfortable, all races, genders, and ethnicities. It is an identification that makes connections between groups that had been alienated. It foregrounds a division which had been hidden. It divides in the terms of a particular grievance: an elite has captured power and resources at the expense of the majority. It inaugurates a demand that our political economy must serve all of us and not just a tiny minority. We are the 99%; we are the great mass of people that assert: the world must be reordered to provide for all of us. You are with us, or you are against us. If you are against us–your program is laid bare and we are not fooled–you ally yourself with those who profit at our expense.

There may have been a time when a public square was recognized as a commons, valued as a central place of meeting, where society was visible and possible. Anyone could stand on a box and speak on the issues of the day; groups could gather and discuss. But when we tried to gather, we discovered that the public square had become a myth. There is no place where we are free to gather and speak. It is irrelevant that our Constitution guarantees us in its First Amendment the right to assembly and speech unabridged. We are harassed. We are beaten. We are arrested. What was public has become private. In that fearful rush to securitize space, or in our timid aversion to the blight of poverty, or in the quiet accumulation of space by the few, we have lost what we thought we held in common. We have discovered what the least of us had already known and experienced; it is possible not to have a place to be: to be homeless, to be dispossessed, and therefore to be threatened with the loss of voice. But we will not be silenced; we will have our say, and we will have a place to speak from.

We are not alone and we are not the first. We are among the last to awaken and the last to rise up. North Africa and Europe provided an example and we must be humble and willing to learn. It is too easy for us to imagine that we are the center of the world because of how so much of what affects the world emanates from here. We imagine we are free and in the name of freedom spread military and economic domination across the world. It is our special responsibility as Americans to contain and dismantle the military industrial entertainment complex which devastatingly projects its powers into the developing world. We must reign in our disproportionate overtaxing and polluting of the environment. We must abandon the path of exploitation and domination and find a way to harmonize our existence with the rest of the world in peaceful coexistence.

We will gather. We will speak. We will make new spaces public. We will occupy. We will multiply. We will tell strangers about what is happening. We will convince our families that things will and must change. We will utter our grievances loudly. We will spread the word in our neighborhoods and schools, in our shops and at our tables.  We will bring our friends together to act. We will divest from corrupt institutions. We will revive forbidden languages of dissent. We will invent new ways to protest. We will found new democracies. We will form new alliances. We will make new friends.  We will invent new possibilities. And we will change what is possible.  

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