Beginning on Wall Street in New York City, occupations are springing up across the country in opposition to “corporate greed and corrupt politics.” Protesters of all backgrounds and ideologies are gathering to denounce the selfish excesses of “the 1%” – the financial and political rulers of this country who are responsible for these destructive policies. But the problem is not who happens to be in charge at the moment or the actions of a few bad apples. Capitalism as a whole is rotten to the core.
Capitalism is our current economic system in which land, natural resources, and human labor are privately owned or controlled by individuals or corporations. Their primary objective is to maximize profits. Poverty and inequality are not glitches in this system; they are essential to its operation. Capitalism could never put “people before profit.” It needs some people to be at the bottom, to keep wages down and profits up. But it can’t do that forever. Any system based on constant growth is inherently unsustainable--as demonstrated by the current global economic crisis.
Rather than protect the interests of the people, governments exist today to shore up capitalism at all costs. While bailing out corporations that are “too big to fail,” they impose austerity measures on the rest of us in the name of “shared sacrifice.” This sacrifice is clearly not shared by all, as the income gap continues to widen.
With growing inequality comes growing unrest, which reveals the other function of government: keeping the population in line. As the strong arm of the state, the police exist to suppress dissent, protect the interests of the powerful, and ensure the smooth operation of business as usual – by force, if they deem it necessary. The property of the rich will always be more important to them than the lives of the poor.
Occupying a government center instead of a financial institution calls attention to this link between capital and the State. Ideally, a successful occupation would aim to disturb the peaceful functioning of both. It is through this disruption that the opportunity for change arises. Anything short of that is merely a symbolic action that politely requests change from within the political and economic system. To really make meaningful change in our lives, we must dismantle this system.
Occupations are a good start. They create space for us to come together and experiment with new ways of relating to one another, outside of the normal flow of capital. Done well, they can temporarily halt this flow. If they are large enough or daring enough, they can even generalize into open revolt, breaking with the old in order to build something new.
The question is, how is it to be done?
BY ISSUING DEMANDS? Some have criticized the current wave of occupations for not having a singular message or issuing coherent demands, but this could be its greatest strength. What could we demand? A better political and economic system? Who could grant that? They wouldn’t give it to us even if they had the ability to do so. We want nothing from the powerful but their destruction.
BY SPREADING “DEMOCRACY”? Some see the General Assembly as a model of participatory democracy in action. While it is an improvement over our current political system, it perpetuates the problem of representation. Any centralized decision-making body hinders creativity and discourages independent action. Forcing everyone to come to an agreement stifles dissent and shrinks the horizon of what is possible. Eventually, it reduces everything to the lowest common denominator. No one can speak for us all, neither politicians nor self-appointed representatives.
BY PROMOTING CONFORMITY? Some think that to be successful, we must appeal to “Middle America,” whatever that is. This has taken the form of enforcing codes of speech, dress, and behavior, excluding ideas and people who fall outside these norms. This is a mistake. Our success depends on our willingness to support and defend one another, not on false “unanimity”. Left unchallenged, the shallow rhetoric of “We are the 99%” flattens us into a homogeneous mass and reaffirms existing class, race, and gender inequalities. It privileges the voices and experiences of those who already have power in society and silences everyone else. Our differences are a virtue, not a liability.
BY INSISTING ON “NONVIOLENCE”? Some say we must not break the law “too much”--or at all--for fear of upsetting or provoking the police. The police are not our allies. They may be working people, but they don’t work for us. If we limit ourselves to tactics they might find acceptable, we fail before we even start. All effective tactics will be equally opposed by the State, whether they are legal or not. Denouncing allies who use “unapproved” tactics is more alienating than the most radical actions. A diversity of strategies and tactics allows for diverse populations to act on their desires as they see fit.
DEMAND NOTHING. OCCUPY EVERYTHING.
DO NOT RECREATE THE STRUCTURES OF THE SYSTEM WE OPPOSE. Our strength lies in how uncontrollable we become, not how “legitimate” we appear in the eyes of the powerful. Beware of managers, mediators, and “liaisons” to police and politicians. Negotiation is the first step to concession, which is the first step to defeat.
OCCUPY SPACE FOR ITS OWN SAKE. By taking control of our environment, we can begin to take back our lives. We can stop asking for change and start creating it ourselves. The secret is to really begin.
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?