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A Brief Analysis from a Wall Street Occupier

By: Yotam Marom
Amauta contributor

Publicado el: Jueves, 13 de octubre del 2011

Writing for Ourselves

The occupation of Wall Street is now in its third week. Thousands of people have worked and fought for it, have given it their time, their bodies, their ideas, their blood. People have used their bodies as shields, sent letters of solidarity, marched, slept out, donated, tweeted, and more. There are thousands more still who have not been with us, whether because of geographical reasons or because they are busy struggling elsewhere.

I have been involved, in some way, with the occupation on Wall Street since the first planning meeting a number of months ago, and I have been out there almost every day since the occupation actually began, though mostly keeping quiet and working on the sidelines – often critically. I have participated in assemblies and working groups, done outreach to community organizations, pushed demands, been to dozens of meetings, gone hoarse from chanting about the banks, been bruised by metal police batons while marching for Troy Davis, and had about a million incredible conversations – at the occupation at Liberty Plaza itself, in other political contexts around New York, and even in jail with the 87 friends I made during the mass arrests of September 24th. I am not an authority, and others have struggled and sacrificed much more than I, but I have learned a lot; enough, I think, to begin sharing some of it.

The struggle is still very much underway; those of us who can, who have that privilege, should be out in the streets, so now might not be the time for the most thorough analysis. It is, however, important for occupiers to be writing in our own words – to reach out to the many around the world who want to be a part of this in some way, to offer our own analyses (infinitely more powerful than those provided by pundits from far away), and to counter the media black-out we are experiencing. 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.

What We Have Already Won

I have to admit, I was skeptical. I saw too many young white college kids and not enough grassroots organizers from New 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 the US alone, 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 effect, 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.

Battles to Come

Occupations are an incredibly important mode of resistance, an expression of a dual power strategy. On one hand, they give us the space and time with which to create an alternative, to practice, to learn, to create new relations, to become better revolutionaries, and to experience community. At the same time, they serve as a base camp from which to wage a struggle against the institutions that oppress us, to knock down the oppressors, to protect that alternative, to liberate more space. Both are important. And yes, we face challenges in each realm.

Internally, we have to make sure we are modifying our structures to meet the needs of the people participating in them as we change and grow. We have to make sure that the de-centralization we are fostering actually empowers those who aren’t already conditioned by this society to speak a lot and lead and give directions. We have to find and create a new and diverse ways for people to participate, especially those too busy or too threatened by the daily brutalities they already face to be able to join us in occupations or marches. We have to continue to work to formulate a message together – not only because it will attract and represent others or clarify our multitude of voices for the outside world, but also because the process will be educational for us and it will ground us in the real struggles we have inherited from being part of a movement together. Above all, perhaps, we must continue to educate ourselves and each other – about everything from the systems of oppression we face, to the history of various peoples and struggles, to strategies for winning and practical skills to carry them out.

And perhaps even more important than learning about the ways we are kept down, is learning and exploring the world we might want instead, one without capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and authoritarianism – an economic, political, and social model that is solidaristic, equitable, self-managing, ecologically sustainable, liberating, intimate, warm, and creative. We have to spend some of this precious time developing the values of the society we are fighting for, so that we can imagine the institutions we will need to build in order to live them out. We have to do this because that’s what it will take to defeat the age-old mantra that there is no alternative; we have to do it because imagining that alternative will give us hope and strength to struggle, because it will define the different ways we can fight and the different institutions we need to build for ourselves now, because it will give us the foundation on which to build a movement beyond one or even a hundred occupations. We must do it because dreaming is part of what gives us the strength to actually create those institutions we want to live in, as we fight to knock the rotten ones down.

Externally, then, it is simple. We have to draw clear lines from the oppression heaped on this society to the agents responsible for it. If Chase bank is foreclosing on homes, we need to foreclose on Chase Bank. If the city government is cutting schools and homeless shelters, we need to shut it down. They want quiet streets, un-interrupted work-days, pristine bank branches, functional government institutions, productive workplaces, docile schools, and lines of unflinching shoppers. They want business as usual, and that’s what we have to take from them. Liberty Plaza is not the struggle; it is the home for the creation of the alternative, and the staging ground for the fight that takes us out into the streets, to make business as usual truly untenable.

We win when we build diverse movements led by the most oppressed people in society, capable of proposing an alternative, laying the seeds for it, and taking the power necessary to transform it from the alternative to the norm. We win when we raise social costs to the point that those hopeless few elites find themselves left with no carrots to wave before us and no sticks big enough to do us any harm. We win when we show no signs of weakening, when we refuse to go home. We win when the movement grows and grows and grows with no sign of letting up. We win when losing is not an option, when winning is the only way to really be human.

(Art: Matt Huynh)

Part II: More Reflections from a Wall Street Occupier

The Movement Is Growing

This time it was even harder to break away to write.

Liberty Plaza is teeming with people gathering for assemblies, talking politics, or meeting in work teams. 300 occupiers are listening intently to a lecture on participatory economics, while others are posing for pictures with the enormous golden made and donated by local interfaith leaders. There are people passing by on their way to work, travelers getting off tour buses to take pictures, students from local high schools being toured around. There are people from the Bronx and Bed-Stuy, Minneapolis and Madrid. There are drag queens networking with transit workers, Rabbis leading a thousand people through a Yom Kippur ceremony, and members of the People of Color Caucus planning to “Occupy the Hood.” People are doing yoga, teaching composting techniques, cleaning the square, and livestreaming the occupation to its million viewers worldwide. Some even manage to steal a few hours of sleep amidst all the commotion.

Last night, while on the phone with a journalist (who wouldn’t have returned our phone calls two weeks ago but is now begging us to say something, anything), I stumbled upon an impromptu demonstration at the famed Charging Bull. This was only blocks away from a pop-up Occupy Wall Street art exhibition, which happened to be across the street from a towering financial building newly donned with a banner reading – “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.” Downtown Manhattan is an occupied zone, a bustling revolutionary city-center. People are taking the struggle on the road, expanding it, pushing it forward. We are making the movement part of our lives, and our lives part of the movement.

Over 100 cities in the US have active occupations right now, with more than 1,300 cities hosting formal meetings to plan for them. At the rate of change in this movement today, by the time this piece gets edited and published in a day, the numbers will be higher. Hundreds of cities around the country and the world will be carrying out actions in unison on October 15th. Unions and community organizations have joined the fight, and national organizations are trying to decide how to best join the movement without thwarting or co-opting it (which frankly, they couldn’t do, even if they tried). The pundits are conjecturing their heads off, while politicians of all stripes scuttle about, trying to figure out just how to try to use us. And yes, they are talking about us in Congress and in the White house, even sending their messengers to the occupation itself.

They would be fools not to. We are winning.

We Are Winning

Every once in a while, in the course of some enormous struggle, those driven, tired, frazzled fighters have a moment or two to stop and think, to pick our heads up and look ahead. I had a moment like that a few days ago, and that’s when it hit me – like a blow to the head: We are winning. We are winning.

Sure, we haven’t captured government institutions, haven’t smashed the banks and the classes that control them, haven’t even won concrete reforms or come up with solid institutions to protect our gains. We aren’t even close to finishing the fight or creating the world we wish to live in. But – alongside revolutionaries around the world – we have helped to unlock the hidden and slumbering potential of millions of people, ready to believe again that there is an alternative. We have reignited hope in the possibility of a free society, punctured a small hole in the hegemony of cynicism, liberated some space in our hearts and our minds to gather the strength to fight and to dream. What was inconceivable just a month ago is now so very real.

And then the second part of the thought hit me: If we are winning, then what do we want?

What Do We Want?

The media and politicians call us muddle-headed, and confused. They claim we have no demands or purpose. Well, let’s set the record straight. It’s not that we don’t have demands; it’s that we speak them in a different language. We speak them with our struggle. Our movement is made up of people fighting for jobs, for schools, for debt relief, equitable housing, and healthcare. We are resisting ecological destruction, imperialism, racism, patriarchy, and capitalism. We are doing it all in a way that is participatory, democratic, fierce, and unwavering. There is nothing very vague about that.

But we do not stop there. That, perhaps, is what sets us apart from those who wish to use our tremendous and growing power for small gains or modest reforms. We want more. We want it all. We want a political and economic system that we all actually control together, one that is equitable and humane, one that allows for people to self-manage but act in solidarity, one that is participatory and democratic to its core. We want a world where people have the right to their own identities, communities, and cultures, and the freedom from oppression and constraint. We want a world with institutions that take care of our youth, our elderly, and our families in ways that are nurturing, liberating, and consensual. We want a world in which community is not a hamper on individual freedom, but rather an expression of its fullest potential.

If that’s not a clear enough statement of demands for you, CNN, I don’t know what to tell you. And you know what? We’re only getting warmed up.

As we keep fighting, we will continue to ask ourselves difficult questions. What world do we envision? What values do we want to live by? What institutions do we need in order to live those values? What structures will we build to protect what we’ve won and create a platform for continued struggle? What will we win for ourselves, and what will we win for generations to come? How will we fight these enormous battles in a way that is both effective and reflective of the new world we are ushering in?

October 15th and Beyond

Make no mistake about it, we are not aimless; we simply speak a different language – a language of mutual respect, participation, self-management, and action. We make our demands in this language that screams that we are here for the long-run, that our goal is not merely reform, that our vision is deep and radical, that we will not be bought off or co-opted, and that we are prepared to struggle in order to win not only those gains we can pronounce now but also those we can’t even fully articulate yet. We claim our space through actions that shout that we are here to stay, that this movement isn’t going home, that we are winning already, and that there is no turning back. We build this movement through the firm and fearless declaration that another world is possible, and that anything less is unacceptable.

You will see our demands plastered on subway walls, scrawled on hanging banners, tweeted across oceans, marched on the shoulders of hundreds of thousands, shouted in unison from millions of streets, windows, and computers screens. You will see them all over the world, from post-industrial cities to the country-sides, from capitals to shanty-towns. You will see them expressed in the streets of New York City on October 15th, when we bring the battle straight to the banks – those shiny little storefronts of finance capital. You will see our demands when we descend on the fluorescent decadence of Times Square and re-decorate it with our humanity.

Yes, we speak a different language, a fearless and visionary one. We are shouting, with every ounce of passion and strength we can muster: Of course there is an alternative. It is us.

 

Yotam Marom is an organizer, educator, musician, and writer. He is a member of the Organization for a Free Society, and can be reached at Yotam.marom@gmail.com.

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