The DNA Of Occupy
Above: A demonstrator holds a sign during an Occupy Wall Street protest in lower Manhattan in New York October 3, 2011. (Photo: Reuters).
How did Occupy resonate so deeply and how has it remained with us, three years later.
Occupy has entered our DNA. It is in our forms of relating, organizing and being. And, just as “during DNA replication, DNA unwinds so it can be copied,” so Occupy has retained its essence while it has multiplied and changed form.
Many people have discussed the importance that the “conversation changed,” and we as a society now discuss class, inequality and power through the slogan of the 99% and concepts of corporate rule. But it is the meanings and actions behind these discussions that is what has made the most impactful change. People are the 99% and feel it, exclaim it. When we chant, “We are the 99%” it is said with a sense of power, with our heads held a little higher and backs straighter. People have a newfound dignity in being in the majority. And not only do we feel dignity, but we no longer feel shame. Over the past decades in the U.S. (and many other parts of the world) to be poor, to face eviction or foreclosure, to need help, was something one hid. People would get evicted and pretend to their neighbors and even to their friends that they were just moving in with family and friends for a while, as if it was a choice. No longer. Now many of these same people go to their neighbors and together form assemblies to defend against evictions and foreclosures. Instead of hiding the fact that one has debt it is becoming part of a movement—Strike Debt!—turning the issue on the banks and discussing refusal instead of guilt and powerlessness.
While in a discussion about new global movements in a friend’s house in Charlotte, North Carolina this week, at a certain moment we realized that there were people in the room from Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Ashville. Most all had been involved in Occupy in each of those locations, some had participated in encampments, others not. They all continue to be active, and in various struggles, from immigrant rights and the defense of minors to not be deported, to the fast food workers organizing and strikes, to anti-police brutality and Ferguson solidarity marches and organizing, to abortion and gay rights defense. In the past, this would mean that people were involved in separate groups and organizations, each led by a traditional union or NGO. Now, there is a mix, and each of the groups is infused with a horizontal spirit of organizing, using the tactics of direct action over demands, or together with demands, and all network with one another. It is not about vying for domination of a political conversation or funding, but collaborating. This is new in North Carolina. As Tony Ndege from Occupy Winston-Salem explained, “It is the first nationwide movement in decades to exist outside of the realm of the establishment of either major party and address class. Occupy forged new relationships between new waves of people in various stages of radicalization.”
I am on a two month book tour of the U.S., beginning in North Carolina. Everywhere I go the question arises, what has Occupy accomplished? And everywhere people in the groups discussing the new global movements respond similarly, and with similar enthusiasm. Occupy changed everything. The U.S. is not the same place—there was a before and after. But the word “accomplished” can make people pause. Occupy is not a social or protest movement. Social and protest movements organize around specific goals and generally are comprised of people with similar ideas or even ideologies. Protest movements look to institutions of power as their targets, and look for change to come from those institutions. Occupy, and the DNA infused Occupy related organizing is comprised of many people from multiple backgrounds, with many goals and without one demand. Occupy has organized, as Goal from Occupy Farms in Albany, CA succinctly put it, with “goals without demands.”
Of course Occupy and its various current permutations organize around specific issues, and a multitude of them, from housing to defense of the environment, but we do so by first organizing together, forming assemblies and talking to one another, then deciding how to answer the question or issue, such as keeping someone housed or preventing the building of a pipeline, then we organize the actions to make that goal a reality—blocking trucks, marshals and oil companies. Then perhaps there are negotiations with those institutions, but first is the action and the assembly. A concept Uruguayan Raul Zibechi put forward: Societies in Movement, when discussing the autonomous and horizontal movements in Latin America seems much more apt. So the expectations that go with the idea of “accomplishments” does not work in the same way. We have accomplished keeping many hundreds if not thousands of people housed across the U.S., paid the medical debt of hundreds of others, stopped pipelines from being built, prevented water from being shut off to hundreds of families, organized the unorganized and on and on. Most of all however, we have accomplished new relationships, reclaiming our relationships to one another and creating new ways of doing things, new ways of being – horizontally and with direct action.
It is three years since Occupy Wall Street shook the world—and the reverberations are felt everywhere. No longer seen with the occupation of parks, plazas and squares, Occupy has relocated, it is in us, it is in our ways of being, relating and coming together. People are changed—feel more dignity and organize for a different world because of it. Occupy was never about a place or a moment—it was and is about a way of being and doing. As all ways of relating, it changed and changes, and must do so as to thrive.
We have created a new generation of organizers/activists who are not part of a movement to win one thing and then declare victory, but a movement that is about changing everything. And little by little this is happening. Slower than perhaps many of us would like, but in three years we have come a long way. As our Turkish sisters and brothers sang in Tencere Tava Havasi in Taksim Gezi Park, their “sound of pots and pans” reminiscent of the Argentine call to the street with the sound of banging pots and pans; we are going “slowly slowly, as the ground is still wet.”
Occupy’s DNA has taken hold.