Patrice Riemens on Tue, 7 Feb 2012 00:32:44 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Nathan Schneider: Planet Occupy (Harpers Magazine)

original to:


Planet Occupy
By Nathan Schneider

Imagining an Occupied world

I recently learned about a revolutionist pamphlet published last year in
Spain called La Carta de los Comunes. It begins with an intriguing
conceit. Set in 2033 in a magical-realist Madrid, it tells of a population
whose bodies became physically hunched over in submission to a wealthy
few. At last, with their livelihoods nearly eviscerated, the people rise
up and take over their city. They resurrect the medieval notion of the
commons, creating a domain of shared resources apart from the market and
bureaucratic oversight. They learn to stand upright again. The pamphlet
then presents a Magna Carta for their new society.

I can't resist applying a similar futurism to Occupy Wall Street, the
phenomenon whose origins I describe in the February 2012 issue of
Harper's. Even the most hopeful young occupiers are starting to realize
that their revolutionary dreams might take longer to achieve than a
semester's leave from school -- and justly so. As I noticed during the
planning process, and have continued to see in the movement thus far, even
those most centrally involved are constantly discovering for themselves
where it is leading.

The question of what Occupy Wall Street is really about has been
notoriously thorny from the outset. The movement's attempts to craft
agreed-upon "demands" have generally fallen flat. Nevertheless, a set of
quite interesting but rarely discussed texts have withstood the
consensus-building process at local general assemblies. Reading them
closely, and with an eye to the praxis in the occupations themselves, I
see no quick-and-easy legislative, executive, or judicial patches for the
problems the movement means to confront. I came to think, instead, that
the movement's lasting contribution could be something substantially more
ambitious: a wholesale rethinking of political life, more akin to the
promulgation of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in
revolutionary France than, say, the introduction of a
financial-transaction tax or the revocation of the Supreme Court's
Citizens United decision in the United States. (Unlike the Declaration of
the Rights of Man, mind you, the Occupy documents rarely refer to
property, law, or patriotic sentiment. They don't even mention borders.)

It isn't crazy to think the time has come to go back to the drawing board,
politically. The constitutions of most Western nation-states were dreamed
up during the late Enlightenment, long before anyone could foresee such
realities as globalized mega-corporations profiting from chronic personal
and national debt, Internet companies possessing more private information
than the average diary, and undeclared wars being fought by drone
aircraft -- which have all contributed to what Occupy Wall Street describes
as a "feeling of mass injustice" in its Declaration of the Occupation of
New York City, approved on September 29 and now available as an attractive
pamphlet. Our familiar, Lockean governments have come to seem inept,
powerless to oppose the incorporeal profit machines that can, as the
declaration adds, "achieve the same rights as people, with none of the
culpability or responsibility." The Declaration of the Occupation is
addressed not to governments -- no hope there -- but rather "to the people of
the world," urging communities everywhere to "assert your power."

"We are creating an exemplar society," states Occupy Boston's Declaration
of Occupation. That being the case, let's attempt some Occupy sci-fi: What
would the world look like if the Occupy revolution were carried through to

"No one's human needs go unmet," continues the Boston declaration. Planet
Occupy, like last fall's occupations, provides food and shelter for
everyone, no questions asked. It also ensures health care, mutual
education, childcare, legal representation, and a large, meticulously
catalogued library. Sounds like a good social democracy -- except that, in
the words of Occupy Wall Street's Principles of Solidarity, the basic unit
of political life is not the ballot box but "autonomous political beings
engaging in direct and transparent participatory democracy." Though they
might be wired to the teeth, the political beings of Planet Occupy carry
out their democracy face to face, in well-coordinated small groups that
operate by consensus. It's "participatory as opposed to partisan," adds
the Statement of Autonomy, suggesting that the aim on Planet Occupy is for
all voices to be heard, rather than for one party to prevail over others.
Those with "inherent privilege" defer whenever possible to others. The
consolidation of power is discouraged, and resisted when necessary.
Policing troublemakers becomes the job not of cops, but of assertive,
well-trained listeners.

The movement's documents contain fewer hints about Planet Occupy's
economy. The Principles of Solidarity calls for "redefining how labor is
valued," which may look something like the worker-owned cooperatives
currently being developed at the Freedom Plaza occupation in Washington,
D.C. Broadly speaking, human needs prevail over claims on profit.
Companies are chartered for the public good, not private gain.
Participatory democracy prevails in workplaces, neighborhoods, and other
productive groupings. Many aspects of the economy -- food, especially -- remain
local. This is necessary partly in order to preserve and sustain the
natural environment. Everyone on Planet Occupy knows, after all, that if
they don't protect the planet, there will be nothing left to occupy.

Even with its inhabitants' passion for local autonomy, though, Planet
Occupy is a globalized place. People and their ideas travel freely,
creating new opportunities and partnerships wherever they go. Assemblies
share their plans and innovations over Interoccupy. (The movement's
conference-call network will have supplanted the original Internet, which
was overrun by corporate advertising.) Following the urge in the
Principles for "the broad application of open source," all ideas are
common property, and these collective resources are, according to the
Statement of Autonomy, valued more highly than money -- if money still exists
at all. SOPA-style censorship in the name of ownership is not okay.

Also not okay is using violence to resolve conflicts. Almost every Occupy
document makes some statement to this effect. Occupy Boston's Memorandum
of Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples envisions "a new era of peace and
cooperation that will work for everyone." When conflict occurs, as is
inevitable, people resist injustice through "non-violent civil
disobedience and building solidarity based on mutual respect, acceptance,
and love," in accordance with the Principles. Every such struggle is both
local and global.

Is this anarchist utopia realistic, or even desirable? It's at least a
little out there. Perhaps a lot out there. But the Declaration of the
Rights of Man, drafted while Louis XVI still had his head, wasn't easy to
comprehend in its time. The circumstances of our world exceed the politics
we're used to imagining for it, and the politics that are really necessary
might therefore seem impossible. "We have come to Wall Street as refugees
from this native dreamland, seeking asylum in the actual," explains
"Communiqué 1," an article in the movement journal Tidal. "We seek to
rediscover and reclaim the world."

<<Nathan Schneider is a writer living in Brooklyn. His story "Some
Assembly Required," which traces the birth of Occupy Wall Street, appears
in the February 2012 issue of Harper's Magazine. Schneider previously
blogged for Harper's about the General Assembly process at Occupy Wall
Street, and whether Occupy encampments should be covered by the First
Amendment. >>

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info:
#  archive: contact: