How I Perceive the Occupy Movement (For Now)

October 19, 2011

As word spreads about Occupy Wall Street, it's getting harder and harder for the typically apolitical to ignore it. Because my Facebook wall has become something of a clearinghouse for Occupy-related news, I frequently field inquiries on what it's all about. Here's the most recent:

"Maz, can you clearly explain to me what the goal of OWS is? I've asked about 40 people and no one comes even close to an intelligible answer. Seriously though, I am very curious."

It's true, the amorphous nature of the Occupy Movement can make it difficult to put into words. There are no "leaders"—in the most typical sense of the word—to approach for all the answers. Instead, supporters have chosen to operate in the spirit of collectivism; the will of the group having priority over that of the individual. We're all welcome to our own interpretations, and the process encourages us to find common ground. I find that refreshing and necessary, even, because building a better world will require more imagination and cooperation than seems to exist in our state and national capitals. So, without further ado, here's how I responded:

"Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and, now, the global Occupy Movement, is about money, power and opportunity. Specifically, it's a rejection of a political and economic system that before anyone else serves the already wealthy and corporate interests.  

In order to become a politically viable force, the first step was (and continues to be) to bring people together around that broad notion. Each occupation has nightly General Assemblies (GA), where participants (anyone who chooses to attend) practice direct democracy through consensus-building processes to determine their occupation's goals and strategies. This process stands in stark contrast to both our electoral and policy-making processes, which are mired in corruption and cronyism.

The reason no one is able to provide a crystal clear answer as to what the goal is, is because the ultimate goal has yet to be established. What we do have, for now, is the OWS first official declaration; a compilation of grievances that thousands and thousands of participants and supporters have agreed are issues of great concern to humanity.

The occupation itself is an awareness-raising tool that grows more effective as more people join (as occupiers or supporters in various capacities). A day in an occupation is more than just the GA, rallies, marches, sign-toting and yelling. The occupations are also meant to serve as a public display of the sort of humane, egalitarian, democratic and cooperative society that supporters believe in; one where everyone, rich or poor, has a voice.  

It's also about education—workshops on an array of subjects are being held on the regular. It's about collaboration—working together to literally keep a community going. Working groups are established on food, logistics, tactics, media, education, arts and culture and more. Under this model, everyone has a job; everyone can make a meaningful contribution to society; our destinies are not under the control of CEOs and corporate boards who can put thousands out of work with the wave of their hands. 

How this will affect our status quo, our existing political apparatus, is unclear—which is fine. The idea is that we don't have to wait for someone up high to tell us what we're supposed to do; that we have the power to be a part of that decision. And, who knows how long that might take? [Re]building a society with our collective well being in mind, rather than that of the richest among us, won't be a quick or easy process.  

Even if the Occupations disperse, if nothing else, we want them to have shaped the national and global discourse about how people should be governed. We want them to have altered our mass psyche in a way that will foster greater solidarity and respect for humanity and the natural environment in the future. 

There is no simple answer. In many ways, it requires a leap of faith for those of us who have been hard-wired to believe that we just have to live with what we have, for better or worse. But, with Occupations and meet-ups having gathered in over 1,500 cities worldwide, this movement seems to be capturing a lot of people's imaginations."

For more on the origins and emergence of Occupy Wall Street, read Nathan Schneider's "From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Everywhere" on TheNation.com.

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