For The Old Mole Variety Hour, November 7
Occupation: The Missing Left Creates Itself
There has been a lot of debate around whether the Occupation movement needs to define itself more clearly with a set of demands. Or would doing so risk excluding big parts of the 99% that the movement claims, not just to represent, but to be.
For example, the presence of many homeless people at the Occupation encampments presents problems for the public perception of the movement and for the occupiers themselves who are committed to feeding, sheltering, and caring for everyone who shows up. It seems to some of the occupiers that the homeless are free-loaders. According to one activist at Occupy Portland, (quoted by the Willamette Week
reporter who spent two days there) “More than half of the Occupiers here are homeless people,” he says. “Quite honestly, a lot of them don’t know what the movement is.”
… an as-yet undetermined number of the campers are motivated less by the political message than by the reality that their needs are being met, with hot food, access to bathrooms, and a space to sleep in shelter patrolled by police around the clock.
Some of these people are mentally ill and very disruptive, making life difficult for the people wanting to focus the protest on issues.
On the other hand, the middle-class occupiers have a lot to learn from the homeless among them. Barbara Ehrenreich
What occupiers from all walks of life are discovering, at least every time they contemplate taking a leak, is that to be homeless in America is to live like a fugitive. The destitute are our own native-born “illegals,” facing prohibitions on the most basic activities of survival. They are not supposed to soil public space with their urine, their feces, or their exhausted bodies. Nor are they supposed to spoil the landscape with their unusual wardrobe choices or body odors.
Not only do the occupiers learn what it’s like to be homeless, but they learn from the homeless how to cope with living rough in an urban landscape. Arun Gupta writes in Salon
…many occupiers are learning from homeless people, and argue they are a legitimate part of the movement. Zach from Occupy Cleveland says, “The homeless have been occupying the streets for decades more than us. They know how to last through the winter. They’ve been such a huge help with teaching us how to set up our tents, how to keep extra warm … They’ve been going on all our marches and are street-smart on how to be safe.”
So it might be that learning how to get along with and work with each other is part of what the Occupation movement is all about – learning to be the change we want to see in the world.
We can see this from another angle by turning to Bruce A. Dixon writing in the Black Agenda Report
. He asks “Occuptation Where? What’s in it for Black and Brown People”, and says, “The answer is plenty, and we need to hurry up and claim it.” According to Dixon, the “wave of occupation” has injected
a note of realityinto the nation’s political discourse. The plain truth is that Democrats don't rule. Republicans don't rule. Corporations reign. Plutocrats decide. Finance capital rules. Capitalism works for the one percent and against the other 99%, and is therefore fundamentally illegitimate. Discredited are the nonsense phrases about how “government has to live within its means,” and “the rich are the job-creators.” “We are the 99%” may not be deep analysis of political economy, but it's a promising start, an open door, an invitation to investigate and explain how inequality and injustice are not bugs in the system, but have always been its basic features. These were utterances which six months ago were deemed outside and beyond sensible political discourse. Now they are admitted as the plain truth by millions.…
The potential of the movement lies, not in a specific set of demands that might come out of it, but that it
provides a standing place to go for people wanting to take part in… something that challenges the established order. By [visibly] occupying space day after day in hundreds of cities and towns, occupiers are magnets for people to come, to connect and compare their lives and expectations with those of neighbors. This is exactly the sort of thing corporate marketing and the corporate domination of the cable and broadcast airwaves are calculated to prevent.
Corporate media are [like] the matrix in the movie by the same name, in that they provide a round the clock universe to immerse oneself into. Maintaining these occupations as sites where people can unplug themselves and connect with whatever real-time and [face-to-face] political activity and movement exists near them is a vital public service.
So what's in it for us, and how do we claim it?
The occupation, both as tactic and as movement, has opened a door that we need to stick our foot in before it closes.
As Glen Ford said
, black and brown people have to step up and claim our place in the 99%. …
If occupying public spaces with human bodies is a tactic that works for white hipsters in the middle of town, why can't it work elsewhere, with them AND with us? Why can't it work with the abandoned and foreclosed properties in our neighborhoods? Why can't it work with our public transit system? These are the questions that black activists in Atlanta and elsewhere are asking.
Maybe these occupations create a liberated space where all the subordinated peoples of this system can live and work and think together outside the boxes of ideological illusions secreted and constructed in and for the pursuit of money. Within this space, people might learn to enact a new politics enabling us to exert a power commensurate with our numbers. The political problem that has plagued the Left for generations is how to educate the masses to understand the terms of their oppression. Perhaps this education will not come from books and pamphlets or a vanguard of organizers, but from the people occupying physical spaces in cities in which through their practical activity of living and working together, they can create themselves as the 99% conscious of itself as the power that can govern the world, out weighing the fictive power of the 1% that has bamboozled most of us since the dawn of recorded history.