Becoming Legion: Are the Occupations a brief preoccupation or the sign of a world-altering transformation?
We may be witnessing the next stage in the evolution of revolutions, one that could bring Life-honoring, Lifelike democratic powers, freedoms and relationships to peoples around the world. Described by its uppercrustian decriers as 2nd gen hippy activism, Occupy has given them the lie. It has catalyzed middle class, progressive, Green, unionists and environmentalists along with college students and footloose under-30s (among which group unemployment runs to nearly 50 percent) in its support. It has integrated people—genders, classes, ethnicities, races, and ages—if not yet all of their special interests and despite their otherwise apparent differences. The present system’s trespasses, shortcomings, ineptitudes and injustices have catalyzed a 21st century melting pot moment, almost a Bastille-storming sort of moment. Never in American history has such a diversity of Americans spoken as if in one voice, crying “Foul!”
The Occupy movement could lead to a globalization of grassroots democracy values equivalent to the globalization of the capitalist economy, in this case not on the backs but in the behaviors and in favor of a majority of humans. Or we may be witnessing—don’t blink—a flash in the pan. For, though there is no possibility of returning to a pre-Occupation state of mind or reality, occupiers could melt back into the lives they left in order to do the occupying and turn their attention to the next new thing. The Powers and Principalities could sweep away their dreams when they decamp along with all physical signs of occupation and then proceed to legislate—or in the case of the corporate Powers, buy—a new round of pacification and security measures aimed at protecting their corporate persons and fiscal fortresses against further incursions by those whom Eric Cantor called the “mob.”
Sideshows, like ‘60s redux dress and act-outs, silly or seriously saboteurial tweets, and OccupytheBoardroom.org, a website that provides wanna-be Powers’ pen pals with the email addresses of corporate heads, blanks to fill in, and suggestions how to befriend or virtually behead them, could diminish the impact of the movement in other ways. The outcome of all this is up for grabs. Destiny is in the timing and cause of the decampings.
But I think there are three things about which we can be reasonably certain even now, before the snow flies, the Powers coordinate their response, or the enthusiasm for temporary encampment wanes. The Occupiers will not get what they want from the Powers That Be. This won’t be the end of a growing resistance to economic inequity and the larger systemic injustices of which it is indicative. And at bottom it’s all about money.
Back in March, when the Arab Spring was just under way, I proposed that we were witnessing the early stages of what I called “chaos creep” and predicted it would reach our shores e’er long. I reckoned that what the desert lands protestors really wanted was not just regime change but regime change that would bring enough living-wage jobs, affordable food, decent housing, public services and, in general, an end to oppressive, pyramid shaped national political and economic systems. I said they wouldn’t get what they were asking for. I anticipated “efforts on the part of the world’s present and potential leaders to oppress or organize, co-opt, appease and tame opposition movements in order to perpetuate something like the status quo, and maintain their power or legitimacy. We’ll see the usual rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic. (I offer into evidence, seven months later, the worrisome ascendance of the Egyptian military.) “But when [the Powers] fail to deliver the , we can expect round after round of revolution. Chaos creep. Whack-a-mole played out on a global scale.”
If they’d had money in their pockets or pensions, vacation and benefit plans like Greeks and Americans used to have, there’d have been no protestors in Tahrir or any of the other squares. It was and is about money more than it was or is about democracy. Democracy is perceived to be the means to an end: prosperity, more people getting more bang out of the insanely large global buck.
The occupations of streets in the US and by contagion around the world were spurred and presaged back in July by meme warrior Kalle Lasn the founding director of the Canadian anti-globalization, anti-consumerism non-profit, Adbusters Media Foundation, and his staff at Adbusters magazine. (Admission: I have subscribed to the magazine and valued many of its insights and fomentings, like “Buy Nothing Day,” for a decade.) People who were perishing for lack of vision and leadership from the usual, official and elected quarters, found both in Adbusters’ pages and promptings and perhaps in the goadings of the infamous Anonymous’s, too. A page in the magazine and in the organization’s mid-July blog, urged its 90,000-strong, Twittership to “a shift in revolutionary tactics”: “On September 17, flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades, and occupy Wall Street.”
E voila. On cue, city parks and squares across the US became Tahriresque campsites filled with music and mime, soap box speeches, righteous anger, exhilaration, pizza, rebellious youth, frustrated seniors, drop-ins and drop-outs, spontaneously democratic practices and occasional gangs of aimless and merely bored young men looking to throw real rather than metaphorical stones. Occupiers are driven by an inchoate but universal demand that, somehow, the 1% be persuaded to decide to let the 99% get their fair share of. . . Wait for it. . . The money.
Adbusters’ agenda, clearly stated in the Nov/Dec issue of the magazine and on its flashmob support site, may shape and focus Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demands over the coming weeks. Those demands are: a 1% tax on all financial flows (We’re not talking trickle down, rather a Niagara of money of various degrees of funniness.); total transparency in government affairs; a true cost global market regime; less corporate influence in our lives; and a grand international strategy for dealing with global warming. Not a bad list, if more than a little utopian.
The organization is already catalyzing its membership around the first demand, calling for a RobinHood global march.” “On October 29, on the eve of the G20 Leaders Summit in France, let the people of the world rise up and demand that our G20 leaders immediately impose a 1% #ROBINHOOD tax on all financial transactions and currency trades,” exhorts Adbusters’ October 17 home page, exactly a month after OWS began. “Let's send them a clear message: We want you to slow down some of that $1.3-trillion easy money that's sloshing around the global casino each day – enough cash to fund every social program and environmental initiative in the world.” There’s that money thread weaving all aspects of the planned sequence of insurgencies into a whole cloth of economic revolution.
There are four reasons why the protestors won’t get what they want out of Wall Street of Washington. First, the latter’s in the former’s pockets. Second, the former aren’t all that impress with OWS and can buy a court or cabinet to guarantee they don’t need to be. Third, there isn’t actually enough real money to go as far or as far around protestors imagine, even if the oligarchy could be squeezed dry. Most Americans are still pretty clueless how much it would actually cost in this post-American Century to deliver the American Dream, let alone the Millionaire’s Row one, to a nation of Americans raised up on faith in perpetual growth and counting on a rich Uncle Sam to deliver it.
Fourth, a tsunami of debt, demand, graft, corruption, ignorance, incompetence, environmental catastrophe and overreach is knocking the props out from under both the global economic system protestors assume is sturdy enough to support them and the natural systems that are the actual support of every kind of human economy. And the worldview, people, and systems that caused the economic quakes that triggered this tsunami haven’t a clue how to minimize or clean up after it or how to prevent further quakes. As energy and social analyst Richard Heinberg warns, we’ve shot past the Earth’s capacity to keep providing business-as-usual with resources and ecosystem services. We’ve reached the end of growth.
That being the case and that case becoming clearer to more people around the world every day, uprisings, protests, revolutions and fomentings will become legion. They will not come to an end nor will stability—the beloved normal—return any time soon.
But, wait a minute. Are we really without recourse? No.
If at base this is all about money, if need of money is the problem, then why not rethink money? The Powers only have control over and possession of the present forms of funny-money and the funny-money monetary system. But funny-money and the viral capitalist systems that have created, managed and distributed it are only about 60 years old. They’re post-World War II creations, World Bank and WTO wet dreams. Can’t we come up with something better, something fairer, adapted to our present circumstances and capable of helping us provide for ourselves what the present system isn’t providing without destroying the natural systems that are our true source of wealth? Something truly transformative? Real change.
Yes. And some “we” of us already are. Over 100 communities in the US alone are creating alternative curriences that stay close to home, support local businesses, food and self-determination and the transition David Korten calls the Great Turning away from empire to post-carbon, post-global, post-plutocratic, ecological community. A search of terms like alternative currencies, complementary currencies, new economics, new money, open money, monetary reform, or alternative monetary systems, for example, will turn up as many sites as the Occupy movement does. If OWS does not yet signal the beginning of a transformation of consciousness, it may well signal a lot of “Ow”s and ouches for the Powers That Be. Stay tuned.