A little reflection today about social change and Occupy coming out of a conversation yesterday.
When I was a young man we talk about “movements” like we were on the go. From whatever place we were in we will move to another. And we marked this action with marches and demos, dancing and action. The feeling of action was powerful and palpable.
Once in a while we occupied a place and sat there for a while. But in general we were all about the movement. We made ourselves different from those we were working against and we moved.
Occupy did two things to change this, or at least introduce some new strategies. For one, they began by staying right where they were: occupying the place where you already are seems like not a very radical form of action, but fully occupying a space, living there, governing yourselves, creating services: that was somehow new, and over the past year I have thought about what it means to choose simply to be present and fully occupy your own space.
Second, the occupy movement in it’s declaration of “we are the 99%” played at a halfway gesture towards thinking about what social change looks like if you first have to build relationships with many who are your traditional “enemies.” The 99% contains a lot of people that you and I would rather not be associated with in any way. The choice was a conscious practice of seeing each other together. Occupy breaks down, as has always been the case, when difference drives people apart. If difference could drive people together, if we could practice handling difference with a container of relationship, then something new might be born.
And third, Occupy gave up the idea that any of us know exactly what changes are required in the world to make it better. Obviously there are strategies, tactics, policies and experiments that can be tried, but there are no answers. Refusing to publish demands is a key piece of this acknowledgment that a) the world is too complex to direct its evolution and b) any action that does not work with existing power in some way is easily crushed. Once demands are issued, the anti-Occupy narrative can be framed and the movement is marginalized and dissolved.
Occupy was, and continues to be, an experiment. It is not a new experiment but it is a recent iteration of an age old experiment to see what happens when we choose to stay where we are and deepen relationships. It continues to share learning, but for me these three practices of occupation, building a common container to hold difference and staying together in no knowing continue to echo in my own work and practice with groups trying to affect changes.