Occupy Endures

Whatever happened to Occupy?  At the one-year anniversary, we saw a smattering of retrospectives, most of them focused on its superficial aspects.  One of the more thoughtful accounts of the enduring significance of Occupy is Rebecca Solnit’s recent piece in Guernica magazine, “Occupy Your Victories.” 

Solnit is an activist and the author of (among other books) A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, a lyrical, brilliant account of the deep empathy of human beings that manifests itself when absolute crises occur. 

Solnit’s piece is refreshing because she considers the impact of Occupy in a larger time-frame and with an emphasis on how it has irreversibly changed our political culture.  The encampments may be gone, but the cultural understandings made public by the movement endure.  Inequality of wealth and opportunity, the corruption of democracy, the dysfunctions of our economic system, the state's reliance on surveillance and violent repression of free speech -- these are now widely accepted ideas. 

What also endures are the highly diverse networks of activists that the movement forged, and scores of discrete victories, big and small, in countless comunities around the world.  These victories should not be forgotten.

It helps to remember that media coverage of a movement is NOT the same as the movement itself.  Indeed, if the New Left and anti-Vietname War movement taught us anything, it is that you should not believe your own (corporate) media coverage lest it change your self-image and strategies, and instill grandiose, hubristic conceits and unwarranted demoralization. 

Fortunately, this time around, protesters have had their own media venues and global distribution systems to maintain the movement's vision and constituency.  It’s now easier to keep track of what’s real and what’s spin.  It’s easier to maintain one’s patience and persistence in the face of adversity.  Personally, I don’t think Occupy is deceased at all; it is in a quiescent, spoor-like mode, waiting for the right climactic conditions to re-emerge even stronger.

In any case, consider the conclusions of Rebecca Solnit.  Below, a few paragraphs from her essay:

There have been thousands of little victories like these and some big ones as well: the impact of the Move Your Money initiative, the growing revolt against student-loan-debt peonage, and more indirectly the passing of a California law protecting homeowners from the abuse of the foreclosure process (undoubtedly due in part to Occupy’s highlighting of the brutality and corruption of that process).

But don’t get bogged down in the tangible achievements, except as a foundation. The less tangible spirit of Occupy and the new associations it sparked are what matters for whatever comes next, for that ten-year-plan. Occupy was first of all a great meeting ground. People who live too much in the virtual world with its talent for segregation and isolation suddenly met each other face-to-face in public space. There, they found common ground in a passion for economic justice and real democracy and a recognition of the widespread suffering capitalism has created….

People learned how direct democracy works; they tasted power; they found something in common with strangers; they lived in public. All those things mattered and matter still. They are a great foundation for the future; they are a great way to live in the present…..

And here was Occupy’s other signal achievement: we articulated, clearly, loudly, incontrovertibly, how appalling and destructive the current economic system is. To name something is a powerful action. To speak the truth changes reality, and this has everything to do with why electoral politics runs the spectrum from euphemism and parallel-universe formulations to astonishing lies and complete evasions. Wily Occupy brought a Trojan horse loaded with truth to the citadel of Wall Street. Even the bronze bull couldn’t face that down.