This piece was originally posted on ZCommunications on November 23, 2011.
A brief account: The growth and repression of OWS
Occupy Wall Street celebrated its two-month anniversary by taking the streets of New York City in a full day of mass direct action. We celebrated the hundreds of occupations that have sprung up across the country and around the world. We celebrated the hundreds of thousands who have participated by marching, carrying out civil disobedience, and putting their bodies in motion. We celebrated the millions of people across the globe united in their willingness to join this movement in whatever ways they can. We celebrated in the many thousands in cities all around the world.
At the same time, much of the status quo goes on. New austerity measures are being passed right under our noses, the homeless remain without homes and the jobless without jobs, the wars carried out in our name continue, wealth goes on being concentrated further and further into a few hands at the expense of the many. And in the face of this movement rising in opposition, the state and capital have responded with violence both physical and ideological, intended to suppress demoralize us – camps being cleared out by riot police, organizers targeted for arrest, teeth and noses broken, kids and grandmothers pepper-sprayed.
It’s only a drop in the bucket in comparison to the violence experienced in marginalized communities or at the hands of American imperialism, but it represents a critical moment in the development of this movement. It is not a coincidence. We are being taken seriously. Maybe we should be flattered.
Reassurance: We are still winning
We are building a global movement, and elites are beginning to mobilize the incredible power at their disposal to do it whatever damage they can – media and scholarship to discredit us, laws and regulations to constrain us, and sheer violence to repress us. Yes, they are paying their think tanks to undermine us, collecting their mayors on conference calls to strategize about us, mobilizing their shock troops to beat and detain us, and whistling to their lap-dogs in the press to tell the stories they want heard.
This is what happens when genuine movements emerge with enough force and potential to be taken seriously by those with power and privilege. This is what happens when movements grow stronger and more diverse. This is what happens when movements take root in the public consciousness. Make no mistake about it: They are fighting us now because we are winning.
In moments like these – when protest becomes resistance and power mobilizes to confront it – it becomes important again to stop and remember why we started fighting in the first place, and what it is we want.
A reminder: Why we fight and how we win
We each come to this movement with our many different scars and traumas, our many goals and dreams. We come from different places, with different needs. We are here together because we share an understanding that our different issues come together, that the systems of oppression we are challenging not only intertwine and coexist but actually produce and define each other, that we can only defeat them by having a deep, holistic analysis and by presenting one another with a real vision for what might be instead. We agree that we need to build something new in the here and now, while fighting those forces that keep us from doing so.
We fight because people’s needs really aren’t being met, because there are simple and systemic reasons for that, because it is unacceptable, and because there is an alternative. We fight because we oppose injustice intellectually, but also because injustice makes us sick to our stomachs. We fight because a system in which homeless people freeze outside of empty homes does not deserve to exist, because a system that allows for people to go hungry while there is an overabundance of food is unacceptable. We fight because the economic and social systems governing our lives have proven themselves to be totally incapable of meeting the minimum criteria for a just and humane society, and because we are sure as hell it doesn’t have to be this way. We fight for other people, but also for ourselves – because none of us get to live out our full human potential within the institutions that dominate our lives today. We fight because another world really is possible, and because we demand it for the people around us, our friends, our kids, and ourselves.
The stakes are high. We have a responsibility not only to fight, but to win.
We win when we build diverse mass movements led by the most oppressed people in society. We win when that movement becomes a dual power – a movement able to prefigure the values of a free society and laying the seeds for it, while fighting the institutions that oppress and exploit. We win when that movement becomes one where groups have the autonomy to carry out their own struggles while finding solidarity in a shared analysis, vision, and strategy. We win when we manage to transform the struggle from the symbolic to the real – a struggle that reclaims land and space in order to truly create an alternative and meet peoples’ needs, one that truly disrupts business as usual and prevents the classes that dominate and exploit from continuing to do so.
Yes, this new world is being born – slowly and painfully – and in order to win it, we have to tell its story.
The story: Another world is possible
Perhaps the first story we must tell is about the world around us. These systems that encourage us to compete and exploit, that force us to make war and torture, that compel us to literally wipe ourselves off the planet by damaging it so thoroughly, have no future. They are not only unethical and unnecessary: they are simply and truly impossible.
But the most important story is one of possibility: Another world is possible.
A society that is ecologically sustainable, liberating, intimate, warm, and creative is possible. Not only is it possible, but it must be. We can have a political and economic system that we all control together, one that is equitable and humane, one that allows for people to self-manage and act in solidarity, one that is participatory and democratic to its very roots. We can live in a world where people have the right to their own identities, communities, and cultures, and the freedom and support to express them. We can have a society with institutions that take care of and nurture our youth, elderly, and families in ways that are liberating and consensual. We can have a world where we actually get to live out and express our full human potential. We can, and we must.
We tell a story that shatters the myth that there is no alternative, that people don’t fight back, that we can be bought off. We tell a story that smashes cynicism and identifies it as nothing more than a defense mechanism to protect us from following the rabbit hole that leads to rising up. We tell a story of autonomy within solidarity, equity alongside diversity, peace bound with justice, struggle intimately linked with beauty. We tell a story of how our scars give us the wisdom and courage to change the world.
We tell the story ourselves, tweet and tag it, film and sing it, write it with our arrests and our bruises. We tell it at work and in school, on the picket lines and during demonstrations, at our occupations and sit-ins, in the jail cells where they put us when they are truly afraid of the power we hold. We tell it by fighting in a way that reflects the values of the world we are dreaming of, and by creating as much of that world as we can while we fight.
We are not alone. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and we stand among friends.
Throughout history, people have struggled, risen up, and succeeded. All over the world, there are people fighting, building, and dreaming. All around us, people are laying the seeds of the world we are fighting for – from their bedrooms to their workplaces, from the ways we produce and consume to the ways we teach and learn. All around us, workers are going on strike or taking control of their workplaces, students are walking out or taking control of their schools, communities are rejecting the political and social institutions that oppress them and creating their own. People are taking control of their lives, their communities, and in some places, their governments. And it is only the beginning. A movement is being born, and there is so much beauty in that – so much potential, so much hope.
Then, also, there is hope in you – hope in us. The world is waiting.
Yotam Marom is a political organizer, educator, writer, and musician based in New York. He has been active in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and is a member of the Organization for a Free Society. Yotam can be reached at [email protected].