I wrote the following article for the UCL European Society Magazine EUREKA, where it has been originally published.
International Occupy Movements Prove: Unity doesn’t need Grand Narratives
What have you heard about the Occupy Movement? Most likely you know that it started on September 17th in New York, with people occupying the city in protest against Wall Street. You might also know that this phenomenon quickly swept through Europe, where many citizens all across the continent, quickly set up occupation camps in solidarity with the protesters in New York.
You will have heard many reasons for the occupations, ranging from statements like ‘weare fighting against corporate greed’, over ‘bankers got a bailout, we got sold out’, to the popular slogan ‘we are the 99 per cent’. These rather incoherent claims go hand in hand with the innumerable demands the protesters direct towards their governments: ‘Tax the rich’, ‘we want our pensions back’, ‘free education for everybody’, ‘stop the war’, ‘real democracy, now’.
This almost arbitrary mix of assertions, and the lack of an all encompassing grand narrative naturally let the conventional BBC reporter assume, and pass on to his or her viewers, that if there is no coherence within a single camp then there can be no unity of Occupy protesters on a European scale. If only our mainstream media had arrived in postmodernism already, they would be able to gaze beyond the mix of different bodies, with different demands. They would be able to recognise the unity that is created through the very uniqueness of every single Occupy protester.
It is a fact that there are as many different opinions concerning the purpose and the aim of the international Occupy movement, as there are citizens involved. Having said this, it is also a fact that being different from one another is what the demonstrators have in common. Instead of letting their individualism and idiosyncrasies become an obstacle, they use them as sources of inspiration for debate. Here, debate is always advancing, never stagnating. Based on the principle of inclusion and in the form of general assemblies or specific working groups, Occupy discussions bring together various identities, which jointly create a blend of knowledge that lends progress to the movement. Here of course, the claims go beyond catch phrases such as ‘make the banks pay’, so that a dynamic space of reason is created. The purposes for occupying are constantly being debated, the aims are continuously restructured, and the methods and strategies to achieve these goals are persistently being transformed by the unceasing reorganisation of the group dynamic. As these discussions are open to all, they offer an opportunity for anyone to propose an argument, express support of someone else’s idea or simply object to any kind of suggestions made by others. Admittedly, this way of changing plans of action can be seen as discouraging and daunting, as it is easy to lose perspective over the whole movement. The established procedures make it especially difficult to visualise specific intentions of Occupy, and even more so the mere direction the movement is heading in.
However, this unpredictability of debate, the venture into the unfamiliar, experimental and of course new, is what composes the postmodern beauty of this insurgence. As Flamina Gianbalvo writes in The Occupied Times of London (the official Occupy London newspaper): ‘The debate might be never ending, but only by engaging with it, do we stand a chance of achieving what no other movement has done: inventing the unknown’.
Critics’ arguments concerning time insufficiency of large debating groups can be quickly made redundant. The Occupy London community of just over 300 campers, and thousands of visitors has managed to establish a self sustaining city within the city. Institutions in the camp include a general information tent, a kitchen and a coffee/tea house, The The Occupied Times of London headquarters, the Tent City University (a space for lectures and seminars) as well as a growing library. Working groups dealing with concerns such as waste management, safety on the camp grounds, internet presence or outreach are completely based on voluntary participation, and yet they function smoothly. All this was established in London within the progress of only two weeks, and is being developed and extended with every passing day.
This concept of a city made by the people (that is a group of diverse identities living together in a community), for the people, is aspired and carried out in Occupy camps all over Europe and the world. This is the very essence that unites the individuals involved with different Occupy sites, despite – no, rather due to – the very lack of a clear strategy and an aim. Lead by the general disillusionment with the way that Europe is governed under the current status quo, the protestors all share one common feature: The desire for autonomy and self-determination. They are united under the shared discontent of being patronised, of having decisions made for them, and because they all have different opinions on what the future should look like debate is so lively and progressive. They are coming together in solidarity to reclaim the freedom of shaping their own lives. The collective tool they use for this purpose is deliberative democracy.